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House, Senate should pass public records reform by July 31st recess

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Author: Jamie Eldridge

Last week, a significant step was taken on Beacon Hill towards improving our state’s public records laws. The Boston Sunday Globe reported on how backwards and outdated public records laws in Massachusetts truly are: ranking behind every other state except Hawaii.

The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight reported out a redrafted committee bill, H.3665 on Thursday, July 16th, that would among other things create the following reforms:

• Require state agencies and municipal departments to provide records requests electronically
• Limit the cost of photocopies to 5 cents per page by state agencies and municipal departments
• Allow attorney’s fees to requesters if a court determined that they were wrongfully denied access to public records
• Assign a designated public records officer in each agency or department, for greater accountability to the record requester

Great credit on this progress goes to committee co-chairs Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem) and Representative Peter Kocot (D-Northampton), as well as Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester), whose bill S.1676 mirrors the redrafted committee bill.

Since the beginning of the legislative session, newspapers from across Massachusetts, and good government groups, including Common Cause, MassPIRG, and the ACLU have been advocating for public records reforms, highlighted at the joint committee’s public hearing on public records reform bills in May. In addition, Secretary of State Bill Galvin has suggested that he may propose a ballot referendum to push reforms, if the Legislature does not pass comprehensive legislation this session.

Efforts at updating the state’s public records laws are not new. Many legislators, including myself, have been filing bills for over five years, and last session the Joint Committee on State Administration reported out a similar bill to the one reported out last week. The bottom line is our public records laws have not been significantly updated since 1973 and the time for change is now.

Unfortunately, last Friday legislators from across the state began receiving calls and emails from some of their municipal officials, asking us to vote against the bill, water down the reform, or delay its passage. The time for this bipartisan reform has come, and is in fact long overdue.

If you care about updating our state’s public records laws, making government and government decisions more transparent, and improving the public and the media’s ability to access public information, please contact your State Representative and State Senator this week, and urge the House and Senate to take up and pass H.3665 by the July 31st legislative recess.

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