Bill increases access and limits fees for those seeking public records
BOSTON— The Massachusetts House of Representatives unanimously passed legislation today that would update public records access laws for the first time in 43 years. The legislation seeks to make government more accessible by limiting the amount that may be charged for providing records as well as the time it takes to furnish said records.
This legislation requires every municipality and agency to identify a records access officer to assist with requests. This officer would be required to furnish requested public records within 10 business days. It currently takes an average of 82 days to fulfill a public records request in Massachusetts.
“This is really about getting more people involved in government,” said Representative Jeffrey Sánchez. “This bill is a great balance. It doesn’t put too much of a burden on municipalities, but it adds teeth to ensure a person’s income doesn’t prevent them from participating in government.”
The legislation would limit excessive and unwarranted fees, which are often a barrier to people accessing records. Standard black and white copies would be limited to a fee of 5 cents per page. Agencies would not be able to charge for the first 4 hours of employee time to search for, compile, segregate, redact, or reproduce a record. After that point, it caps the fee to $25/ hour.
It gives relief to smaller staffed agencies and municipalities by allowing up to 30 days to furnish records if they show good cause. Further, officers may refuse to furnish records if the requester has failed to pay for previously produced records, or the intention of the request is to harass or intimidate.
It adds enforcement to public records by allowing courts to award reasonable attorney when a requestor obtains relief. It also allows a judge to rule if fees and costs might be unwarranted. In order to increase accessibility, state agencies would be required to post commonly available public record documents online.
Shortly after passage in the House, it passed unanimously in the Senate. It now heads to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.