State House Passes Bill To Improve Access To Public Records
The Massachusetts House of Representatives passed a public records reform measure on Wednesday that makes it easier for individuals to access those records.
Representative Antonio Cabral told WBSM News the legislation will prevent agencies from stonewalling those who make public records requests or charging high fees in an effort to discourage the public from accessing those records.
"There are specific timelines that they have to comply with whenever there is a request," said Cabral "and at the same time they can't charge exorbitant amounts of money, which was the case sometimes in the past."
Agencies that fail to comply with these requests can be sued and, if the court rules against them, they can be fined up to $5,000 and be forced to reimburse legal fees for the plaintiff.
"They are subject to not only pay the attorney's fees for that citizen, but the courts can also penalize the government body to the tune of $1,000 minimum penalty to $5,000," said Cabral.
The bill also requires every local and state government agency to appoint a staff person who will be responsible for responding to public records requests and clarifying the process and timeline for officials to respond to requests.
However, says that government agencies can be granted extra time to make these requests if necessary.
"If they need more than that timeline, then they can appeal to the state public records supervisor for an extension of time," said Cabral "but it's not going to be an indefinite period of time."
The bill is now heading to Gov. Charlie Baker for his signature.