Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Mass. bill would reform open meeting law

Massachusetts state Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford), chairman of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, yesterday unveiled major legislation to reform Massachusetts' open meeting law. "Today, in an age of government spying, secret wiretapping and increasing government secrecy, we must renew our commitment to openness," Rep Cabral said.

The legislation is based on a package of bills proposed by the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, of which I am executive director.

The reform legislation has five main initiatives:
  • It would strengthen the language of the open meeting law to include current communication technology. Real-time electronic communication between government bodies would be subject to the same rules as meetings held in person.
  • It would create an Open Meeting Law Board to oversee complaints and violations of the open meeting law and oversee a new Office of Government Accountability, housed in the Office of the Attorney General, to provide increased resources to investigating violations.
  • For the first time in this state, it would impose civil fines on individual members of boards who violate the law and allow citizens to recover attorneys' fees in actions to enforce the law.
  • Boards subject to the open meeting law would be required to post meeting agendas as part of required meeting notices.
  • It would close some exceptions to the current law which allow for closed executive sessions.
The bill, based on legislation filed last year by the MNPA, has not been assigned a number.

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