Summary of Changes to the Regulations Under the Public Records Act
The Supervisor of Public Records has amended the Public Access Regulations, 950 CMR 32.00, effective June 11, 2021. In addition to minor grammatical changes, there are a few important substantive amendments.
First, the time for responding to a records request is now the same regardless of the form of the request. Previously, the calculation of the time for responding to an oral request for records began to run on the day the request was made to the custodian but the time for responding to a written request began to run on the day the request was received. Under amended 950 CMR 32.03(3), however, no matter the form of the request, the computation of the response time begins on the first business day following the date of receipt of a request. 950 CMR 32.06(2)(e) was also amended to reflect this change and clarifies that requests received on Saturday, Sunday, a legal holiday, or a day the custodian’s office is closed are deemed to be received on the following business day. For example, if a requester drops off a request for records in a drop box at Town Hall on Thanksgiving Day, the request is deemed received on Friday (provided Town Hall is open) and, pursuant to amended 950 CMR 32.03(3), the computation of time for a response begins on the following Monday. The Regulations have been revised throughout to make the computation of time consistent throughout.
In keeping with the amendments involving computation of time, 950 CMR 32.08(1)(j) was stricken from the Regulations. This provision specified that appeals to the Supervisor of Records received before 4pm were to be opened the day of receipt, but those received after 4pm were to be opened the following business day. Now that all computation of time for purposes of the Regulations begins the next business day following receipt, this provision is unnecessary.
Second, Requests for records are to be treated as requested under the Public Records Act even if the requester has a unique right of access by statutory, regulatory, judicial, or other applicable means. This was not the case under 950 CMR 32.06(1)(g), which has been stricken.
Third, A Record Access Officer can no longer require that a requester specify the purpose for the request if the requested record concerns information which may be exempt from disclosure pursuant to M.G.L. c. 4, §7(26)(n). Section 7(26)(n) involves records constituting blueprint, plans, policies, and other documents relating to the internal layout and structural elements of buildings, as well as records related to security measures and emergency preparedness. With this amendment, a Records Access Officer may now only require specification to determine whether the records are being requested for a commercial purpose or whether to grant a request for a fee waiver.
On the topic of fees, Records Access Officers were previously only encouraged to inform a requester that records are available online, 950 CMR 32.06(2)(a) has been amended to require that Records Access Officers inform a requester if records are available online.
Finally, 950 CMR 32.08(2)(a) was amended to include the statutory time period within which the Supervisor must respond to a petition by a Records Access Officer regarding a request that is unduly burdensome or frivolous. The Supervisor must issue a written determination within five business days following receipt of the petition. This timeline is also applicable to fee petitions under the revised Regulations. Additional time in either case may be granted if both the requester and Records Access Officer agree.
An updated Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law is forthcoming. We will let you know when it is released.