Friday, April 18, 2008

Open Meeting Bill Lacks Teeth

A bill to overhaul the Massachusetts open meeting law was reported favorably out of committee yesterday. While there is a lot to like about the bill, it is disappointing for its failure to address the most significant weakness in the law -- its lack of teeth. The bill that the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight reported out represents a compromise between the bill filed by the House chair of the committee, Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford) and a draft bill circulated but never filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley. Earlier versions of both bills would have given the law teeth and put Massachusetts on a par with most other states by authorizing fines against public officials who violate the law. Rep. Cabral's bill also would have authorized awards of attorneys' fees to citizens who brought successful actions to enforce the law. Yesterday's compromise bill dropped the penalties and the attorneys fees. While existing law allows a fine against a board that violates the law (as opposed to its members), the new bill weakens even that provision by adding in proof of "intent" as a condition precedent to the fine -- a standard that is nearly impossible to meet with regard to a public board or commission.

For more on the law, including comments from me, see these reports:

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