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Measures Aiming to Extend Deadlines Affecting Local Government Budgets and OPRA Requests Advances

Bipartisan-sponsored legislation to provide relief to local governments cleared the Legislature on Thursday with approval in the Senate, 34-0.

One measure (A-3851), sponsored by Assemblymen Gary Schaer, Gerry Scharfenberger and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson would expand the current authority of the Director of the Division of Local Government Services, in the Department of Community Affairs, to extend the statutory dates for the introduction and approval, and for the adoption, of county and municipal budgets when the Governor has declared a Public Health Emergency or State of Emergency.

Another bill (A-3849), sponsored by Assembly members Gordon Johnson, Bill Moen and Britnee Timberlake would modifies OPRA deadlines in the event of a public emergency to require instead that a records custodian make a reasonable effort to respond within seven business days, as circumstances permit was also approved. Currently, OPRA requires compliance within seven days, provided that the record is easily accessible and not archived or in storage. 

Both measures were recently approved by the Assembly, 65-0.

The sponsors issued the following statements:

Assembly members Gary Schaer (D-Bergen, Passaic) and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Mercer, Middlesex):

“Community health begins with our local leaders, it is vital that our municipalities are empowered to meet this crisis. Extending the budget deadline gives municipalities additional time to assess the impact of the coronavirus on their community. Budgets are a reflection of our priorities, and there is no more important priority than ensuring the safety of New Jersey residents. This legislation allows our communities to be responsive not only with their words but with their resources.” 

“Too much goes into preparing a good budget and local officials can’t do that while facing this health emergency,” said Scharfenberger. “It is crucial we unify and focus right now on what is important – the health and safety of our citizens.”

Assembly members Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), Bill Moen (D-Camden) and Britnee Timberlake (D-Essex):

 “Municipalities are facing a significant amount of concern in their communities as a result of Covid19. Local governments must be able to focus on the task at hand, which is stopping the spread of the virus.”