Lawmakers should continue to study the possibilities of requiring daily arrest logs from the state police and removing or modifying public record exemptions for domestic violence incidents, according to a working group created by a 2016 law.
An overhaul of the state's public records law that Gov. Charlie Baker signed on June 3, 2016 established a pair of panels to study additional measures and gave both deadlines of Dec. 30, 2017. The law also set a ten business day response window for records request responses, required state agencies and municipalities to designate records officers, and limited how much money public entities can charge to fulfill a request, among other measures.
One of the groups the law created — a 14-member commission tasked with examining "the accessibility of information concerning the legislative process" and the constitutionality of extending the public records law to the Legislature, the governor and the Judiciary — has until Dec. 1, 2018 to report findings. Lawmakers last month quietly pushed back the original Dec. 30, 2017 reporting date by adding language to a Cannabis Control Commission spending bill. The co-chairs of the State Administration Committee - Rep. Jennifer Benson of Lunenburg and Sen. Walter Timilty of Milton - are leading that group.
The other group, which filed its final report with the House and Senate clerks on Friday, was charged with exploring the topic of police department records.
"While the group could not reach consensus on proposed legislation, it highlighted areas of concerns in current statutes and recommended further examination of these laws," state supervisor of records Rebecca Murray, who chaired the working group, wrote in a message accompanying the report.
Murray wrote that she hopes the report "sets the groundwork for the Legislature to ensure the laws of the Commonwealth reach the necessary balance between the transparency of law enforcement in Massachusetts and the privacy of individuals."
Specifically, the law instructed the working group to review the exemption to the public records law that covers "investigatory materials necessarily compiled out of the public view by law enforcement," as well as the "the public interest" in releasing police documents such as arrest reports, and related privacy and confidentiality concerns.
The group was deadlocked on whether to recommend adding the state police into the law that requires all municipal police department to maintain a daily log of complaints, crimes and arrests, according to meeting minutes included in the report. Entries in such logs are considered public records, with exceptions for incidents involving certain handicapped individuals, domestic violence, rape or sexual assault, and arrests for assault against a relative or household members.
Murray, Sen. Joan Lovely, attorney Jeffrey Pyle of Prince Lobel, Foxborough Town Clerk Robert Cutler, and Randall Ravitz, chief of Attorney General Maura Healey's appeals division, voted in favor of extending the log requirement to state police.
Voting against were Shannon Sullivan, a designee of Public Safety and Security Secretary Daniel Bennett; Capt. Michael Lyver, president of the state police Commissioned Officers Association of Massachusetts; Robert Ross, general counsel at the Executive Office of Administration and Finance; Jessica Katon, Sen. Richard Ross's constituent services director; and Salisbury Police Chief Thomas Fowler.
A 2014 law aimed at curbing domestic violence made it so police reports about domestic violence and rape were not deemed public records, and therefore not subject to disclosure requirements. Supporters said the move would increase confidentiality for victims.
The group voted 10-0 to not recommend changes to the disclosure exemption for reports of abuse involving household members, and 10-1 not to recommend changes to the exemption relating to domestic violence, with Robert Ambrogi of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association dissenting.
Instead, the panel suggested that the Legislature should study those issues, as well as the question of whether the state police should be subject to the daily log requirements and how that requirement would be fulfilled if so.