Mass. ranks 20th in transparency, 42d on public records
Massachusetts ranks 20th among the 50 states on an index of laws relating to transparency, accountability, and limits in government, but its record was particularly bad on its public records and open meeting laws.
The survey by the Better Government Association ranks the states in five different categories: open records laws; whistleblower laws; campaign finance laws; open meeting laws, and conflict of interest laws. Massachusetts ranked 42d in open records laws and 37th in open meeting laws but fared much better on whistleblower laws (28th), campaign finance laws (2d), and conflict of interest laws (13th). Overall, the state received a score of 54 percent.
"Massachusetts should be congratulated that it beat out 30 other states," wrote BGA executive director Jay Stewart. "However, there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. If you look at the percentage score, Massachusetts received 54 percent, the equivalent of a F letter grade, hardly a cause for celebration."
The cover story in the Fall issue of CommonWealth magazine focuses on the weakness of the state’s Public Records Law and suggests that Florida has laws worth emulating. The Better Government Association index of public records laws indicated that Nebraska and New Jersey have the best statutes in the nation. Florida was tied for 17th.The Better Government Association used five criteria to analyze and compare the state laws. Three of the criteria were procedural, including the amount of time an agency has to respond to a citizen request and the process for appeal. Two of the criteria related to the penalties imposed for agencies that withhold documents.
Illustration by Polly Becker.