Public records reform gets Galvinized

Secretary of State Galvin, who oversees the state’s public records law, recently unveiled his nuclear option in his push for reform: threatening lawmakers with a referendum.

There is no shortage of pending bills designed to address criticisms of the state’s weak public records law. Most of them contain the same nuggets, designating a point person to handle records requests, providing data in digital formats, and awarding attorneys’ fees when agencies misstep. The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald agree that reform is long overdue.

Even though many of well-known fixes could likely be addressed in a two-year legislative session, Galvin, who has often come under fire from media outlets on public records issues, has little confidence that lawmakers will deal with them.

His referendum threat underscores a larger, longstanding problem of Massachusetts lawmaking: inertia. Reform efforts often fall by the wayside, get watered down and fail to address key problems, or set off a furious scramble to satisfy the multiple legal requirements before a ballot question can be put in front of before voters.

While the Massachusetts referendum process is not in danger of Californication (California has put more initiatives on the ballot than any other state except Oregon), recourse to ballot initiatives, or the threat thereof, sometimes appears to be the only way to light a fire under state lawmakers even if there is general agreement on the necessary fixes.

Beacon Hill long-timers like Galvin understand that the referendum wildcard can goad Beacon Hill into swifter action. Most advocates on either side of any given question prefer to compromise with state lawmakers under the Golden Dome rather than trying to influence unpredictable voters through the complex and expensive mechanism of a ballot campaign.

Ballot initiative threats can be a useful tool in Bay State lawmaking. The impasse over the “right to repair” law involving wider access to auto diagnostic information got traction because of a looming ballot question.  State lawmakers finally acted, not fast enough to prevent a measure from getting on the ballot, but soon enough to set the parameters for tweaking the measure that voters eventually passed.

The Massachusetts Nurses Association and the Massachusetts Hospital Association also came to agreements on staffing ratios and hospital financial disclosures, but only after the nurses association made clear that the next stop was the ballot box.

If the Legislature continues to prove resistant, Galvin has a formidable new ally in Attorney General Maura Healey, whose office oversees the ballot initiative process and ultimate enforcement of the records law. Healey believes that the Legislature and the judiciary should not be exempted from public records requests. With those two handling any possible public records ballot question, state legislators might just want to legislate.

–GABRIELLE GURLEY

 

BEACON HILL

Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins says the War on Drugs was a joke, resulting in the incarceration of many people who didn’t belong in jail. (State House News)

Scot Lehigh questions whether the MBTA Carmen’s Union is that interested in helping to reform and improve the system. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Boston officials say they have tapped Dusty Rhodes, a well-known Boston events planner, to produce a scaled-down First Night celebration this year. City officials said they could not comply with Globe reporter Meghan Irons’s request for information on the request for proposals that was issued or on the competing firm that lost out because the information was on the computer of an employee who is on vacation.

Telegram & Gazette columnist Clive McFarlane says Worcester should have no interest in luring the Pawtucket Red Sox to town.

A Holbrook police dog escaped from its handler’s yard and attacked a 15-year-old boy practicing his baseball swing and the boy’s mother before being put under control by the officer. (The Enterprise)

Fall River Mayor Sam Sutter, trying to close budget gaps in several areas, submitted a budget that includes a $10 monthly trash fee for the already-controversial pay-as-you-throw program. (Herald News)

The Fitchburg City Council rejects a proposal to put cameras at traffic intersections. (Lowell Sun)

Bad blood lingers on the Saugus Board of Selectmen in the wake of a controversial recall vote, the Item says in an editorial.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Senate passed a bill that President Obama quickly signed into law putting severe restrictions on government’s ability to conduct surveillance that was first put in place after the terrorist attacks of September 11. (New York Times)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren tore into the chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying she has been lax in her watchdog duties over Wall Street. (Boston Globe)

