The Road To Massachusetts Public Records Reform
Fortunately, if there’s anything fighting for transparency in Massachusetts teaches you, it’s how not to take “can we deal with this later?” as an answer.
Financed in major part with state funds and crucial to the economic viability of the area, the MBTA’s centrality to life in a major East Coast hub makes it a crucial subject for information updates. Of course, don’t be surprised that getting records from them can also be a pain.
Massachusetts agencies can get very creative when trying to avoid complying with public records requests, but some deny requests with such complete disregard for reality that it’s (almost) impressive. Enter the Braintree Police department.
In the Bay State, the grotesque black holes of bureaucracy sometimes take on an added Groundhog Day-esque tint. Like when your request is rejected. But you win your appeal. And then your request is rejected again.
In September, the Massachusetts Supervisor of Public Records released its proposed update to public records regulations that would be used to carry out the long-awaited public records reform that goes into effect January 1, 2017. Here’s what’s in them.
Last month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law H.B. 4333, providing significant process overhauls to a law that has not been changed much since 1973, when the law was reworked to more closely match the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Here is what you need to know about the changed law.
After months of hearings, editorials, and one very chilly rally on the State House, yesterday the long-awaited Massachusetts Public Records Reform bill passed the Senate with unanimous support. MuckRock’s Beryl Lipton was there, and she live-tweeted the whole thing, withdrawn measures and all.
Beacon Hill has taken up the cause of public records reform for the first time in forty years. However, after the Massachusetts House passed a subdued version of the bill in November, initial hopes have given way to fear that this once-in-a-very-long-time opportunity for meaningful reform will be squandered. Until the Senate hears and votes on the bill early next month, it will be unclear how hard the Bay State will actually tackle opening the government this year.
Over the past few years, something unusual has quietly happened when it comes to public access: Small changes for the better. But while legislation passed by the House includes some great and much needed improvements, it fails to address - and in some case worsens - Massachusetts public records law’s problems, leaving the state dangerously behind its peers.
While the people of Massachusetts look toward public records reform, the cities and towns that represent them are fighting back against access.
As we’ve written about time and time and time and time again, Massachusetts has some of the worst public records laws in the country, with requesters waiting too long to pay too much to get too little. A bill currently under consideration could help change that, but it’s facing stiff opposition and needs your help.
MuckRock’s Shawn Musgrave testified today in support of two bills which would bring badly needed reform to the antiquated and toothless public records law in Massachusetts.
Legislatures across the country reconvened this week, and in Massachusetts, where a new governor is also part of the package, a fresh attempt at access reform begins.
MuckRock was proud to testify at the Massachusetts Statehouse on Tuesday in support of amendments to the state public records law, which was written in a pre-Internet era when printing cost 20 cents per page. The proposed amendments will streamline public records requests and incentivize agencies to cut costs.