Statement of MassFOIA On Secretary Galvin’s Public Records Initiative

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Secretary William F. Galvin filed on Monday an initiative petition to revise the state public records law. The Massachusetts Freedom of Information Alliance (MassFOIA), a network of more than 40 groups committed to reforming the state public records law, including the New England First Amendment Coalition, does not support the petition. Rather, we continue to support legislative action — in particular, HB 3665 — as the best avenue for strengthening the law. Our principal reasons are:

  • The petition is unnecessary at this time. In July, the legislature’s Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight approved HB 3665, a strong public records bill supported by MassFOIA. In recent weeks, legislative leaders and many legislators have expressed support for public records reform. Legislative action is the quickest and surest route to meaningful reform. Meaningful reforms should not have to wait for the multi-year ballot process to run its course.
  • The proposed legislation is stronger and more comprehensive than the initiative petition. HB 3665 is based on legislation originally drafted by Rep. Peter V. Kocot (D-Northampton) after consultation with a number of interested organizations and individuals. It was reported out by the Joint Committee on State Administration after public hearings and further refinement. It is a thorough bill that would bring about meaningful reforms and it has earned broad praise and support. By contrast, the initiative petition was drafted without consultation or input from engaged stakeholders. As a result, the petition’s language fails to address critical areas where reform is needed.

“The petition filed by Secretary Galvin is weaker in many respects than the bill pending in the legislature and it contains significant loopholes that could further undermine enforcement of the law,” said Robert J. Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association. “With meaningful reform moving forward in the legislature, this petition is unnecessary and counterproductive.”

“Secretary Galvin’s petition is not a solution to the public records crisis in Massachusetts,” said Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, another MassFOIA member. “The focus should continue to be on the comprehensive bill within our legislature. This bill has been finely crafted over many months to accommodate the needs of all parties involved. It is supported by the more than 40 open government advocates within our alliance. Had Secretary Galvin consulted with us, we would have expressed to him concern over using the petition process at this time when a better alternative exists and we would have asked him to change several provisions in his draft. Instead, we now have a petition, however well-intended, that may distract from what could be our best chance at public records law reform in Massachusetts: Rep. Kocot’s legislation.”

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Robert J. Ambrogi, Executive Director | Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association | (978) 309-9188; ambrogi@legaline.com

Justin Silverman, Executive Director | New England First Amendment Coalition | (774) 244-2365; justin@nefirstamendment.org

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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 Robertson Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Foundation, The Boston Globe and Boston University.