Governor Kathy Hochul signed two bills into law Tuesday aimed at making state agencies and authorities like the MTA more transparent by providing a greater amount of data and information to the public.
“One of my highest priorities… is to restore people’s faith in their government and an important part of that is increasing transparency,” said Hochul at a press briefing on Oct. 19. “Transparency comes in many forms and there are many opportunities for us to establish that we will be the most transparent administration in the history of the state of New York.”
The pair of bills take aim at agencies publishing agendas and other relevant documents at least 24 hours before public meetings, and specifically at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where Hochul wants transit officials to release more data online.
“Everybody who lives in the New York City metropolitan area cares about the MTA and how decisions are made,” the governor said. “The best constituents we have are informed constituents. They have a right to know what’s on the agenda, they have a right to contact their elected officials and to share their concerns and in cases where that information is not available until the last minute or at the meeting, that denies the public what I believe they’re rightly entitled to.”
Hochul also unveiled a new state online portal providing more information and updates on COVID-19, such as infection rates, vaccinations, variants, and breakthrough cases.
The first piece of legislation by Long Island State Senator Anna Kaplan and upstate Assemblymember Amy Paulin requires public agencies to publish online or upon request meeting agenda items and documents at least 24 hours in advance, such as proposed resolutions, laws, rules, regulations, policy, or amendments that will be discussed.
However, the law, which takes effect in 30 days, includes an apparent loophole which states that the public bodies only have to make that information available “to the extent practicable,” leaving open the door for officials to keep things hidden if they deem it not “practicable.”
In a follow-up comment, a Hochul spokesperson did not directly address a request to comment on the proviso, but said the governor would continue to increase transparency.
“Governor Hochul signed this legislation to help deliver open, transparent state government to better serve New Yorkers, and will continue working with the legislature and state agencies to maximize transparency,” said Avi Small.
The second bill by Queens State Sen. Leroy Comrie and Brooklyn Assemblymember Robert Carroll requires the MTA to publish “as much data as is feasible” on its website and the state’s open data page and designate a so-called data coordinator responsible for making the agency comply with the law.
The law takes effect immediately and requires transit bigs to put together a “catalogue” of how much MTA data they can publish within 180 days, i.e. by mid-April 2022, and submit to the state legislature and post online a schedule for releasing this information by the spring deadline.
MTA must also create a schedule for releasing all of its publishable data, including information going back years, within three years by late 2024, and one of the sponsors was confident that the agency will soon start unveiling documents previously kept under wraps.
“I believe that we will see considerable amounts of data from MTA by late March or early April of next year,” Assemblymember Carroll told amNewYork Metro.
An MTA spokesman said the agency will work to up its transparency game in line with the newly-signed law.
“The MTA fully shares Governor Hochul’s commitment to transparency and will look to continue to expand data offerings on the Open Data NY website,” said Aaron Donovan in a statement. “The MTA will also continue to build on recent transparency improvements we’ve made to our own website, where it’s easier than ever to find information about each MTA Board and Committee meeting in one place, searchable meeting agendas and supporting documents side by side with embedded livestream feeds of meetings that are archived in real time.”