Salem mayor calls for the Legislature to be covered by the open meeting law

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll. Photo (cc) 2020 by the office of Gov. Charlie Baker.

Well, isn’t this a lovely surprise on a Monday morning. Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll has written an op-ed piece for The Boston Globe calling for an end to the state Legislature’s exemption from the open meeting law — a law that requires virtually all city and town boards and many state commissions to conduct their business in public. It’s a bit too late for Sunshine Week, but we’ll take it. Driscoll writes:

If 351 cities and towns can adopt budgets, engage in policy debates, hire and evaluate staff, and create local laws — all while meeting the rightly rigorous standards of the Commonwealth’s Open Meeting Law — there is no valid reason why our state colleagues cannot do the same.

Driscoll also notes that Massachusetts is one of only 11 states whose legislature is exempt from open meeting laws.

Similarly, the Legislature and the courts are exempt from the state’s public records law, and a succession of governors, including Charlie Baker, have claimed that their immediate staff is exempt as well.

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Last fall, our Northeastern journalism students contacted all 257 candidates for House and Senate seats and asked them whether they would support ending that exemption. Sadly, only 71 responded despite repeated emails and phone calls; but of those who did respond, 72% said they favored applying the public records law to the Legislature.

As with the open meeting law, Massachusetts is an outlier: it is one of only four states whose public records laws do not cover legislative proceedings.

The central argument Driscoll offers is unassailable. If cities, towns and state agencies can comply with the open meeting and public records laws, so, too, can the Legislature. It’s long past time to drag the proceedings of the Great and General Court out into the sunlight.