On June 3, 2016, Governor Baker signed An Act to Improve Public Records into law. Many of the provisions in the new law will take effect on January 1, 2017. Please be aware, the current law will remain effective until that time.
Below are a few of the provisions of the new version of the Public Records Law that will become effective next year. It is suggested you consult the complete text of the new law which can be found here.
Records Access Officer (RAO)
Agencies and municipalities are required to designate 1 or more Records Access Officer (RAO).
The contact information for the RAO must be posted conspicuously, including on the agency's or municipality's website, if available.
The RAO has a duty to:
- Coordinate the agency's or municipality's response to requests for access to public records;
- Assist individuals seeking public records in identifying the records requested;
- Assist the custodian of records in preserving public records; and
- Prepare guidelines that enable requestors to make informed requests.
Warren Records Access Officer
In accordance with the amended state public records law, Chapter 121 of the Acts of 2016, the Town of Warren has designated Rebecca Acerra, Administrative Assistant, as the person responsible for responding to public records requests.
Mrs. Acerra can be contacted at 413-436-5701. Mrs. Acerra’s office is located at 48 High Street in Warren.
The duties of the Records Access Officer are established by statute and include:
- Coordinating responses to public records requests;
- Assisting individuals who seek records to identify the records sought;
- Assisting the custodian of records to preserve public records in accordance with the law;
- Preparing, posting online and periodically updating guidelines to enable the public to make informed public records requests; and
- Documenting, in compliance with c. 66 § 6A(e), specific information about each request made for public records.
Please contact the Records Access Officer, preferably in writing, regarding public records requests for documents pursuant to “A Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law” as published by William Francis Galvin, Secretary of the Commonwealth. Records will generally be provided in electronic format within 10 business days barring an exception. In the case of an exception the Records Access Officer will contact the requestor with an explanation for the delay and a good faith estimate of any fees that may be charged for the production of the records and a reasonable timeframe for when the records will be provided, which generally will not exceed 25 business days from the initial request. For questions or more information, please feel free to contact Mrs. Acerra.
Under the new version of the law, RAOs must provide public records to a requestor in an electronic format unless the record is not available in an electronic format or the requestor does not have the ability to receive or access the records in a useable electronic format.
Additionally, as of January 1, 2017, agency RAOs will be required to provide on a searchable website electronic copies of commonly requested records, including: final opinions, annual reports, minutes of open meetings and agency budgets. Municipal RAOs will also be required to post commonly requested records on their municipal websites, to the extent feasible.
Under the current law, a records custodian must respond to a request for records in writing within 10 calendar days.
Beginning January 1, 2017, a RAO must permit inspection or furnish a copy of a requested public record within 10 business days following receipt of the request. RAOs may petition the Supervisor of Records for an extension if they are unable to grant access to the requested public records in this time period.
The Supervisor of Records' Public Access Regulations allowing records custodians to charge 5 cents for black and white paper copies or computer printouts of public records for both single and double-sided sheets was codified and will remain effective with the new law.
Beginning January 1, 2017, if a response to a public records request requires more than 4 hours of employee time, an agency RAO may assess a fee of the hourly rate of the lowest paid employee with the skills necessary to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce a requested record. However, the fee shall not exceed $25 an hour.
Beginning January 1, 2017, if a response to a public records request requires more than 2 hours of employee time, a municipal RAO may assess a fee of the hourly rate of the lowest paid employee with the skills necessary to search for, compile, segregate, redact or reproduce a requested record. However, the fee shall not exceed $25 an hour, unless approved by the Supervisor of Records. Municipalities with populations of 20,000 people or fewer will be permitted to charge for the first 2 hours of employee time.
As of January 1, 2017, if an agency or municipality fails to comply with a requirement of the new law, the requestor may file an appeal with the Supervisor of Records who will then issue a determination on the public status of the records within 10 business days of receipt of the request for an appeal.
Under the new Public Records Law, if a requestor prevails in a court action against an agency or municipal RAO, the court may award the requestor attorney fees or costs.
|Rebecca Acerra||Administrative Assistant|