The Massachusetts legislature's Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight today held a hearing on a number of open government bills and both the Senate and House chairs of the committee indicated support for measures that would add "teeth" to the law. In my capacity as executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, I testified in support of House Bill 3217, an MNPA-drafted bill that would allow fines against individual board members who violate the law and allow recovery of attorneys' fees by private citizens who bring actions to enforce the law. MNPA President Larry McDermott, publisher of The Republican in Springfield, and media lawyer Peter Caruso also testified in favor of the bill. We also expressed support for House Bill 3171, a more comprehensive open meeting reform bill filed by Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford), the committee's House chair.
In comments during the hearing, both Rep. Cabral and Sen. Dianne Wilkerson (D-Boston), the Senate chair, indicated their support for strengthening the enforcement provisions of the open meeting law. When an opponent of the bill testified that officials who violate the open meeting law do so innocently, Sen. Wilkerson responded that her experience suggested otherwise. She has served on numerous boards and commissions, she said, and has seen them "skate close to the edge a lot." Both Sen. Wilkerson and Rep. Cabral appeared to agree that adding penalties and attorneys' fees is necessary in order to enforce the law.