The Government Records Council (GRC) has issued a Special Statement regarding P.L. 2020, c.10 and COVID-19 impacts on the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) and offering guidance for records custodians dealing with requests during these unprecedented times.
Among the topics discussed in this Special Statement is the timeliness of responses to OPRA requests given that many public offices have been closed, limited access to records, and that resource may have been diverted to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Special Statement also provides further guidance on what the GRC would consider “reasonable effort” to respond to requests, as outlined in P.L. 2020, c.10, which provides that OPRA’s statutory deadlines do not apply during certain declared emergencies.
In addition to the GRC Special Statement, the Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) offered the following recommendations, “when responding to OPRA requests, local government records custodians document in writing any emergency-related barriers to providing the requestor with a final response within the standard OPRA response timeframe. Examples of such barriers can include building access restrictions or a delay in the availability of personnel needed to provide responsive records to the custodian or review responsive records to determine necessary redactions. As when requesting an extension of time to respond under normal circumstances, the custodian should inform the requestor in writing of the specific reasons for the delay, as well as soonest possible date after the normal statutory deadline by which the custodian reasonably expects to respond under the circumstances. To the greatest extent possible, the custodian’s initial response to the requestor should adhere to the standard timeline for an OPRA request response.”
This information should be reviewed with your municipal records custodian and municipal attorney for further guidance.
Contact: Frank Marshall, Esq., Associate General Counsel, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-695-3481 x137.