Measure Would Guarantee Transparency in Court Settlements involving the Public
TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Nia H. Gill which would prohibit public entities from entering into confidential court settlements in which the public institution is named as a party of a lawsuit was unanimously approved by the Senate today.
“The people of New Jersey have a fundamental right to know the actions of their government, whether in the Statehouse, city hall, or courtroom,” said Senator Gill, D-Essex and Passaic. “This bill extends the reach of OPRA to include court settlements in which a public institution or employee is named. When taxpayers are footing the bill for these settlements, they deserve to know, and transparency and accountability must be a priority in everything we do as elected representatives of the people.”
The bill, S-1262, would bar all public entities from entering into confidential settlements of claims or court actions in which the public entity or a public employee, in his or her role as a public employee, is named as a party to the suit. The bill would allow for an exception in matters involving national security. The bill further stipulates that any settlement agreement in which a public entity has been named would be considered a public record, subject to the terms and conditions of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
“Transparency and openness in government are essential to the tenets of informed democracy,” said Senator Gill. “This bill continues a tradition of open government in New Jersey, building upon the progress of the Sunshine (Open Public Meetings) Act and OPRA to keep the people informed. Government must always operate under the light of public scrutiny, to ensure that elected leaders are held accountable to the will of the people.”
The bill now heads to the Assembly for consideration. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.