Healey won’t file legislation subjecting her office to records law
But she promises to comply with law most of the time
GOV. MAURA HEALEY said on Monday that she will not introduce legislation that would make her office subject to the Massachusetts Public Records Law.
”I don’t think I need to file legislation,” Healey told Jim Braude, co-host of GBH’s Boston Public Radio. “I think that I can just implement along the lines that I’ve articulated, you know. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
Healey on Monday posted a new policy on the handling of public records on her office’s website. Citing a Supreme Judicial Court case dubbed Lambert, Healey said the records of her office are not subject to the public records law. She noted previous governors have voluntarily released records on a case-by-case basis, and she indicated she will do the same with a lighter touch.
“Gov. Healey intends to follow the public records law and provide more transparency to the governor’s office than ever before,” the policy states. “Public records requests will be evaluated based on the public records law, established exemptions, and any unique obligations of the governor’s office.”
“When it comes to the actual implementation, you’ll see some differences,” Healey said. “I mean, as attorney general I was accustomed to complying with the public records law. I said that I would continue that as governor. Legally, I’m not required to [comply] until and unless there’s a legislative change.”
She added: “There may be certain instances where there are certain things that cannot be provided to the public, but I have assured and will continue to assure that I will be a governor who is going to be the most transparent that we’ve seen when it comes to the production of information. I’m not going to hide the ball on things, you know, because for better or worse the public needs to know.”
Braude did not ask Healey specifically whether she would invoke the Lambert case to avoid providing public records. Her comments indicated she would operate as if her office was subject to the public records law, listing one of the exemptions allowed under the law whenever she refuses to release a document. Yet her policy also said she could withhold a document because of “unique obligations of the governor’s office,” which is not an exemption contained in the law.
Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, wasn’t sure what to make of Healey’s new policy. “Gov. Healey said her office would follow the public records law and that’s the expectation. There is no ‘unique obligations’ exemption in the law, and claiming one now seems like an attempt to walk back the promise she made,” he said.Healey served eight years as attorney general with a mixed record on public records. In 2022, for example, her office lost many of the public records appeals filed against it with the supervisor of public records in the office of Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin.
Galvin has no enforcement powers when it comes to public records appeals, so when a stalemate over records arises he has to refer it for enforcement to the attorney general. Under Healey’s tenure, referrals became rare because she often overruled Galvin’s office.