On Beacon Hill: More access — to public records, bathrooms and acceptance

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From State House News Service


  • Gov. Baker signs public records access overhaul
  • House approves transgender protections bill
  • Coming up: Baker at UMass, plus much more
  • Worcester health division tapped for emergency management grant funds
  • Worth 1,000 Words: On the many faces of transgender bill debate


Baker signs public records law overhaul

Shortly after noon Friday, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the first major overhaul of the state’s public records law in more than 40 years.

Surrounded by legislators and advocates who helped craft the bill, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law June 3 the first significant overhaul of the state's public records law in more than 40 years.

Colin Young / State House News Service

Surrounded by legislators and advocates who helped craft the bill, Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law June 3 the first significant overhaul of the state’s public records law in more than 40 years.

Along with requiring state agencies, cities and towns designate records officers to field requests, the new law requires public agencies to provide requested public records within 10 business days, while allowing for extensions beyond that deadline capped at five business days from the original request for a state agency and 15 for a municipality.

Public agencies are encouraged under the law to make electronic public records more readily available to requesters if they are already in electronic formats, and to limit the costs public entities may charge for making copies or for employee time spent assembling records.

“I think this will require all of us to up our game a bit,” Baker said after inking his signature on the bill.

A former selectman in Swampscott, Baker said he was pleased that the law does not unduly burden municipalities, especially small towns that rely on volunteer record custodians.

“I do believe at this point that what you’ve done is produced a document that will make it possible for us all to dramatically improve our performance in this space, but also will be done in a way that I think at the local level, especially cities and towns, will be able to comply with it,” the governor said. “There’s going to be some stretch activity for many of them, but I believe they’ll be able to get there.”

Flanking Baker for the brief signing ceremony in the governor’s office were four legislators — Sens. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, and Jason Lewis, D-Winchester, and Reps. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, and Mathew Muratore, R-Plymouth — and a handful of advocates who helped craft the bill.

Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the new law will help foster trust in government.

“This is a really important foundational and first step to ensuring government transparency and accountability to the public,” she said. “What people want is a sense that they can trust the government, that government is accountable, that government is open.”

Asked whether the new law goes far enough, Baker said, “For now, I think absolutely,” and said he would be open to discussing further public records reforms to include the governor’s office and the Legislature under the provisions of the new law.

“We’ll comply with whatever rules are established by the Legislature and the courts,” he said. “If that’s something that at some point becomes part of the larger conversation, we’d be happy to have that conversation.”

— Colin A. Young (SHNS)


“You can’t tell people it’s OK to work at the diner, but it’s not to sit at the lunch counter. We learned that a long time ago.”

Rep. John Fernandes, D-Milford, House chairman of the Judiciary Committee, kicked off the emotional day of debate at the State House by calling public accommodations the “bedrock” of anti-discrimination and a natural extension of the 2011 law that protected transgender individuals from discrimination in the workplace and housing.

Bonus video #1: Watch Fernandes speak about the bill


House OKs transgender protections bill after emotional debate

In a major victory for equal rights activists, legislation aimed at preventing discrimination against transgender individuals in all public places, including bathrooms, passed the House Wednesday, June 1, clearing one of the last remaining hurdles for the decade-old policy proposal.

The House voted 116-36 in favor of the bill (H 4343) that would bar discrimination against transgender individuals in public accommodations and allow people to use public facilities that match their gender identity rather than their biological sex. Twelve Democrats voted against the bill, while eight Republicans supported it, giving House leadership the veto-proof majority it wasn’t sure it had leading into the debate.

The Senate has already passed a similar bill, and Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, shed his neutrality Tuesday on the eve of the House debate by coming out in favor of the House’s version, indicating he would sign that bill after “hearing from all sides.”

The House rejected amendments to exempt legally sex segregated facilities, bathrooms and locker rooms used primarily by minors, and multi-capacity showers and locker rooms.

Amendments proposing to require proof of medical transition and to bar registered Level II and Level III sex offenders from using any facility that doesn’t match their biological sex also failed.

House leaders were careful not to accept any amendments to the bill after Baker on Tuesday said he would sign the House version of the bill “in its current form” should it reach his desk.

