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 Judiciary Committee today.
“In this State, we operate under the assumption that open, transparent government is absolutely necessary to protect the peoples’ interests,” said Senator Gill, D-Essex. “The people’s right to know should always be paramount, not only in legislative hearings or executive action, but in nearly all aspects of governance and public decision-making This bill would go a long way to preserve the sanctity of public scrutiny and ensure transparency and accountability at all levels of government.”
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).
“Democracy is best served by the informed consent of the governed, and we must always strive for transparency and accountability to the people we represent,” said Senator Gill. “However, allowing public officials to hide behind the veil of confidentiality is diametrically opposed to the concept of open government. We cannot give the government an escape hatch from public scrutiny, whether in the Statehouse, City Hall, or a courtroom.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.