Massachusetts receives another F for public access to information

Massachusetts receives another F for public access to information

Massachusetts receives another F for public access to information in the 2015 State Integrity Report. The time for public records reform is now!

The Center for Public Integrity’s 2015 State Integrity Investigation was just released, and no surprise, Massachusetts has once again received a failing grade for our public access to information. We also got a D+ for government transparency and accountability overall. The F is a repeat from last year’s report, and is further proof that real changes to fix our freedom of information law are long overdue.

The investigation calls our public records law “terrible,” and it is. The authors note how “routine records, from agency e-mails to Internal datasets, can take weeks or months to obtain from state agencies, at costs running from a few hundred dollars to the not-unheard-of multimillion-dollar bills sent to some requesters.” There are countless examples of such incidents in our state.

We need to address the problems of excessive delays and prohibitively expensive costs for access, and we need to establish an enforcement mechanism that can ensure compliance with the public records law from government agencies.

This grade is also the latest highlight in an ongoing series of national rankings that demonstrates how broken our law is. When the Boston Globe and MuckRock compared the records request process across states, Massachusetts was found lacking. And earlier this year, the Massachusetts State Police won the “Golden Padlock Award” for being the most secretive public agency in the entire United States, beating out even the U.S. Department of Defense. That particular example is why it’s especially disappointing that they are lobbying against reform on Beacon Hill.

Right now, our legislators are hearing a lot from opponents of reform, and this is putting the future of legislation meant to fix these problems in doubt. It is clear, however, that the evidence in support of change is overwhelming. Massachusetts cannot fail to ensure public access to information again.