NEFAC Opposes Mass. Legislation to Limit Citizen Rights Under Open Meeting Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefac.org

JULY 11 LETTER

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently expressed concern about legislation intended to prevent vexatious filings of Open Meeting Law complaints in Massachusetts, calling for reconsideration of key provisions in the bills.

Bills H.2740 and S.1899 would restructure the current review process of complaints, cap the number of complaints a citizen can file each year at five, and allow public bodies to refer all complaints found “unduly burdensome” to the Office of Attorney General.

“The Open Meeting Law is a vital tool to protect transparency in government and the proper functioning of our democracy,” wrote Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director, in a July 11 letter to state legislators. “We commend your effort to improve the law but believe the proposed changes warrant reconsideration.”

In addition to conveying support for recommendations previously made by the ACLU of Massachusetts, Silverman also suggested the following changes be made:

• Keep the Current 30-Day Window to File Complaints | The bills reduce by one-third the number of days a member of the public has to file an Open Meeting Law complaint, imposing an unnecessary burden on citizens.

• Require Good Cause to Be Shown Before Extensions are Given to Public Bodies | The bills allow the Attorney General to authorize an extension of time to the public body for the purpose of taking remedial action. The legislation, however, removes the current law’s requirement that the public body first request an extension and show good cause.

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know. The coalition most recently helped compel the disclosure of car accident information in Vermont, denounced the arrest of a reporter in Connecticut, testified about a new court record system in Maine, hosted community conversations about journalism in Massachusetts, provided a public records workshop in New Hampshire, and discussed open meeting laws in Rhode Island.


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. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University. 

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