Sen. Eric P. Lesser Votes With Senate to Approve Public Records Bill
BOSTON ‒ Sen. Eric P. Lesser voted with the Senate this week to pass bipartisan legislation aimed at making public records easier and less expensive to access. It is the first update to the Massachusetts public records law since the early 1970s. “This bill makes our government more transparent and responsive to the information requests of residents,” Sen. Lesser said.
The legislation, which passed unanimously in the Senate, requires state and municipal officials to comply with a records request within 15 business days, granting them up to another 45 days if they need more time. Under current law, officials must respond to requests for records within 10 days, but there is no deadline for delivery and there are no penalties for not complying with the mandate, leading to frequent cases of non-compliance.
The bill limits the amount state agencies and municipalities can charge for production of the records at 5 cents per page for copies, down from 20 to 50 cents per page under current law, and the cost of a storage device. The bill requires state agencies to provide four free hours of employee time and two free hours for municipalities. Charges for requests that require more time are limited to $25 per hour.
The bill also brings Massachusetts in line with 47 other states and the federal government in allowing attorney’s fees to be awarded to plaintiffs who are victorious in court when denied records.
Finally, the bill requires state entities and encourages municipalities to post commonly requested public records online, and requires records to be provided in electronic format unless requested otherwise.
Sen. Lesser said the bill succeeds in being sensitive to the needs of residents with public information requests and the constraints faced by local governments who must process them.
"A successful public records bill must balance the finite resources of our local cities and towns with the need to process public records quickly and efficiently,” Sen. Lesser said. “I believe this bill strikes the right balance.”
The bill will now be reconciled with the version passed by the House of Representatives before being sent to the Governor.