Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill that marks the most substantial improvement to the Freedom of Information Law in years, limiting the amount of time that public entities can stall a FOIL request after a judge has ordered the release of public records.
Government agencies now have nine months to appeal a judge’s order—meaning they can wait for the equivalent of a full human gestation period, and then either seek to overturn the order in a higher court or release the records anyway.
Under the new law sponsored by Senator Michael Ranzenhofer and Assemblyman David Buchwald, that time period will now be limited to sixty days.
The ability to get this data in a timely manner can have serious consequences for people and businesses battling government agencies, such as Empire Wine, an Albany-area liquor store that used FOIL to show the State Liquor Authority was encouraging other states’ regulators to harass the company.
As Tim Hoefer, executive director of the Empire Center, explained in this space last year, the Center’s ongoing litigation to allow taxpayers to examine public pension records has been continually delayed, in part due to the long timeline allowed under FOIL.
The governor had previously vetoed the measure, saying he wanted to see substantive reform of FOIL that would make the state Legislature subject to it. That’s a good goal, as taxpayers should be allowed to better scrutinize the more than $200 million spent annually by the two houses, but it wasn’t enough reason to block more modest reforms in the short-term.
And the governor vetoed $50 million in refundable tax credits for music producers and videogame developers. Built on the same faulty logic behind the state’s $420 million subsidy for film and television producers, the subsidy would have used taxpayer funds to reimburse developers and producers for a percentage of their operating costs on projects completed in New York.
The veto message reiterated the governor’s “support [for] the music and digital gaming industries” but faulted the bill because it was approved “without any accompanying funding.” This leaves the door open for the same bill to emerge from next year’s budget negotiations.