I hope I’m not violating a rule against multiple posts one one day, but I am on the warpath. I had sent Rep. O’Flaherty an email privately, asking him to reconsider his policy in somewhat more temperate terms than I did in my prior post. Here is my email and his response:
Dear Representative O’Flaherty,
I am the person who requested the testimony from the hearing on the Uniform Foreign-Court Money Judgment Act, concerning which you have been corresponding with David Kravitz. I appreciate that you took the time to respond to him, but I have to say that I think your committee’s policy lacks a real rationale and contributes to the perception that we do not have open, transparent, and accountable government on Beacon Hill. On the one hand, you point out that the hearing was public, and therefore, anyone was free to attend and listen to what was said. But on the other hand, you claim that witnesses with particularly sensitive testimony might be chilled if they knew their testimony was available to the public. I fail to see the logic of this. Moreover, I find it more or less impossible to believe that anyone who testified either for or against the UFCMJA could have had anything particularly sensitive to say.
I think you have an opportunity to take a more or less painless step that would win you lots of praise by making testimony, witness lists, etc., presumptively available to the public, subject to whatever exceptions you think are necessary in particularly sensitive cases. My strong view is that even in those cases testimony should be publicly available, but as a first step, I hope you will agree that there is no reason why everyday, run-of-the-mill testimony without any particular sensitivity should not be freely and readily available to the public you serve.
Any individual who chooses to testify at our public hearings has made the determination themselves that is is okay for their name and identity to be associated with the issue being testified on.
Our office also receives numerous letters and correspondence that ask us to consider their position but to refrain from exposing their identity due to various reasons. Some entities offer written testimony, videos and other presentations to the committee that they specifically request not to be disbursed due to sensitive material containing their rationale for or against a bill.
Therefore, under our interpretation of the law, it is within my judgment to make such decisions and for 9 years and under three different Speakers it has remained the same.
I can recall when I had to almost summons the state police to instruct a local TV news station to stop recording the testimony of a rape victim at one of our hearings; several individuals who didn’t testify publicly at that hearing did so in letters to my office. Whether it’s a sensitive issue or one considered innocuous, our policy remains, and will remain, the same.
Your assertions of greater transparency do not convince me that a selective policy of release is preferable to the policy maintained by my office.
I find it shocking that Representative O’Flaherty would have thought to call the police to keep reporters from reporting on testimony at a public hearing! Also, I note that he has referred to the testimony of rape victims both in his response to me and in his response to David. I would like to know the ratio of rape victim witnesses to all witnesses, so that I can judge the practical significance of Representative O’Flaherty’s position, but of course, given his policy, I have no way to find out.
Since it seems clear that Representative O’Flaherty has no interest in discussing a change to his policy, it’s time for Plan B: a massive one-man lobbying effort and social media blitz!