The House bill would require Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to “issue guidance or regulations for referring to the appropriate law enforcement agency or other authority for legal action any person who asserts gender identity for an improper purpose . . . ”

Bonus video #2: Watch Rep. Sheila C. Harrington, R-Groton, tell her captivating story of changing her stance and supporting this bill

The Senate did not include that language in its bill, with key senators viewing it as unnecessary, but not objectionable and supporters favoring the language as a potential safeguard against predators who might take advantage of the bill’s bathroom and locker room access provisions that are tied to gender identity.

The Senate, which passed its version earlier this month on a 33-4 vote, has also called for the law change to take effect immediately, while the House bill would delay implementation until Jan. 1, 2017.

“Today’s passage of the Public Accommodations bill by the House puts Massachusetts one step closer to bringing equal protection under the law for transgender individuals and preventing discrimination based on gender identity for our residents. The Senate look forward to working with the House to send a bill to the Governor’s desk,” Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said in a statement.

— Matt Murphy (SHNS), with reporting by Colin A. Young


  • BAKER DELIVERS UMASS MEDICAL KEYNOTE (Sunday, 11 a.m., UMass Medical School, Main campus green): Gov. Baker will be the featured speaker at the commencement ceremony for the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
  • NORTHEAST TRANSPORTATION CONFERENCE (Tuesday, 8 a.m., DCU Center, 50 Foster St.): Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett, and Highway Administrator Thomas Tinlin will provide opening remarks at the 2016 Northeast Transportation Conference, a two-day regional forum convened to highlight advances in transportation safety.
  • POLLACK AT WORCESTER CHAMBER (Thursday, 9 a.m., Worcester Regional Airport Rectrix, 375 Airport Drive): Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack is the keynote speaker at the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce “Breakfast Club.”
  • ASH AT CENTRAL MASS. PLANNING DINNER (Thursday, 5:30 p.m., Leicester Country Club, 1430 Main St., Leicester): Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash offers remarks at the 53rd annual meeting and awards dinner of the Central Massachusetts Regional Planning Commission.


Photo by Antonio Caban, State House News Service, June 1

Antonio Caban / State House News Service

Photo by Antonio Caban, State House News Service, June 1


Worcester health department among recipients of $7.6M in emergency preparedness grant funds

From a press release by the Mass. Department of Public Health to SHNS.

BOSTON – The Baker-Polito Administration announced $7.6 million in federal grants June 2 to establish six Health and Medical Coordinating Coalitions (HMCC) across Massachusetts that will promote cross-disciplinary planning and support health and medical response during emergencies and disasters. The grants were awarded following a competitive bidding process.

“These grants represent the basic tenets of state government – ensuring that regions across the state plan for emergencies and disasters, and share resources in a more efficient and integrated manner,” Gov. Charlie Baker said.

Each HMCC is supported by a sponsoring organization with dedicated staffing whose objective is to ensure integrated planning and capacity-building across five core disciplines: acute care hospitals, community health centers and ambulatory care organizations, emergency medical services, local public health and long term care.

The one-year grants and initial annual funding amounts are listed below. A list of cities and towns in each region can be found on the OPEM Health and Medical Coordinating Coalitions webpage.

Region 1: Franklin Regional Council of Governments, $1,008,970

Region 2: City of Worcester, Division of Public Health, $1,262,552

Region 3: International Institute of Greater Lawrence, $990,251

Region 4AB: Cambridge Health Alliance, $1,385,945

Region 4C: City of Boston, Boston Public Health Commission, $1,871,268

Region 5: Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, $1,117,865

Federal grant funding has been provided through the Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) and the Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program (PHEP).

“The creation of these coalitions will help establish and support best practices for public health and healthcare preparedness,” said Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel. “We are pleased to work with each of the sponsoring organizations and all of the participants to ensure strong cross-disciplinary work that will keep us healthy and prepared for emergencies.”

Each HMCC has four primary responsibilities:

  • Receive and disseminate emergency preparedness funding from DPH to support local and regional health and medical preparedness activities;
  • Conduct cross-disciplinary, capabilities-based planning and related activities that are consistent with federal grant requirements and ensure alignment of local, regional and state activities;
  • Ensure 24/7 availability to support information sharing and resource coordination in the event of an emergency within the HMCC Region; and
  • Provide necessary administrative and fiscal support for the HMCC.

More information about the work of the DPH Office of Preparedness and Emergency Management can be on the OPEM website.

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