Strong Support at State House Hearing to Improve Access to Public Information

By: State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell
June, 2015

Massachusetts gets an F grade for access to public records according to some very respected public interest groups. A number of bills have been filed to change this including legislation filed by Senator Ives and co-sponsored by both Representative DiZoglio and myself. As a member of the committee hearing these bills (The committee on State Administration), I am confident that legislation will emerge from this two-year session to improve things.

At the local level, the lack of penalties for not providing reasonably available public documents sometimes results in financial losses of great magnitude to individuals and families when much needed information regarding zoning and matters affecting personal property could not be obtained in a timely manner. A family from Salisbury testified at the hearing explaining how their inability to gain access to local public records resulted in the bankruptcy of their business along with their savings.

Equally important are the artificial barriers erected against the press as they attempt to investigate important matters of public concern. Some reporters testified that obtaining information pertaining to law enforcement personnel is especially problematic.

Our Tom Duggan testified about the negative effect delays have, citing specific cases in Lawrence and North Andover. Other well-known media personalities from leading publications, including the Boston Globe, testified in regards what they perceive to be an abuse of the law by the State, in both the Executive Branch and Legislature.

Finally, the cost of obtaining information appears to have been made prohibitively high in many cases, even too expensive for the Boston Globe according to testimony provided by one award winning Globe investigative reporter.
Several bills have been submitted on this topic and the most important component is that there are enforceable penalties for noncompliance. Some of the major provisions follow:

* Enforceable non-compliance penalties if information is supplied within 30 days;
* Requirement for a record access officer in each agency and methods for electronic record keeping;
* Reduction of fees for photocopies and printouts, which stipulate that the custodian may only charge for actual costs of preparation;
* Attorney fees in any litigation will be paid by the loosing party;
* State agencies must publicly post records on the Internet whenever possible;
* A Commission with House and Senate membership will be established to analyze best practices from other states.

Campbell-lindaRepresentative Campbell serves on the Committee on Ways and Means, is the Vice Chair of the Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security and serves on the committees of State Administration and New Technology and Economic Development. Officials, advocates call for reform to Massachusetts’ public records law.