New York State Capitol

The state Capitol in Albany.

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A bill that should soon be heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk would strengthen the rights of the average citizen to read public documents, so either the governor should sign it or the Legislature should override a veto.

The legislation in question would amend the state's Freedom of Information Law so that people could more routinely be awarded attorney's fees when a court decides that the information they had been seeking had been illegally withheld.

The change is an important one of behalf of the rights of the public. People should be able to look at most everything compiled by the government, but government officials are sometimes reluctant to cooperate when people ask to have a look at certain files.

As it stands, government agencies often deny Freedom of Information requests simply because they know they can get away with it. Knowing that the average person doesn't have the financial means to file a lawsuit when their appeal is denied, agencies all but dare people to go to the next step and get a law firm on their side.

A bill passed by the Legislature — in a combined vote of 197-1 — would remove that strategy from the government by making it easier to recover attorney's fees when a citizen prevails in getting an appeal overturned.

New York should be doing everything it can to make it easier for people to see government documents. This FOIL amendment will go a long way to helping make that happen.

The Legislature needs to get this bill to the governor now; to be honest, we're disappointed it hasn't already been delivered. When it does get there, we implore him to sign it without delay. If, for some reason, Cuomo decides to veto the measure, legislative leaders should immediately begin the process of voting on an override.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Rob Forcey, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.

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