At the close of 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill strengthening the state's Freedom of Information Law by allowing people to recoup their legal fees in cases where public documents have been illegally withheld by government agencies. Now is the time to move forward on some other advances on behalf of transparency.
In recognition of Sunshine Week and the importance of access to public information, we join the chorus of good government groups calling on the state to expand the scope of FOIL to increase access to documents generated by the state Assembly and Senate as well as the state agencies charged with rooting out corruption.
When New York's first FOIL legislation was passed more than 40 years ago, the Legislature made itself more or less immune to the law and retained the ability to keep most of its inner working out of the public eye.
Likewise, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission — charged with being watchdogs over public officials — are able to do their work with very little public scrutiny.
New York's FOIL goes hand-in-hand with its Open Meetings Law in the sense that, with very few exceptions, the work of the government and its affiliated agencies should be open to the public. Decades of secrecy have helped a culture of corruption flourish in Albany. Things are getting better, but more remains to be done.
Upon signing the FOIL reform last year, Cuomo pledged to "advance comprehensive FOIL reform in the next legislative session that applies equally to both branches of government."
The Legislature should get to work this week on making that happen as well as adding FOIL to JCOPE and the LEC. And there is no reason those reforms can't be passed before the end of the current legislative session.
The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.