Proposed Massachusetts Public Records law may be thin gruel

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By Colman Herman

Representative Antonino Cabral of New Bedford has filed legislation that would make some changes to the Massachusetts Public Records Law. One of those changes would be to give Secretary of State William Galvin’s office broader enforcement powers. That’s a good first step. But much more needs to be done.

The executive branch of state government is subject to the Public Records Law, as are the municipalities. But one-hundred and twelve years ago, the legislature had the unadulterated chutzpah to explicitly exempt itself from the Public Records Law and has not looked back. Sad to say, Cabral’s legislation makes no attempt to fill this gaping void. When asked about this at a State House forum sponsored by CommonWealth magazine, Cabral danced around the issue — the best he could come up with is to say that many legislative meetings are open to the public and that he himself provides documents when asked.

Judicial officials also claim their branch of government is exempt from the Public Records Law, going so far as even refusing to produce budgetary and salary information. Cabral’s legislation makes no attempt to remedy this vacuum either. Even Governor Patrick, who rode into office promising an open and transparent administration, claims that case law exempts his office as well from the Public Records Law. Here too, Cabral’s legislation is silent. The Massachusetts Public Records Law provides a whopping 21 exemptions that shield certain documents from public view. They are sequenced by letter. So we’re now up to the letter “u.” At the CommonWealth forum, Supervisor of Public Records Alan Cote said all these exemptions “punch holes in the law,” adding, “We’re running out of letters.”

With all the shenanigans going on at Beacon Hill and elsewhere in government, the same old same old cannot continue to be de rigueur.

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One Response to “Proposed Massachusetts Public Records law may be thin gruel”

  1. thezak Says:

    The Honorable Michael P. Ross
    Boston City Council
    Massachusetts

    Dear Councilor Ross, By email please send the last stenographic
    machine record you obtained for a public meeting of our Boston City
    Council. Councilors obtain stenographic machine records of some
    Council public meetings.

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