Open Public Records Act (OPRA)

Under the New Jersey Open Public Records Act (OPRA) of 2002, accessible government records are defined, the time frame for government agencies to respond to requests for records is set and fees for copying documents or other materials is established.

The general definition of government record in OPRA is any paper, written or printed book, document, drawing, map, plan, photograph, microfilm, data-processed or image-processed document, information stored electronically or by sound recording or in a similar device, or any copy thereof that has been made, maintained or kept on file in the course of official business by any officer, commission, agency or authority.

However, government records do not include criminal investigatory records, such as police reports and photographs or videotapes of crime scenes; records about victims of crimes; emergency or security information that would jeopardize buildings or persons if disclosed; surveillance techniques or security measures that could compromise the safety of persons, property or electronic data; information determined to be confidential by court order; personal information such as social security numbers or driver's license numbers.

OPRA requires that written requests for records receive a response within seven business days. The initial response may be that more time is needed for copying records.

The law also established a Government Records Council to hear and rule on challenges to any denial of requests. Challenges can also be filed as a civil action in state Superior Court.

OPRA also prescribes penalties for knowing and willful violations of the act: a civil fine of $1,000 for an initial violation, $2,500 for a second violation within the subsequent 10 years and $5,000 for a third within 10 years of the first.

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