Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bills to Strengthen Open Meeting Law Get Mothballed

Bills that would have put sharper teeth in the Massachusetts Open Meeting Law and that would have extended the law to the legislature have been effectively mothballed for this legislative session. The legislature's Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight referred out the bills with a study order, which means nothing else is likely to happen with them during the current legislative session.

One of the bills that the committee referred to study is House Bill 1734, filed by Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral (D-New Bedford). It would have allowed courts to impose civil penalties on public officials who intentionally violate the OML and would have authorized the Attorney General's Office to impose public reprimands on officials who intentionally violate the law. Under the current law, a public official who violates the law faces no individual consequences of any kind.

Rep. Cabral's bill would also have authorized recovery of attorneys' fees and costs by citizens who bring legal actions to enforce the OML. Currently, Massachusetts is one of fewer than 10 states that do not allow citizens to recover attorneys' fees.

The Joint Committee also mothballed four different bills, all of which would have included the legislature under the OML. Currently, the legislature is exempt from open-meeting requirements. The four bills are House Bill 848, House Bill 2594, House Bill 3037 and Senate Bill 1625.

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