Today the Massachusetts State Senate unanimously passed legislation reforming how the state handles public records. The legislation, originally sponsored by Senator Jason Lewis, is the first update to the public records law since the early 1970s.
“An accessible, transparent government is fundamental to the democratic process,” said Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland). “This bill strengthens our public records law to improve access and make the process of requesting records simpler, clearer and more fair. Thank you to my colleagues in the Senate and advocates on all sides of this issue for engaging in a collaborative effort to bring our public records law into the 21st century, while providing flexibility for municipalities and agencies.”
The legislation will reduce costs for records requestors and ensure timely compliance with public records requests. The bill also brings Massachusetts in line with 47 other states and the federal government in allowing attorney’s fees to be awarded to plaintiffs who are victorious in court when denied records. The bill requires attorney fees to be awarded, except in certain defined situations.
Under the legislation, each state agency and municipality is required to appoint at least one public records access officer to serve as the point of contact for all public records requests and coordinate a timely and thorough response. The public records officer does not have to be a new employee.
The bill limits the amount that state agencies and municipalities can charge for production of the records. The limits are set at 5 cents per page for copies, down from 20 to 50 cents per page under current law, and the cost of a storage device. The bill requires state agencies to provide four free hours of employee time and two free hours for municipalities. Charges for requests that require more time are limited to $25 per hour.
The bill prohibits charging for records if the agency or municipality does not provide the record within 15 days of the request or does not respond to the requestor within ten days. It also requires punitive damages up to $5,000 if a court determines the government entity did not act in good faith.
Finally the bill requires state entities and encourages municipalities to post online many commonly requested public records. In addition, records are required to be provided in electronic format unless requested otherwise.
The bill will now be reconciled with the version passed by the House of Representatives before being sent to the Governor.
The Massachusetts Senate passed legislation today to strengthen the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act to further close the wage gap between male and female workers in the Commonwealth. The bill, S2107, sponsored by Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) and Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), seeks to bridge the wage gap by ensuring equal pay for comparable work, establishing pay transparency and requiring fairness in hiring practices.
“Massachusetts was the first state to pass a pay equity law over seventy years ago, yet women in the Commonwealth still make only 82 cents for every dollar earned by a man,” said Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Women working hard to support their families deserve fair pay, and this bill is an important step to close this unacceptable gap and ensure equal pay for equal work.”
Last week, the Massachusetts Senate wrapped up formal legislative sessions for 2015. Continue reading to learn about Senate accomplishments this year in the following key priority areas:
- Shared Prosperity & Income Inequality
- Climate Change & Energy
- Criminal Justice Reform
- Shared Leadership & Transparency
- Combating the Opioid Crisis
- Protecting Taxpayers
- Protecting Our Children & Families
- Intergovernmental Affairs
Last week, the Massachusetts Senate passed a variety of pieces of legislation covering veterans, public education, and social media privacy. The late-night session wrapped up formal legislative sessions for the legislature until January.
“These bills provide meaningful protections and support to our veterans, establish guidelines for fostering healthy and informed children in our schools, promote the implementation and expansion of clean energy, and create important online privacy guards for students and workers,” said Senator Karen Spilka (D-Ashland), Chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means. “Perhaps most importantly, we passed stiffer penalties for the trafficking of fentanyl, an extremely harmful additive to heroin that has contributed to the spike in opioid deaths in Massachusetts in the past year.”
Senator Spilka will host her annual Senior Health and Wellness Fair next month. All MetroWest seniors are invited to learn new health and wellness information, ask questions and enjoy a fun day out.
9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Joseph P. Keefe Technical School
750 Winter Street, Framingham
The Legislature today took final action on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland) announced. These veto overrides will enhance support for Massachusetts residents and municipalities, and ensure that local programs, education funding and economic development initiatives are well funded by the legislature.
“This final budget reflects a modest spending increase over last year that is within revenue projections,” said Senator Spilka. “Over the past two days, we restored funding to critical programs and services, especially in areas related to education, homelessness, substance abuse and our innovation economy. This is a balanced budget that covers expected costs for the coming year and makes strategic investments to lift families across the Commonwealth.”
The Massachusetts Senate today voted in favor of legislation to create a new Innovative Communities program to serve as a common place of access, education and point of connection for startups and municipalities seeking innovative technology solutions. Senator Karen E. Spilka (D-Ashland), founder and co-chair of the legislative Tech Hub Caucus, filed the legislation in collaboration with many stakeholders in the startup community.
“We have an incredibly strong innovation economy here in Massachusetts. It’s time for our government to be innovative too,” said Senator Spilka. “This first-of-its-kind program is the product of a collaborative, interactive process, and it will foster stronger connections and opportunities for startups and local governments.”
“Today is an important milestone for startups, government and the residents of Massachusetts,” said Cole Boskey, a Boston entrepreneur who spearheaded grassroots efforts for the bill. “We’re one step closer to making it easier for startups to pilot their products and services with municipalities throughout the state, and in turn we’re showing why Massachusetts is the best place to start a business.”
Senator Spilka filed the bill after a Tech Hub Caucus “Idea-a-thon” in November 2014, where attendees pitched ideas to help technology companies start, grow and thrive in Massachusetts. After the event, Senator Spilka met with stakeholders in government and the tech community to develop the winning idea into the Innovative Communities program.