Forecast calls for sunshine followed by clouds

Nothing riles up the media more than government secrecy at any and all levels. Whether it’s a local Board of Health going into executive session without explanation or Congress exempting itself from the Freedom of Information Act, reporters and editors decry the moves to conduct the people’s business behind closed doors.

But the question comes, how much do the people really care? Today is the start of the 11th annual Sunshine Week, an initiative begun by the American Society of News Editors to inform and educate the public about the need for transparency and open government. The week-long effort is timed to fall around the March 16 birthday of James Madison, a champion of the people’s right to know. It’s a noble effort, to be sure, but what it’s actually accomplished remains an open question.

In Massachusetts, the attempt to bring light into the dark is based on what has become increasingly acknowledged as one of the country’s weakest public records laws. When it first started in 2005, nearly all the state’s media outlets got on board, writing stories around coordinated themes each year. One of the more notable broadsides against closed government was a three-pronged editorial assault by the Globe, Herald, and Patriot Ledger last year excoriating Secretary of State William Galvin for shielding police records of officers who have been arrested or disciplined for a variety of charges, chief among them drunken driving.

That editorial-shaming prompted Galvin to launch his own effort to reform the public records laws by promising to place a referendum on the ballot this fall, claiming it was the statute rather than his office’s interpretation of the law that was at fault. But Galvin’s signature drive fell far short and he’s left it to the Legislature to come up with a compromise measure. Cue the audience laughter.

Many of the state’s newspapers have started out the week with a wire story on legislatures around the country exempting themselves from public records and open meeting laws. Massachusetts, of course, is a central part of that story because not only is the Legislature exempt, so is the Judiciary and, because of court rulings, the governor’s office. The stories note lawmakers routinely bake new laws behind closed doors with the majority party writing the bills in a closed caucus and then bringing it to a vote on the floor with minimal debate and amendments allowed.

The story went a little further by requesting emails and schedules from Gov. Charlie Baker, House Speaker Robert DeLeo, and Senate President Stan Rosenberg. DeLeo declined. Baker and Rosenberg said they were exempt from the law, but agreed to release a week’s worth of emails. The story makes note that those exemptions could be easily closed by the lawmakers themselves, yet there is little appetite to do so.

The House and Senate are currently in negotiations to produce a public records reform. Both chambers passed bills but with stark differences that could derail the effort if compromise cannot be achieved. But one thing that won’t change is the exemption for the Legislature, governor, or courts. Neither bill contains any language to open up those records and only the House bill would create a commission to study what the ramifications of such a measure would be.

In addition to the shielding of records from the three main branches of government, most state, county, and local agencies routinely flout the laws by refusing or not even responding to public records requests with little or no consequences.

But that doesn’t mean reporters and editors don’t keep trying. There is no lack of year-round focus from local media on the impenetrable veil of government secrecy in Massachusetts. Just last week, the Globe’s Todd Wallack was awarded the Scripps Howard Foundation’s first place prize for “Distinguished Service to the First Amendment.”

But he’s certainly not alone, as a look at any local media outlet will tell you. Rarely does a week go by in the Globe or Herald or any of the local papers either challenging a denial of records or putting the spotlight on misdoings based on documents successfully attained. Several years ago at CommonWealth, we started the “Full Disclosure” series, posting stories and public records ranging from ethics forms to court briefs in an effort to inform the public.

But the attention to that and many other media efforts has dropped off among readers. Is it because of complacency? Apathy? Satisfaction with government? The answer is probably all of the above. But one thing is clear, Sunshine Week for all its good intentions, is unlikely to bring the kind of rays that will burn anyone.

JACK SULLIVAN

 

 BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker will sign sweeping legislation this morning to address the opioid addiction crisis. (Boston Globe)

A Globe editorial pans House legislation regulating ride-hailing businesses like Uber and Lyft, calling its ban on the services picking up passengers at Logan Airport “embarrassing for a city that bills itself as a center of forward-thinking.”

The Massachusetts Hospital Association comes out against legalization of marijuana. (Boston Globe)

Jacquelyn Ryan and Lizbeth DeSelm, the first two openly transgender elected officials in Massachusetts, urge lawmakers to pass the transgender anti-discrimination legislation. (CommonWealth) The state’s two large teachers unions and associations representing school superintendents and school committees are all set to endorse legislation granting transgender individuals full rights in public accommodations. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The number of permits allowing people to carry concealed weapons is on the rise on the South Shore. (Patriot Ledger)

Organizers of the IndyCar race planned for Boston’s Seaport district this fall will start selling tickets this week even though they have yet to secure any needed city or state permits. (Boston Herald)

Lowell City Manager Kevin Murphy’s economic development plan heavily relies on tax breaks. (The Sun) Meanwhile, Lowell’s parking revenue has more than doubled in five years. (The Sun)

South Boston residents have been receiving mysterious “polling” calls asking their opinion of Mayor Marty Walsh’s decision to shorten the St. Patrick’s Day parade route. Parade organizers are threatening to sue over the issue. (Boston Herald)

Raymond Mariano of the Worcester Housing Authority said he is getting used to the political brushoff. (CommonWealth)

Duxbury voters at Town Meeting approved a measure allowing police to issue civil fines rather than arrest teenagers caught with alcohol. (Patriot Ledger)

Telegram & Gazette columnist Nick Kotsopoulos raises alarms about the investment returns of the city’s pension fund.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

A Senate committee is gathering information from 20 hospital systems, including Partners HealthCare, on the practice of allowing surgeons to perform “concurrent” surgeries in the wake of a recent Globe Spotlight report on the issue. (Boston Globe)

US Rep. James McGovern will be joining President Obama for his trip to Cuba this month. (Masslive)

An Eagle-Tribune editorial criticizes President Obama, who laments the lack of bipartisanship in Washington, for not attending the funerals of Antonin Scalia and Nancy Reagan.

