FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 14, 2011
BOSTON – State Senator Jamie Eldridge (D-Acton) and Representative Antonio Cabral (D – New Bedford) announced today that they have filed three bills to reform our public records laws, making public records easily accessible to the public and modernizing our public records system to take advantage the opportunities of the digital age. Massachusetts Public Records Laws have not been substantially updated since 1973.
The legislators are highlighting the three bills this week in recognition of National Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
“Open, transparent government is essential for a healthy democracy, and our public records law is one of the most important tools citizens have for holding government accountable,” said Senator Eldridge. “Over the years, however, it’s become more and more difficult for the public to obtain records – the costs are often high and the responses to requests untimely. These bills would help ensure that records that are legally supposed to be public truly are.”
“Today, people expect information at the touch of a button, 24/7, wherever they are,” Representative Cabral said. “They have a right to public information without jumping through hoops. These bills move us closer to that goal.”
The legislation filed by Senator Eldridge and Representative Cabral include:
- S1575: An Act to Enhance Access to Electronic Public Records, which will make it routine for electronic public records to be provided to requestors in usable electronic form, and for information of significant interest to the public to be posted online.
- S769: An Act Defining Certain Administrative Records as Public Records, which defines records within administrative offices of the courts – including Probation and the Office of the Chief Justice for Administration and Management – as public records subject to freedom of information requests.
- S1576: An Act to Improve Access to Public Records, which will improve access to public records by reducing and rationalizing the fees requestors must pay to obtain records, permitting requestors to obtain attorneys’ fees if they have been denied access to public records without valid reasons, and putting systems in place to facilitate state agencies’ management of public records requests.
Senator Eldridge and Representative Cabral worked closely with the ACLU of Massachusetts in developing this legislation.
“A lot has changed since 1973, such as the replacement of microfilm and paper-based record-keeping with electronic data storage, but laws governing access to information that the public has every right to see haven’t kept pace with the evolution of technology since then. We need to update our laws to help, not hinder, the public’s access to information about what our government is doing,” said Gavi Wolfe, Legislative Counsel for the ACLU of Massachusetts.