Open Government Groups Applaud Senate Public Records Legislation, Call it a Strong Reform

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BOSTON—January 28, 2016—The Massachusetts State Senate today released legislation to reform the Massachusetts public records law and announced a vote on the subject next week. Open government groups, which comprise the steering committee of the Massachusetts Freedom of Information Alliance, lauded the reform and called for swift passage. The new bill, released by the Senate Ways and Means Committee today, follows passage of a much weaker bill in the House of Representative last November.

The proposed legislation would give courts the ability to enforce the law by awarding attorney fees to those wrongly denied access to public records, which would bring Massachusetts in line with forty-seven other states. It would set strict limits on how much government agencies can charge for public record information, and would set reasonable time-frames for responses to public records requests.

“The Senate bill is very strong,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts. “It will accomplish the goals we have been fighting for such as reining in outrageous charges for public records and putting needed teeth into enforcement of the law. If passed as is, Massachusetts will no longer have one of the worst public records laws in the country. But it is critical that the bill not get watered down on the floor or in conference committee.”

Dozens of organizations have advocated for comprehensive public records law reform this year, contending that the law is weak and needs updating for the digital age, having not been substantially amended since 1973.