ELECTIONS

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has been largely silent on the presidential race, unloads on Donald Trump in an interview with NECN’s Alison King. Warren also says she will make an endorsement but gives no timeline for that, and says of any idea she might take the VP slot on the Democratic ticket, it’s “way, way, way premature to talk about that.”

Chanel Prunier, the national Republican committeewoman Baker is hoping to oust and replace with state Rep. Keiko Orrall, says the governor — who has denounced Donald Trump — should welcome the bloviating billionaire’s angry supporters into the state party. (Boston Herald)

Hillary Clinton’s past support for trade deals is coming to haunt her in primary match-ups against Bernie Sanders in Midwestern states hard hit by globalization. (Boston Globe) Wendy Kaminer is not enthusiastic about Clinton, but says she would vote for an actual donkey than any of the Republican candidates. (WBUR)

Mitt Romney plans to campaign with John Kasich in Ohio. (Politico) Despite urging his supporters to punch or knock the crap out of protesters, Donald Trump says he does not condone violence. (NPR) The National Review says the protests and near-rioting at Trump rallies are awful but the candidate and his “meat-headed rhetoric” bear blame as well.

Sen. Marco Rubio’s dismal showing in primaries and his uneven performance in campaigning could jeopardize the GOP’s chances of retaining his Florida Senate seat. (American Spectator)

Gov. Charlie Baker has been a fundraising beast, pulling in more campaign funds in his first 14 months in office ($3.3 million) than his two predecessors collected combined during that period. (Boston Globe)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Brockton city councilors are questioning the future of the money-losing city’s Campanelli Stadium after the non-profit that runs the facility amended the lease agreement with the Brockton Rox baseball team allowing the rent to be diverted to a maintenance fund. (The Enterprise)

A 65-year-old Duxbury father’s case in federal appeals court may go a long way toward determining when the debt load for student loans is too overwhelming to reasonably expect repayment. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Catholic Memorial High School is vowing to institute changes in its curriculum and meet with students after several students at the West Roxbury school yelled anti-semitic taunts at students from Newton North High School at a basketball game between the two schools on Friday. (Boston Globe)

A report by the Center for American Progress lauds Lawrence, Houston, and Denver for school district turnarounds that incorporated charter school practices into the overall district. (Eagle-Tribune)

Public school systems across Massachusetts are boosting their revenue by taking in students from outside the state and as far away as China. (CommonWealth)

Former governor Michael Dukakis and ex-Senate president Tom Birmingham call on the state to revive the US history MCAS test as a graduation requirement. (Boston Globe)

Uncertainty about the Boston public schools budget persists, with superintendent Tommy Chang expressing hope that key initiatives, including expansion of preschool offerings, can move forward. Adrian Walker says Chang’s first year in office has been trial by fire. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Paul Levy offers his take on a CommonWealth story on the Massachusetts Hospital Association opposing a ballot question that would regulate hospital rates.

New regulations requiring child-resistant packaging for liquids and gels used with electronic cigarettes take effect Tuesday. (Associated Press)

The state’s MassHealth program has major gaps in coverage when it comes to adult dental health care. (MetroWest Daily News)

Hospitals are working to make intensive care units less frightening and disorienting. (Boston Globe)

New York is set to become the first state in the nation to require physicians to write prescriptions electronically in an effort to reduce fraud and abuse. (New York Times)

TRANSPORTATION

T officials continue to refuse to release a report on absenteeism despite a ruling by the Secretary of State’s office that the document is a public record. (Boston Herald)

Local public officials urge the T not to replace the Mattapan trolley service with bus rapid transit. (Dorchester Reporter)

 ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Peter Shattuck and Jamie Howland of the Acadia Center make the case against new natural gas pipeline capacity. (CommonWealth)

Officials at the Southern Essex District Registry of Deeds warn homeowners that long-term solar panel leases may make their homes difficult to sell. (Salem News)

The warm winter has kicked off an early farming season in the region with fields already plowed and crops ready for planting. (Standard-Times)

 CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

With a statewide vote looming on legalizing the sale and recreational use of marijuana, the Sandwich police chief is proposing a local ordinance similar to the open container law that would bar the public use of pot. (Cape Cod Times)

MEDIA

The Boston Globe ends its involvement with Crux, its stand-alone website for Catholic news. The site itself may endure, as it is being turned over to reporter John Allen. (Nieman Journalism Lab)

Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and editor Ben Shapiro are leaving because of the company’s handling of the Trump campaign’s alleged assault on Fields. (Buzzfeed)