NEFAC, MassFOIA Partners Submit Comments on Proposed Public Records Regulations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefirstamendment.org

public-record-comments

MassFOIA’s Comments and Regulation Edits

The New England First Amendment Coalition today released comments on recently proposed regulations governing the new Massachusetts public records statute. The regulations are intended to reflect the first significant changes to the state’s public records law in more than 40 years.

The comments were submitted jointly on behalf of NEFAC, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Common Cause Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. The five organizations comprise the Steering Committee of the Massachusetts Freedom of Information Alliance, or MassFOIA. The alliance has been working for several years to reform the state’s outdated public records law and increase government transparency within the commonwealth.

The proposed regulations would change 950 C.M.R. § 32.00, which governs public record access in the state and the authority of the Supervisor of Public Records.

“We recognize that developing a regulatory roadmap for the many different stakeholders in the Commonwealth’s freedom of information law is no easy task,” the groups wrote to Shawn A. Williams, supervisor of the state’s Public Records Division. “We hope these comments will help you refine the draft regulations to avoid potential confusion and ensure public access to information about the workings of our government.”

The groups focused their comments on what they believed were “a few of the most pressing issues.” They included:

The definitions that describe the entities subject to the public records law.

The very limited circumstances when a governmental entity may deny access to public records based on prior failure to pay.

The procedure and timeframe for the supervisor’s handling of appeals.

In addition to the comments, the groups also submitted suggested edits to the proposed regulations. Some of those edits aimed to:

• Guarantee that records posted online are maintained online for the duration of the records retention schedule.

• Articulate the statutory grounds for briefly delaying fulfillment of a public records request, and distinguish such delays from formal petitions to the supervisor’s office for an extension.

• Re-affirm the principle that a records access officer, when considering whether to withhold responsive records, may not inquire about the purpose of a request.

• Ensure the reasonableness of fees for public records.

• Clarify broad language regarding differential treatment for particular types of records.

More information on MassFOIA and NEFAC’s work to help improve the Massachusetts public records law can be found here.

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NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Donations can be made here. Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe and Boston University.