Yesterday’s Boston Globe editorial has it right – the time for the legislature to act on meaningful public records reform is now, while at least a modicum of momentum remains for its enactment. Waiting much longer likely signals the bill’s death knell.
Sadly, though, if a bill does emerge from the House Ways and Means Committee it may be something far less than what we’d hope for. The bill proposed by Rep. Peter Kocot, which drew swarms of government transparency enthusiasts to Beacon Hill to testify in its support, contained meaningful tools to promote open government. Among them: penalties for untimely compliance, reduced costs for requestors, requirements for digital responses and provisions for agencies to reimburse legal fees to those who prevailed in a court challenge when the agency wrongfully denied access. It called for all government agencies to designate a person to manage and respond to records requests.
When the Massachusetts Municipal Association spoke out against the bill because of its cost to cities and towns, Beacon Hill went mum on the legislation. Perhaps state leaders are working on compromises that won’t overly weaken the bill – like giving cities and towns more time to comply. Let’s hope so. Too much compromise, though, jeopardizes prospects for a better democracy in the Bay State.
Massachusetts is among the weakest states in the nation when it comes to government transparency. This bill is a step forward in righting such a misplaced wrong.