Legislation removing address disclosure requirements for New Jersey local elected officials cleared its second major hurdle Thursday.
What the legislation says: The bill would no longer require local elected officials — and some non-elected public workers, including zoning officials, members of independent municipal authorities and certain high-ranking local government officials — to list their home addresses in annual financial disclosure forms they are required to file.
Awaiting governor’s signature: The legislation was approved by the state Senate on Thursday and is now on its way to the governor’s desk. It’s up to Gov. Phil Murphy to decide if it’s worth signing.
The bill passed the Assembly in December with bipartisan support.
What’s the impact?
But does the bill have an impact on transparency and the accountability of public officials?
Lawmakers haven’t given enough consideration to other possible solutions, said Marc Pfeiffer, assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University.
“I’m not sure what the solutions are. We are clearly living at a time that no one has experienced before and really knows what are the best solutions for handling these types of issues,” he said. “It tends to make what has historically been public information cloudier than it’s been in the past.”
Pfeiffer notes that a challenge in New Jersey is that sometimes there are accusations that elected officials don’t live in the town they represent and “without having a verifiable address, the public will be unable to be certain of where elected officials and doubts creep up.”
He also said that people are used to unprecedented levels of transparency because of the internet which “helped us gain knowledge of public problems at a greater level than we have before” but now the “pendulum is swinging back.”
Pfeiffer noted that there is a concept known as “functional obscurity” where records are harder to find so a “casual person who wants to do something malicious with it would be stymied” but access for “somebody who has a legitimate reason” still exists.
“Neither is a guarantee of absolute safety but the question is how much safety are you getting by these policies and what’s the trade off you’re making for transparency?” he asked.