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MA Senate Votes Unanimously for Govt. Transparency Reform

By Deirdre Cummings
Legislative Director

Today, the Massachusetts Senate unanimously (35-0) passed a strong bill to fix our broken public records law, An Act to Improve Access to Public Records, S.2120. The bill is significantly stronger than the House passed version in November.       

The Senate passed a very strong government transparency bill and should be commended for their leadership. We now need to prevent any weakening of the bill as the differences between the House and Senate bills are worked out in a six person conference committee.

Transparency in government is the cornerstone to a strong democracy. Government transparency checks corruption, promotes fiscal responsibility and efficiency, and allows for greater, more meaningful participation in our democratic system. "

In November, the Center for Public Integrity released a report that gave the commonwealth an F grade on public access to government information for the second time in a row.

Organizations, reporters, watchdogs, and regular citizens who wish to see and review public documents are frequently unable to do so, prevented by outright denials, excessive charges, records in useless formats, and long delays in which the requested records never materialize or do so in an untimely manner. The public records law hasn’t been substantially updated since 1973. 

The Senate bill gives courts the ability to enforce the law by awarding attorney fees to those wrongly denied access to public records, bringing Massachusetts in line with forty-seven other states. It sets strict limits on how much government agencies can charge for public record information, and sets reasonable time-frames for responses to public records requests. 

The bill does not alter the scope of the public records law or make any changes to existing exemptions. Rather it modernizes outmoded language in the law and strengthens procedures for compliance and enforcement.  

 

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