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Editorial: Open the door to state transparency

Government transparency should be more than a goal here in Massachusetts — the birthplace of American representative government — it should be a given.

But totally open government, as measured by the ability of the public to get complete and detailed information, remains elusive.

A bill currently sitting in the Legislature would eliminated one barrier to this end. Under legislation filed by state Rep. Peter Kocot, chairman of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight, would correct two existing issues with obtaining public records — the cost and speed. According to recent a story from the State House News Service, “The bill would require every state agency to designate a records access officer, lower the cost of copy pages to 5 to 7 cents each (now costing anywhere from 20 cents to $1 per page) and require the custodian of records to make electronic copies of the documents available, when possible.”

That makes sense to us since the ability to get records in a timely manner at an affordable cost has been problematic, whether you are a citizen or a news reporter looking to gather information.

Such delays should be unheard of when so much information and data is has been entered into computers. And while the idea is not to place a burden on towns when it comes complying with aspects of the bill that have a direct impact on them, there’s no reason why municipalities should not improve their speed in providing documents and information under the law.

We also like that, under this legislation, a commission would be established with the charge of examining the public’s access to what happens inside the Legislature ... since that body is now exempt from the state’s public records law and the Open Meeting Law. While we think that this will be a harder nut to crack, we see no reason why Legislators should not be held to the same standard as municipalities and government agencies.

We urge Massachusetts residents to get in touch with lawmakers on Beacon Hill and urge the passage of this bill. These proposed reforms would bring the state much closer to making public records access affordable and timely.

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