Story in Worcester Telegram today. In particular the last line
BOSTON— State lawmakers yesterday advanced a major revision to the state’s Open Meeting Law, proposing to expand possible penalties for officials who violate the law and a new state board to conduct initial investigations into alleged violations. The bill, compiled from several proposed revisions to the law, was recommended for adoption yesterday by the Joint Committee on Administration and Regulatory Oversight. It was expected to be referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, which would have to clear it for an initial vote in the House later this session.
House Chairman Antonio F. D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, said the bill would also tighten definitions to ensure that boards could not use e-mails and electronic communications to do business outside of public view. It also would extend fines to state boards and commissions as well as municipal ones, and allow individual officials to be fined for improperly closing meetings to the public. Currently, only boards and commissions as a whole are liable for fines of up to $1,000 for violations. The new legislation would also allow fines up to $500 on individual officials for violations. The legislation states, however, that those officials recorded as opposing a government act that is found to violate the open meeting law would be exempt from individual fines.
The bill calls for a seven-member Open Meeting Board based in the office of the state attorney general to receive meeting violation complaints. The board would investigate and review incidents within 10 days of receiving a complaint. Violations would be referred to local district attorneys and the attorney general; enforcement actions would have to be taken within 90 days. Mr. Cabral said the board would have four members appointed by the governor, including representatives of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the Massachusetts Municipal Association and the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.
The board would also have an appointee of the secretary of state, and two representatives of the attorney general. New language would ensure that “real time communication” by government bodies, over the Internet or in other forms of electronic communication, would trigger the open meeting law, allowing the public to listen to or watch those sessions. E-mails and other communications involving a majority of any board subject to open meetings would have to be made available to the public. Another provision would change an exemption that allows municipal bodies reviewing job applicants to use closed executive sessions. The committee said the exemption is “overused.”
Another change would require agendas outlining meeting topics to be posted along with advance meeting notices.
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