Transparency in government is key to a healthy and strong democracy.
Yet journalists, concerned citizens, and others with a need—and right—to know how our government is working often face obstacles when trying to obtain information. Executive branch and municipal records are supposed to be public unless specifically exempt, but they have become functionally inaccessible due to excessive cost, technological barriers, and administrative obstruction or delay.
Massachusetts public records law had repeatedly been cited as one of the worst in the country. One of our agencies even won the “Golden Padlock” award for being the most secretive agency in the nation, beating out the federal Department of Defense.
That’s why in 2014, we won a campaign to completely reform and streamline the process of acquiring public records. Before then, the law had not been substantially updated since 1973.
This reform remedied many of those problems our state’s outdated laws created. It adds teeth to the existing law and brings it into the 21st century by:
- Providing attorney’s fees for those wrongfully denied public records.
- Setting new enforceable timelines by which citizens will get their records.
- Providing cost controls to reduce excessive fees for access to public information.
- Requiring more information to be provided digitally.
- Making sure information about public records requests is tracked and made public.
As the cradle of liberty, Massachusetts should lead the way on openness and transparency, not lag behind the rest of the nation. We should continue to make more public documents available online, keep information affordable, and streamline and simplify the process for attaining records as much as possible. That is why Common Cause will continue to fight for public records accessibility in our state.
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As the cradle of liberty, Massachusetts should lead the way on openness and transparency, not lag behind the rest of the nation.