Changes coming to Mass. Open Meeting Law

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By Karla J. de Steuben, attorney and creator of the Massachusetts Campaign for Open Government, a project of Common Cause Massachusetts

Major changes to the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law will go into effect on July 1 and are expected to better ensure that state, county, and local governmental bodies comply with the law.  Most significantly, the Massachusetts attorney general will have sole enforcement responsibility to ensure compliance at all levels of government.  The newly revised law requires the establishment of a “division of open government” within the Office of the Attorney General, which will be under the direction of a “director of open government.” County district attorneys will no longer play a role in enforcement at the local level.   

Centralizing enforcement hopefully will lead to more consistent enforcement.  In the past, there have been complaints about inconsistent enforcement among the counties.  In addition, new procedures for triggering enforcement by the attorney general may make it easier to ensure compliance with the law, and new reporting requirements about enforcement efforts should make it easier to determine how well public officials are complying.  Currently, there is no effective way to determine how many complaints are received each year regarding Open Meeting Law violations.   

The changes to the law also require that a five member “open meeting advisory commission” be established which can review Open Meeting Law issues and make recommendations to the attorney general for changes to the regulations, training and educational initiatives, if necessary. Two of the members will be the chairs of the General Court’s Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight; the other three members will be the president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, the president of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, and the attorney general, or their designees. In essence, the advisory commission will provide some needed oversight into how effective the new provisions are in ensuring compliance with the Open Meeting Law.

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