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On July 30, 2015 Governor Baker announced new administration-wide procedures in regard to public records requests, in order to improve accessibility to government records and information.  These new procedures will serve to increase access to all members of the public, including persons with disabilities, which is in alignment with our office’s statutory mandate to ensure access in all aspects of life.

Also, the measures include a more effective communication process and a reduced and streamlined fee structure.  Simply put, the new procedures by the administration make Massachusetts more compliant with best practices, as they seek to comply with and even exceed the existing public records law requirements and continue to protect the personal information of taxpayers and service users.

These updates are improvements that waive search and retrieval fees for standard public records requests, provide at no cost the requester the first 4 hours of work required for more complex requests, and generally charge no more than $25 per hour for additional time required.  Agencies will also notify the requester of said costs in advance, to the best of their abilities.  This fee restructuring is likely to accommodate more requesters, especially those who are on fixed incomes.a file folder labeled Public Records

Agencies will designate a Records Access Officer (RAO) to receive and coordinate requests and establish an internal tracking system to ensure compliance.  The RAO’s contact information will be posted on each agency’s website. With regard to communication improvements, the RAO will notify a requester within 5 days if the records sought may take more than 10 days and/or more than $10 to produce.

Request time limits have also been streamlined, and generally requests should be completed in less than 8 weeks, unless a reasonable extension is stated in writing to the requester.  However, the administration understands that personnel time is precious and searching, redacting and compiling information can be very time consuming.  As such, no more than 8 hours per week of agency work is required to be dedicated to fulfilling a request, or a series of related requests from a single requester.  If technically feasible, documents will be produced in electronic searchable format, aiding those persons with vision impairments.  Additionally, MassIT is in the process of implementing e-mail search capabilities for Executive Branch agencies to make large e-mail searches easier to compile for public records requests.

The goal of the administration is for the Executive Branch to be reasonable, open and fair to requestors, even when the requests are difficult to fulfill, hard to understand and broad in scope.  We are confident that these new procedures help the Executive Branch achieve best practices and make Massachusetts a leader in transparency and efficiency with regard to public records requests.

Written by:  Evan C. Bjorklund, Staff Attorney

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