Mass Senate providing access to more bills and reports online

More legislative documents will be made available for public use.

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON – (Statehouse News Service) – Changes to the Senate clerk’s website intended to make the legislative process more open have gone live ahead of the Senate’s resumption of formal sessions this week.

“You’re now able to search dockets and reports and communications and late files, whereas in past the way we posted things on public site, they needed to have a bill number to be searched,” Assistant Senate Clerk Michael Hurley told the News Service. “A lot of things just docketed, they never get bill numbers, but they’re journalized. In essence, we’re able to now put all of that on the public site.”

Under the changes, lawmakers and legislative observers are able to read the complete text of petitions before they make it to the floor of the Senate to receive committee referrals and bill numbers. More reports from state agencies, too, are available electronically.

The idea, Hurley said, is to make almost everything the clerk’s office receives available for public consumption. “I’ve been here 23 years and we never ever posted dockets online,” he said. “So it is a big change.”

Not everything filed with the clerk’s office will be available online, though. The office must comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and cannot post documents that are not accessible.

If a document is not searchable or is not compatible with text-to-speech programs, the document will not be posted online. It will be available by contacting the clerk’s office, Hurley said.

“We’re trying to be mindful of that. If we get a report from somebody, we try to reach out to that entity and ask if they have an electronic copy,” he said. “We’d prefer it that way.”

The changes stem from a rules change the Senate adopted in February, according to Senate President Stanley Rosenberg’s office. The amended Rule 20A requires that the clerk’s office make all bills and “all late file petitions accompanied by legislation” available online.

“The president came in saying he wanted a more open and transparent and outward-facing Senate; this is part of that effort,” Rosenberg spokesman Peter Wilson said. “It will allow people to know what’s going on with legislation, who filed what and where it is in the process.”

When Rosenberg ascended to the Senate presidency earlier this year, the Amherst Democrat pledged a new era of “openness and transparency” in the Senate under his leadership.

“Before, people had to wait to see the text of filings, but this allows the public to look at anything introduced in the Senate,” Wilson said. “We have the ability to do it, so we should.”

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Robert DeLeo said the speaker’s office and House clerk’s office have no plans to update the House clerk’s website.

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