A Stoughton High School graduate and Northeastern University alumnus who used his computer skills to run ISIS’s social media propaganda, including the terror group’s videos of beheadings, was apparently killed in an US airstrike in Iraq. (The Enterprise)

State officials say the US Department of Defense mistakenly sent a sample of anthrax to a private lab in Marlborough. (Associated Press)

Blatter relieves himself: The chief of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, stepped down in the wake of a growing bribery scandal rocking the international soccer organization just four days after he won reelection and vowed to serve out his term. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Apple chief Tim Cook criticizes Internet companies (presumably Google, Facebook, and Twitter) for monetizing the personal information of their users. (Time)

Investors who acquired the shuttered Evergreen Solar facility in Devens have flipped the property at a 400 percent markup. (Boston Herald)

EDUCATION

Andrew Rotherham writes that heated words about Common Core standards — including Chris Christie’s recent flip-flop — are rarely about the actual standards. “Instead,” he writes, “Common Core is a Rorschach test for various grievances about education – testing, accountability, control – or more general political views about the federal government or other national issues.” (US News & World Report)

HEALTH CARE

The nonprofit Commonwealth Care Alliance opened a 14-bed residential facility in Brighton yesterday that is designed to house those suffering from serious mental illness who nevertheless do not require the more restrictive — and expensive — care of a hospital setting. (Boston Globe) Last year, CommonWealth spotlighted the organization’s efforts to figure out ways to deliver better primary care at lower cost.

About 13 percent of those who enrolled in health care plans under the Affordable Care Act have been dropped from coverage, most because they failed to pay their premiums. (New York Times)

TRANSPORTATION

Virginia, a pioneer in developing public-private partnerships for transportation initiatives such as toll roads, is having second thoughts. (Governing)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

The Haverhill City Council votes 7-1 in favor of a Sun Edison solar farm on the city’s closed dump. (Eagle-Tribune)

A vulnerable waterfront Scituate vacation home that has been damaged at least 10 times by Atlantic storms is getting $180,000 from a federal program — the second time it’s received federal aid in 12 years — to wage battle against the sea. (Boston Globe)

Salem officials hold a groundbreaking for a new natural gas-fired power plant. (Salem News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The knife-wielding man killed by Boston police and the FBI in a Roslindale parking lot was under surveillance by a joint terrorism task force investigating possible threats by extremists to behead law enforcement officers, the Herald reports. Later on Tuesday, a man was arrested in Everett in connection with case; charges against him are expected to be announced today. (Boston Globe)

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said it is likely MBTA officer Richard Donahue was hit by friendly fire during the Watertown shootout with the Boston Marathon bombers. (WBUR)

The 19-year-old woman whose arm was cut off by a boat propeller in Boston Harbor is recovering. Meanwhile, bail was reduced for the lawyer allegedly driving the boat while drunk when the incident occurred. (Boston Globe) Area law enforcement officials make very few arrests for operating boats under the influence of alcohol, the Herald reports.

Gloucester’s new program that offers treatment instead of punishment to people struggling with opioid addictions gets its first taker. (Eagle-Tribune)

A Connecticut woman testifies that a Worcester police officer made inappropriate sexual advances to her after coming across her and her boyfriend having sex in the back of their car. (Telegram & Gazette)

An Uxbridge man who said the Holy Spirit guided him by providing a proprietary trading system to use in the volatile futures market has been charged by the secretary of state’s office with running a Ponzi scheme. (Associated Press)

A lawsuit by a former top prosecutor against Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz charging he was fired because he didn’t contribute to Cruz’s reelection campaign could be headed back to court after a second attempt at mediation failed. (Patriot Ledger)

Alan Dershowitz slipped, fell, and now is suing the TD Garden. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Investigative Reporters and Editors says the Massachusetts State Police is a finalist for its golden padlock award, which goes to the most secretive government agency or individual in the United States. (IRE)

The Huffington Post is in a sort of limbo in the wake of Verizon’s planned acquisition of AOL. (New York Times)