There is always some leeway, a talking point, a space for appeal, when the government bases its actions on court decisions.
When a matter is subject to interpretation – as the public’s right to obtain government information often is – it is important to remove the ambiguity and flexibility of a court decision by passing a law that removes all doubt.
That’s why it’s important for Governor Kathy Hochul to sign a bill (A5469/S0190) that will codify a 2014 Court of Appeals decision that makes the names of retirees eligible for state retirement benefits publicly available under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
New York State taxpayers contribute billions of dollars to these pension funds and, as such, have a right to know who is receiving that money.
It’s a simple premise. But the courts have not always allowed names to be subject to disclosure. And the unions representing these retirees have in the past fought costly court battles to prevent the public disclosure of the names of the beneficiaries.
In 2014, the Empire Center of Public Policy successfully sued to ensure that the names of retirees receiving public pensions through the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System and the Teachers’ Retirement System of the City of New York be disclosed.
In the past, courts protected the disclosure of names on the grounds that they could be used to solicit retirees in some way.
In this argument, they said that if the government released the names of pensioners, it would make it easier for lawyers to trace home addresses, creating an “unwarranted invasion of privacy”.
But in the 2014 decision, the Court of Appeal decided that this assumption was speculative.
The Empire Center was not tracking home addresses and was not involved in fundraising or solicitation. He just wanted the names.
In future requests for retiree information, courts would consider the purpose of the request, as they do now, and could legitimately deny a request based on FOIL’s existing privacy protections.
This bill clarifies an important court decision by removing any ambiguity that may arise from FOIL requests and confirms to retirees and their representatives that only the names of retirees – not their addresses or the names of their beneficiaries – are subject to disclosure. public.
Sometimes lawmakers have to make court decisions and confirm them in law.
That’s what they did here.
The governor must sign the invoice.
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Categories: Editorial, Opinion