Local lawmakers have mixed feelings on public record requirements

It’s complicated.

That pretty much sums up the reaction from local lawmakers when asked if the Legislature should be subject to the same public record requirements as cities and towns.

Some of the lawmakers said there are legitimate reasons for keeping some records secret.

The comments come after an Associated Press review of state governments found Massachusetts one of the most restrictive in what records it makes public, including complaints of sexual harassment by lawmakers.

State Rep. Betty Poirier, R-North Attleboro, said making legislative records public is not a simple matter.

Lawmakers deal with a lot of highly confidential information from constituents, such as medical problems, she said.

That kind of information has to stay private and is one of the reasons the Legislature is exempt from public record laws, Poirier said.

As for sexual harassment and non-disclosure agreements, Poirier said, she would support allowing victims to decide whether to make that information public. She said she would imagine that many victims would want to keep it confidential. The Associated Press found that there were 33 non-disclosure agreements by House employees in recent years, but the speaker’s office said none pertained to sexual harassment.

But state Rep. Diana Dizoglias, D-Methuen, said last month that when she was let go from her prior job as a legislative aide, she felt pressured to sign a non-disclosure form in order to get her severance pay. She proposed an amendment to ban non-disclosure agreements, but it was defeated 131-21.

State Rep. Shawn Dooley, R-Norfolk, said he supported the amendment and believes the records should be public.

State Rep. Steven Howitt, R-Seekonk, said victims may not want the records made public. Even if the victims’ names are redacted, people would be able to figure out who they are, he said.

“Rumors get started and spread like wildfire,” Howitt said. He said a commission has been created to look into the possibility of making legislative records public. The commission is scheduled to report back on its findings in December.

State Rep. Jay Barrows, R-Mansfield, said he wanted to read the Associated Press report before commenting.

Rep. Jim Hawkins, D-Attleboro, who was just sworn into office earlier in the day, said he would need time to look into the issue.

The issue of sexual harassment has been at the forefront since late last year when allegations of misconduct surfaced against such well known figures as film producer Harvey Weinstein and casino owner Steve Wynn.

That led to the #metoo movement in which women vowed they were no longer going to tolerate harassment.

Then sexual harassment and assault allegations were made against the husband of state Senate President Stanley Rosenberg. Rosenberg has been replaced as president and has separated from his husband.

Read the original article here.

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