Lawmakers in New Jersey and New York Pass Port Authority Transparency Bills

The New Jersey Senate on Thursday unanimously approved legislation that would subject the Port Authority to the open records laws of both New Jersey and New York, just a day after the New York Assembly passed a bill to reform the bi-state agency by making it operate more transparently.

In a news release Thursday, New Jersey’s Senate Democrats said the open records measure, sponsored by Sens. Bob Gordon, D-Bergen, and Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, includes technical changes recommended by the governor and is a counterpart to legislation approved by the New York Legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December.

Under New Jersey bill S-2183, the Port Authority would be required to abide by the Open Public Records Act of New Jersey and the Freedom of Information Law of New York. Although the Port Authority adopted new policies and procedures concerning public access to its records late last year, the public does not have recourse to challenge the agency in court if the requested documents are not provided, because the authority is not subject to either state’s open records law, the release said.

The bill’s sponsors, who last week applauded parts of the New York Assembly bill but said it didn’t go far enough to ensure New Jersey’s voice would be heard on transportation issues, said in a statement Thursday that their bill helps bring some accountability to the Port Authority but more reforms are needed to overhaul the agency and protect state interests.

Approval of the New Jersey bill comes on the heels of the New York Assembly’s passage of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Transparency and Accountability Act of 2015, sponsored by Rep. James F. Brennan, D-Brooklyn. That bill, which was endorsed by Cuomo and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie last week, would replace the agency’s executive director and deputy with a new chief executive, prohibit the chairperson and commissioners from simultaneously holding staff positions and rotate the chairmanship every two years between the two states, among other measures.

Additionally, the Port Authority would be required to conduct a needs assessment and public hearings before raising tolls and fares, Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said in a news release Wednesday. Enhanced annual reports, financial audits, and publication of capital plan and advance debt issuance reports would likewise be required.

The reform bills come after recent calls for enhanced transparency at the agency, which has been embroiled in the George Washington Bridge scandal, and has been characterized by Christie and Cuomo as a “dysfunctional organization suffering from a lack of consistent leadership,” according to the Assembly’s release.

By: Martin J. Milita, Jr. Esq., Sr. Director.

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