Senate tweaks disability bill to preserve records access

Amendment narrows conditions for public records exemption

AFTER ADVOCATES FOR people with disabilities raised concerns about a proposal to broaden a public records exemption related to abuse investigations, which was included in a bill voted on Thursday in the state Senate, senators appear to have resolved those concerns.

CommonWealth reported that a bill focused on disability-related terminology also included a provision limiting the extent to which files maintained by the state’s Disabled Persons Protection Commission would be considered public records.

Although the DPPC said the language was simply codifying current practice to redact confidential and personally identifiable information, some advocates worried that the change could give the commission more authority to withhold information about abuse investigations by simply deciding to deem a document “confidential.”

The Senate adopted the bill unanimously on Thursday. Before voting, they accepted an amendment introduced by Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr narrowing the exemption. Under Tarr’s language, the bill only exempts from the public records law information held by the DPPC “that is confidential or personally identifiable information pursuant to federal or state law.”

Tarr explained that earlier language created a “very broad exemption” that could inhibit the ability of organizations to investigate problems and provide oversight. He said on the Senate floor that his amendment ensures the exemption only applies to information already protected by another state and federal law.

Anna Baglaneas Eves, a parent advocate from Rockport who raised concerns about the bill, said with Tarr’s amendment, “I am reasonably optimistic that once this law comes into effect that we will still have the access we had before.”

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration.