During the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of decisions have been made pursuant to the Emergency Health Powers Act. Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway and Gordon Johnson aiming to increase transparency by making most records and documents related to the act available to the public was advanced by the Assembly Health Committee on Thursday.
Correspondence, records, reports and medical information created, received, maintained or filed in accordance with the Emergency Health Powers Act are not considered a public or government record. As such, they are not currently accessible under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA), which allows members of the public to access government records upon request.
Under the bill (A-4813), most documents related to the Emergency Health Powers Act would be subject to disclosure under OPRA. Personal identifying information, such as an individual’s name, address, medical diagnosis or other private data – as well as certain information related to bioterrorism – would not be accessible.
Upon the bill’s committee passage, Assemblymen Conaway (D-Burlington) and Johnson (D-Bergen) issued the following joint statement:
“New Jersey residents deserve to have access to information regarding decisions their government makes during a public health emergency, such as those that have been made during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Making records associated with the Emergency Health Powers Act public will help improve transparency in our state and bolster public trust. Being able to access the behind-the-scenes communications that led to important public health decisions would help New Jerseyans understand that those decisions were not arbitrary, but made in the best interests of the state. This arrangement would ultimately benefit every one of us.”
The bipartisan legislation, which is also sponsored by Republican Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso (R-Monmouth), now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.