New Year Launches New Public Records Law and Regulations
The New Year marks the effective date for most provisions of the new Massachusetts Public Records Law, and new public records regulations promulgated by the Supervisor of Public Records. A staff member in the Supervisor’s office will be on call every day to offer informal advice to either requestors or records custodians. The office has also posted a helpful updated Guide to the law on its website. A more detailed Checklist of Procedures is available here.
Under the new law, the public will be able to receive public records with more predictable timing at lower costs. Municipalities and state agencies will also benefit from more precise time deadlines, but face potentially greater burdens and costs. Serious sanctions are now available against state agencies and municipalities that fail to comply with the law’s provisions. Each municipality and state agency must designate one or more Records Access Officers to assist the public and coordinate responses.
My earlier blog post described many of the changes in public record requirements enacted in the new law. The new regulations largely track the statutory language. The following are some small, but important, additions or clarifications to records requirements in the regulations.
- Oral requests: In person, oral requests for records are valid, but only written requests entitle the requester to appeal denials to the Supervisor.
- 10-business day deadline start: The presumptive 10 business day deadline for response to a public records request begins on the day of an oral request, but not until the following business day for written requests.
- Closures due to bad weather: “Business day” is defined to exclude days when a government office is unexpectedly closed, in addition to excluding weekends and legal holidays. Thus, closures due to bad weather do not count against the time a records custodian is required to respond to a request.
- Requests for portions of public records: Producing a segregable portion of a larger public record, including extracting existing, segregable data, does not count as “creating” a new record. The smaller portion of the record must therefore be produced upon request.
- Records available online: Records Access Officers are encouraged to inform requestors of the availability of records posted on-line to avoid unnecessary delays and fees.
- Reasons to deny requests: The Supervisor may deny appeals from requestors if the records requested are subjects of active litigation, if the request is designed to harass, intimidate or assist in the commission of a crime, or if the request is made for commercial purposes.
In addition to implementing the new procedures in the records law and regulations and adjusting to new, very strict timelines to respond to petitions, the Supervisor’s office is changing leadership. Former Supervisor Shawn Williams announced his resignation in order to join the City of Boston as its chief records officer. Rebecca Murray, a long-time lawyer in the Elections Division and previously in the Public Records Division of the Secretary of the Commonwealth, will take his place. Ms. Murray’s treatise on public records is published by Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education (MCLE).
Image credit: Angelia Sims