The Sunlight Foundation just released its legislative transparency report card as part of “Sunshine” week, a week dedicated to calling attention to the need for greater transparency in government. The Massachusetts Legislature received a failing grade for transparency and accessibility on its website. There were many flaws that warranted the “F” grade. Committee and floor roll call votes are not posted on-line in a searchable format. The site is difficult to navigate. And historical information is often unavailable. The Legislature should enact rules changes this legislative session to make their proceedings more open to the public.
Even worse, our public records law is broken. Journalists, concerned citizens, and others with a need – and right – to know how our government is working often can’t get information. Government records are supposed to be public unless specifically exempt, but they have become functionally inaccessible due to excessive cost, technological barriers, and administrative obstruction or delay. We need to reform our open records and open meetings laws to ensure that all of the government’s business is conducted in public, and that public records requests do not cost more than a nominal amount. The law hasn’t been substantially updated since 1973. It’s time to bring our public records law into the 21st century.
Efficient access to public records and on-line information is critical to holding our government accountable. We need to push legislative leaders to pass needed reforms so that next time, Massachusetts can join our neighbors in Connecticut and New Hampshire in receiving an “A” grade.