Governor-elect Maura Healey committed Tuesday to bring more transparency to the corner office and also called for more transparency in the Legislature and the judiciary, bucking a decades-long trend set by governors and lawmakers alike in claiming they are exempt from public records laws.
In a wide-ranging interview on GBH’s Boston Public Radio, which touched on her climate goals, plans to support community colleges, and even her affinity for pickleball, Healey said as governor, she would not claim a public records exemption for her office, and that she would support softening exemptions that shield the Legislature and judiciary branches.
In the “Ask the Governor-elect” live show, cohost Jim Braude, a self-proclaimed “transparency nerd,” said he had two questions for the Cambridge Democrat.
“One, will you confirm that you will not claim an exemption from public records laws as governor, and will you support legislation that at least cuts back that whatever exemptions the Legislature and judiciary believe they have?” he asked.
Healey responded quickly: “Yes, yes.”
“Well, that takes care of that,” Braude said.
The interview comes one day after the executive directors of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the New England Newspaper and Press Association, and the New England First Amendment Coalition penned a letter to Healey, asking that she file legislation to amend the public records law to make clear that it applies to the governor’s office. The groups also asked the incoming governor to issue an executive order subjecting her office to the law and to appoint a public records officer.
“You have the singular opportunity to reverse 25 years of an ill-conceived policy that has allowed the governor’s office to operate under a level of secrecy that is unimaginable in 48 of 50 US states,” they wrote in the letter, dated Dec. 19.
Robert Ambrogi, of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, said Tuesday he had not received a response.
Massachusetts is a notoriously opaque state when it comes to public records laws. The state, for example, is one of only two in the country — Michigan being the other — where the governor claims a blanket exemption from the public records law.
Massachusetts is also the only state in the country where the judiciary, the Legislature, and the governor’s office all claim to be exempt from public records laws.
Last year, Secretary of State William F. Galvin proposed legislation to force the governors’ office to comply with the state’s public records law, but the measure has gone nowhere.
Since the 1990s, the state’s governors have cited a state Supreme Judicial Court decision, known as Lambert v. Executive Director of the Judicial Nominating Council, which found that, because the public records law did not expressly name the three branches of government, those branches can be considered exempt.
Galvin said the SJC decision has been “terribly abused.”
He added that “it would be a breakthrough if [Healey] commits to not invoking [the decision]. It’s time to put it behind us.”
The legislation was filed on Galvin’s behalf by Senator Jamie Eldridge, who also proposed legislation addressing exemptions claimed by the Legislature and the judiciary.
The Acton Democrat said he will file the legislation again in the next session, which begins in January.