Two state lawmakers on Monday announced a bill that would criminalize violations of the state's open government and records access laws.
The bill, backed by Capital Region Republican Sens. Jim Tedisco and Daphne Jordan, would add a criminal penalty for failing to adhere to Freedom of Information Law requests, which have been known to languish without legal action.
Currently, one of the few consequences for government when losing a Freedom of Information Law case is paying a plaintiff's legal fees.
The proposal also comes after the Empire Center, a right-leaning think tank based in Albany, and Tedisco won a court challenge to have the state release more granular detail on the deaths of nursing home and long-term care facility residetns during the pandemic.
"This is public information, and people have a right to know what their government is doing on their behalf," Tedisco said. "No governor or senior appointee should ever again be able to hide public information like the data related to the deaths of 15,000 nursing home residents without facing criminal penalties.”
Jordan, who represents a neighboring district in the Capital Region, added taxpayers should not be on the hook for FOIL challenges.
"We also need to remove their indemnification to ensure that taxpayers aren’t paying the legal bills for an official’s malfeasance and gross dereliction of duty," she said. "Now, more than ever, there must be a thorough, independent investigation into this growing scandal so families can finally learn the truth and we can ensure that such a tragedy never happens again."