Public records law may get boost, but it won’t come easily

The Globe‘s Todd Wallack has been all over the story of problems with the state’s weak public records law. But his latest installment, on the front of Sunday’s paper, was a particular doozy.

He leads with the tale of a Taunton lawyer who was trying to obtain state records on the accuracy of Breathalyzer tests. What he received instead was breathtaking.

While other states had provided the lawyer with results of their Breathalyzer tests for free or, in the case of Wisconsin, said it would cost $75, the Massachusetts State Police said they would be happy to comply — for the tidy sum of $2.7 million.

It may one of the most egregious examples of how public offices in Massachusetts effectively slam the door on records request. Wallack says we may have the weakest public records law in the country, with officials routinely taking months to respond to requests and demanding “staggering sums for documents that are readily available in other parts of the country for free or at nominal cost.”

The state’s records law is also loaded with exemptions. Wallack says Massachusetts is the only state where all three branches of government — the governor’s office, the Legislature, and the judiciary — claim not to be covered by the statute.

Against that dismal backdrop, there has been some hope that we may finally add a little more muscle to the law. A bill sponsored by Northampton state Rep. Peter Kocot cleared an important legislative committee last week. One important provision of the bill would require public offices to reimburse those seeking records for attorneys’ fees if they have to go to court to get records released and are successful. An Eagle-Tribune editorial hails the legislation as progress. The bill does not touch the exemptions for the Legislature and other offices, however, and it would give offices 15 days to comply with records requests, rather 10 days, as currently required.

Even so, it has drawn a sharp rebuke from the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which says the bill would impose “significant unfunded mandates” on cities and towns and urged its members to contact lawmakers to oppose it. A Boston Herald editorial calls the bill a “modest reform” and rips the association for the “screed” it put out against the bill.

Dan Kennedy reports that leaders of an effort to beef up the records law, which includes representatives of the state ACLU, Common Cause Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, and the First Amendment Coalition, are calling on their members to counter the “aggressive attack” by the municipal association and lobby legislators to pass the bill.

Even taking baby steps out of the cellar in the ranking of state public records law, it seems, won’t come easy.

MICHAEL JONAS

 

BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker signs a $38.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2016. The budget includes a 50 percent increase in the earned income tax credit for low-income residents, while preserving a business tax deduction that had been on the chopping block to pay for the tax credit. Baker vetoed $162 million from the spending plan approved by the Legislature, including several education line items whose elimination Senate President Stan Rosenbergcalled “short-sighted at best.” (CommonWealth) House Speaker Robert DeLeo says he doesn’t consider the T reforms in the budget anti-union. (Keller @ Large)

A debate about regulating vaping with e-cigarettes is heating up on Beacon Hill. (Gloucester Times)

Michael Goodman of UMass Dartmouth says the state’s film tax credit would yield better results if credits were awarded only for in-state spending. (Boston Globe)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

More than $7 million is being spent in Lawrence creating new parks and rehabilitating old ones. (Eagle-Tribune)

Billerica Selectman George Simolaris paints over new crosswalks in the town center because he thinks they are dangerous to pedestrians. Now he faces the possibility of being arrested for taking matters into his own hands. (The Sun)

In dueling Sunday editorials, the Globe and the Herald praise and pan, respectively, new rules issued by the Obama administration to promote integration in housing. The twin editorials came a week after the Download spotlighted the new rules — and a related Supreme Court ruling that got short shift in the news amidst the attention to the court’s same-sex marriage and Obamacare decisions.

Mayor Marty Walsh names two new members to the Boston Redevelopment Authorityboard as he continues his remake of the agency. (Boston Globe)

OLYMPICS

Boston 2024 plans include finishing a final stretch of Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace alongColumbia Road in Dorchester. (Boston Globe)

CASINOS

The debate over legalizing casinos took more than a decade. Now it looks as if the debate over opening them may take as long. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

After five decades of Cold War tension, the US and Cuba establish diplomatic relations. (Time)

US Rep. Seth Moulton draws praise from his former political rival, Richard Tisei. (Salem News)

A new report says the American Psychological Association‘s leaders aided the Department of Defense in drawing up guidelines used to apply harsh interrogation techniques in combating terrorism. (Boston Globe)

ELECTIONS

Donald Trump is brushing off the barrage of criticism he has come under for his blustery comments denigrating John McCain and his war record, including years spent in a North Vietnamese prison.

The death of the New Hampshire primary as a barometer of who counts in presidential contests is greatly exaggerated. (Christian Science Monitor)

Robert Sullivan profiles Massachusetts in his ongoing series for America of political snapshots of the 50 states in the run-up to the 2016 election.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Cities should move to “form-based zoning,” which would assure that new developments and elements like signs, landscaping, and construction materials all complement the other. (Standard-Times)

EDUCATION

More students at Massachusetts community colleges are taking out loans — and defaulting on them. (Boston Globe)

North Shore Community College, which opened in Beverly in 1965, is closing its satellite campus in that city and consolidating operations in Danvers. (Salem News)

Vermont raises private money to fund a program to set aside $250 to $500 for college for every child born to Vermont parents. (Burlington Free Press)

The Patriot Ledger supports in-state tuition for undocumented students.

HEALTH CARE

A new study highlights a gender gap in science, and not among the humans but the animals being studied. (New York Times) Dr. Paula Johnson, head of the Connors Center for Women’s Health and Gender Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has been saying the same thing for years. (CommonWealth)

The Baker administration plans to add more beds at Taunton State Hospital. (Herald News)

TRANSPORTATION

Take a look at who Gov. Charlie Baker appointed to the MBTA control board. (CommonWealth)

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio goes to war against Uber. Is it a battle he can win? (Buzzfeed) The New York Times offers four opinions.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Environmental activists are starting a 10-community tour today to call on the state to raise its cap on “net-metering” to promote more solar energy development. (Associated Press)

A smaller Kinder Morgan pipeline would still be “disruptive,” according to a Berkshire Eagleeditorial.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan’s call for trying Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in state court prompts a backlash. (WBUR)

The problem-plagued Probation Department has a new bit of egg on its face, as officials admit that some recent promotional exams were accidentally shredded before they could be graded. (Boston Globe)

The Herald reports that lax enforcement of deportation orders left two Dominican nationalsin the US, where they’re now being held on drug charges and are under investigation for the July 4 murder of a Lawrence grandmother.

MEDIA

The Huffington Post says it is going to cover Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as entertainment and not politics. (Poynter)