Letter to the editor by Rep. Stanley: Proud of public record law changes

Daily News Tribune, Posted Nov. 27, 2015 at 10:35 AM

This month I joined my colleagues in the House in passing legislation to modernize and strengthen the commonwealth’s public records law. This consensus legislation represents the first update to state’s public records law in more than 40 years. Under the bill, Massachusetts will have standardized processes for the public to access records and guidelines for the fees associated with obtaining documents.

This legislation requires municipalities and agencies to designate a records access officer to assist the public and facilitate timely responses. The records access officers must comply with a request within 10 business days of receipt. If the officer is unable to do so, they must contact the requester to identify pertinent documents, provide a fee estimate and specify why more time is needed. Agencies must comply within 60 days, and municipalities must comply within 75 days. An extension may only be granted one time.

To ensure the public can access records for a reasonable fee, agencies and municipalities will be prevented from charging for the initial time spent responding to a request, unless that request exceeds two hours for municipalities and four hours for agencies. The hourly rate at which an agency or municipality can charge for a request is also capped in this bill, a provision which was not previously included in Massachusetts’ public records law. Fees and costs can be appealed by the requesting party and, accordingly, the supervisor of public records may reduce any unreasonable fee.

The judicial provisions, processes and remedies contained in this bill significantly heighten enforceability and accountability measures. Under this legislation, courts will now be able to award attorney fees, reduce or waive costs, and award civil damages. Additionally, the bill grants the attorney general the power to file an enforcement suit against any agency or municipality, intervene in cases involving public records and seek civil penalties for violations of public records laws.

This legislation promotes my belief that state and local government should be transparent to better serve our residents. I am pleased the House passed a modern public records law that expands access to public records and I look forward to the Senate taking up the bill in 2016.
– Tom Stanley