Public records reform could surface after August recess

Lawmakers worry a new law will drain resources from smaller towns

BOSTON (WWLP) – State lawmakers could revisit the decades-old public records law when they return from August recess. Municipal leaders fear a new law will create more work for city and town clerks.

“Just about every one of my town clerks has reached out to me with concerns,” said State Representative Todd Smola (R-Warren).

House lawmakers want to overhaul the state’s public records law to improve government transparency. The proposal would require city and town clerks to fulfill public records requests within fifteen days. Costly fines are attached if they don’t comply. Some state lawmakers worry a new law will drain resources from smaller communities.

“Particularly in western Massachusetts, when you look at municipalities that only have a few hundred or a few thousand people there, they don’t have a nine to five operation Monday through Friday,” added Rep. Smola.

Public records legislation was expected to come up for a vote in the House last month, but lawmakers put it off after cities and towns expressed major concerns. One state lawmaker believes updating the public records law is a good idea as long as there’s a financial backing.

“This is going to cost money. You know, the staff and the various clerks’ offices are going to have to do more and obviously that requires money. So, if we do in fact move forward on this, we need to make sure that it’s funded,” said Westfield Democrat John Velis.

State lawmakers have not updated the public records law in almost forty years. A special legislative committee is working with cities and towns to reach a compromise.

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