Legislative Conference Committee Reaches Compromise on Public Records Overhaul

COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
MASSACHUSETTS SENATE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON 02133

Senator Joan B. Lovely
State Senator
2nd Essex District

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

May 23, 2016

 Legislative Conference Committee Reaches Compromise on Public Records Overhaul

 (Boston) – Today the Massachusetts Legislature released a compromise conference committee report reforming how the state handles public records.  The legislation is the first update to public records law since the early 1970s.

“Today the joint committee has paved the way for the legislature to vote on badly needed, substantial public records reform – our first in over 40 years. The bill increases transparency, and improves access by increasing affordability and shortening turnaround time. When the legislature passes the bill, and the governor signs it, we will be able to look forward to greater transparency, civic engagement, and better governance,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst).

“The conference committee compromise supports the goals of a transparent, modern, and clear public records law, which has been the primary focus of this debate from the beginning,” said Senator Joan Lovely (D – Salem). “I want to thank Chairman Kocot, the conferees, and all the organizations that participated in this open process to bring public records into the 21st Century.”

“I am honored to have worked with Senator Lovely and her staff on the public records bill,” said Representative Peter Kocot (D – Northampton). “This bill ensures that taxpayers have greater access to their government and provides increased transparency about the work of the Commonwealth and its municipalities.”

The legislation updates the time to comply by requiring the records access officer to furnish the record requested not later than 10 business days. If an agency or municipality is unable to comply within 10 business days, the records access officer must send a written response identifying the records, providing specific reasons for withholding, or identifying a reasonable timeframe in which the agency will produce the record.

The timeframe provided by the records access officer shall not exceed 15 business days following the initial request to any agency and 25 business days following the request to a municipality.

If needed, the response should suggest a reasonable modification in scope or an offer to assist the requestor in modifying the scope. In addition, the records access officer must provide a good faith estimate of fees and a statement regarding the requestor’s right to appeal must be included.

Upon a showing of good cause, the supervisor may grant a single extension not to exceed 20 business days for an agency or 30 business days for a municipality.

The bill also limits standard black and white copies to 5 cents per page and outlines charges that state agencies and municipalities may charge. Agencies may not charge for the first 4 hours of employee time to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce a record. If employee time is required beyond 4 hours, the fee shall be at a rate equal to the lowest paid employee who has the necessary skill to perform the work, but shall not exceed $25/hour.

No charge shall be made for redacting and segregating unless required by law or approved by the supervisor of records.

Municipalities may not charge for the first 2 hours of employee time to search for, compiled, segregate, redact or reproduce a record, unless the municipality has a population of 20,000 people or less.

If employee time is required beyond 2 hours, the fee shall be at a rate equal to the lowest paid employee who has the necessary skill to perform the work, but shall not exceed $25/hour unless approved by the Supervisor of Records.

No charge shall be made for redacting or segregating unless required by law or approved by the supervisor of records.

The bill also permits the court to award reasonable attorney fees and costs when a requestor obtains relief. There is a presumption of an award of fees and costs unless the agency or municipality establishes that there was no violation of the law, there was reasonable reliance on a published decision of the appellate court or the attorney general, there is an intention to harass or intimidated.

Finally, the bill permits the award of punitive damages when the court finds an agency or municipality if not act in good faith in an amount not less than $1,000 and not more than $5,000 to be deposited in the Public Records Assistance Fund.

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