NYS Assembly Passes Legislation to Strengthen Freedom of Information Laws (FOIL)

ALBANY — Speaker Carl Heastie and Governmental Operations Committee Chair Kenneth Zebrowski today marked the nationwide observance of Sunshine Week with the passage of legislation to strengthen the state’s Freedom of Information Laws (FOIL) to enhance transparency and accountability in government.

“The Assembly Majority has had a long standing dedication to ensuring transparency, accessibility and accountability in our government,” said Speaker Heastie. “The legislation passed today will enhance public participation in our government and increase access to government records, as well as improve the public’s understanding of the work we do.” 

“The Sunshine legislation passed today will enhance transparency and accountability so that citizens can interact with our government and access important information,” said Assemblymember Zebrowski. “These measures will help strengthen the public’s confidence in our democracy so that we can continue to best serve our communities.”

One of the bills in today’s package would waive the ability of government agencies in New York to claim copyright protection unless the work reflects artistic creation, scientific or academic research, or if the agency intends to distribute the original work or derivative work based on it to the public (A.4499, Galef).

For FOIL requests involving criminal actions, the Assembly’s sunshine package includes a bill (A.5470, Englebright) to clarify that records cannot be withheld from the public solely because they involve an investigation or criminal proceedings. It also ensures that when the law enforcement exemption is used to deny a FOIL request, out of concern that the disclosure will interfere with a judicial proceeding, only the presiding judge can determine whether to uphold the exemption or release such information. 

Another measure passed today would require the disclosure of names and residence addresses of members, managers or other authorized people of an LLC in lease agreements where New York State is the tenant in office buildings owned by LLCs (A.3203A, McDonald). 

Finally, the Assembly approved a clarification that while the name of a state pension retiree can be publicly disclosed, the name of the retiree’s beneficiary is to be protected (A.5469, Englebright).