On Liberty

Open Government

In honor of Sunshine Week, a Beatles tribute to public records reform

Gavi Wolfe, ACLU of Massachusetts Legislative Counsel

Gavi Wolfe

Dear reader, (may I call you Little Darling?)

It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter

You know what I’m talking about. The Massachusetts public records law has been on ice for too long.

It feels like years since it’s been here

It’s been over 40 years since the last major reform, but things are looking up.

Here comes the sun

The state House and state Senate have each passed public records reform legislation, now being reconciled in conference committee.

Here comes the sun

With committee chairs taking the unusual—but welcome—step of making the meetings open to the public!

And I say it’s all right

Well, actually… We’ll have to wait and see. You knew there would be a caveat right?

It will only be all right if the bill that emerges from conference committee represents a real improvement for public access.

That is if it:

  • Enables meaningful enforcement. With a promise of attorney fee awards when requesters are forced to go to court and a judge finds officials violated the law.
  • Makes public records affordable to ordinary people by putting in place real cost controls for state agencies and municipalities alike, without loopholes that enable the same astronomical charges we’ve seen before.
  • Sets firm and reasonable timeframes for compliance with the law.

And the bill can’t simultaneously take several steps backward from the current law, therefore weakening the public’s right to know. That would be embarrassing.

The legislative process is slow, but thanks to the long, hard work of countless activists and allies, we’ve made some real progress. We can begin to envision the sunshine at the end of the tunnel.

It seems like years since it’s been clear

The last update was in 1973, but during Sunshine Week, let’s push for future transparency!

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes

Let’s hope so. Public records reform can’t come soon enough.

 

Sunshine Week is a national celebration of open government, freedom of information and advocacy for the public’s right to know. Join us in celebrating Sunshine Week, March 13-19, 2016.

 

Gavi Wolfe is legislative counsel at the ACLU of Massachusetts.

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