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Public records reforms proposed

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It’s information that belongs to the people, but sometimes the people’s government isn't so willing to let you have it.

The Massachusetts Public Records Law is designed to let everyone see what our government is up to, whether it’s how much public employees are paid or whether your city or town is handing out sweetheart deals to insiders.

But some say the state’s nearly 40-year-old public records law makes it too hard to get these records, and now they're making their case on Beacon Hill.

Two bills that would update the law were the subject of a State House hearing Tuesday morning. The legislative committee that held the hearing heard from Common Cause, the ACLU and media representatives, all speaking in favor of the bills.

The bills would lower fees that can be charged for public records, require state agencies to better manage requests for them and modernize the law so electronic records are either posted online for all to see or provided in electronic format.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, who co-sponsored the bills along with Rep. Antonio Cabral, D-New Bedford, pointed out that two-thirds of other states already have in place many of the changes proposed now.

“Access to basic information for the public and media is essential to a healthy democracy, and the reality is that our Massachusetts public records law is outdated, hasn't been upgraded since 1973, and frequently members of the public and the media are being denied basic information,” Eldridge said.

Eldridge is hoping the the Legislature’s Joint Committee on State Administration, which hosted the hearing, will vote favorably on the bills so they can eventually be voted on by the full House and Senate.

 

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