It could soon be easier for the public to access government records

Policymakers haven't updated the state's public records laws in roughly forty years

BOSTON, Mass. (WWLP) – State lawmakers are one step closer to bringing Massachusetts’ records-keeping into the 21st century. The Senate unanimously passed legislation Thursday that would require state agencies to respond to records requests within fifteen days, imposing costly fines for non-compliance.

“Within fifteen days, you should be able to reply to the request and to say, you know, here’s the scope. Here’s what we’re going to need to do to fulfill this. Here are the resources we’ll need,” said State Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow).

The bill would make it much easier for the public and media to access government records – such as payroll reports and emails. For the first time, people would be able to recover attorney’s fees when agencies unlawfully block access to public information.

State Senator Don Humason (R-Westfield) told 22News that these deadlines and fines could prove to be a burden on smaller, rural communities with partial staff and work hours. He said, “To threaten those small office holders with fees and fines and court charges – I don’t know if that might be hazardous to the future of these small towns and their operations.”

State lawmakers hope to eventually make many more public records available on the Internet without the need of a request.

The House passed similar legislation a few months ago. Now, both branches will come together to work out their differences.

American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose wrote in a statement, “They passed a really solid bill, but it’s not over yet. The Senate public records bill has the potential to restore open and transparent government in Massachusetts, but we need to keep the pressure on to negotiate a strong final bill with the House.”

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