The new records request procedure is part of an administration-wide effort
Governor Charlie Baker announced this week new administration-wide measures to increase access and improve transparency to government records and information. In making the announcement, Governor Baker said that the new procedures, culled from best practices from around the nation, exceed the requirements under the current public records law while reducing delays and costs to anyone requesting records. Overall, the goal is to create a uniform records request process across all of the Commonwealth’s government departments and agencies.
We are proud to undertake this important step towards increasing the public’s access to information and shedding further light on the government that their tax dollars fund,” said Governor Baker. “These new measures reduce costs and make the public records request process more uniform and timely, increasing government’s public accountability, openness and transparency.”
The new procedures will affect the public records request process at the DOI
In a memo to his Cabinet Secretaries, Governor Baker outlined the new procedures that will be implemented over the coming weeks. Since the Division of Insurance is an agency with the Office of Consumer and Affairs and Business, it will likely be one of the first agencies to implement the new rules. These include:
- A designated Records Access Officer (RAO) to receive and coordinate requests and establish an internal tracking system to ensure compliance with the administration’s public records policy and existing law. RAO’s contact information will be posted on an agency’s website along with helpful instructions for submitting public records requests.
- Improved communications with the public, secretariats and agencies through the newly designated RAO. The RAO officer will be required to notify a requester within 5 days if the records they are seeking may take more than 10 days and/or $10 to produce. Requests should be fulfilled in no more than eight weeks, with any extension being explained to a requester in writing.
- A requirement to “…regularly make available frequently requested information and/or records on their website and provide information as able, in electronic, searchable formats.”
- Waived search and retrieval fees for standard public records requests, with no cost for the first 4 hours of work required for more complex requests, charges of no more than $25 per hour for additional time required and notify the requester of those costs in advance.
- Implement standardized production costs in response to public records requests, and in the interest of cost savings and environmental purposes, fulfill requests electronically as able. This will mean:
- Electronic Copies: No charge for duplication*
- 1-4 precisely defined documents: No charge**
- Black and White Hard Copies: 10 cents per page for single- and double-sided copies.
- Color Hard Copies: 50 cents per page
*Costs for discs, thumb-drives or other storage devices necessary to transmit requested documents still apply.
**To be provided within 3-9 days of receipt of the request.
In addition to these standards, the Mass IT department will also be implementing over the next year an e-mail search capability for all Executive Branch agencies. This will also those agencies to be able to respond easily and effectively to broad-based email searches.
Governor’s action follows criticism of State’s handling of public record requests
The Governor’s action follows articles in the press and complaints from sources that acquire public records for citizens and companies regarding the inordinate delay and cost of obtaining public records in Massachusetts as opposed to other states. One Boston-based news startup that helps people obtain government documents, Muckrock, ranked Massachusetts 49th out of the 50 states in the time it took agencies to answer public records requests.