For Immediate Release - May 14, 2012

AG Coakley Proposes New Open Meeting Law Regulation

Regulation Would Amend the Definition of “Intentional Violation”

BOSTON – Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office is proposing a regulation that, if adopted, would amend the definition of “Intentional Violation” under 940 CMR 29.02 of the Open Meeting Law.  The amendment would clarify the standard for a finding by the AG of an intentional violation of the Open Meeting Law.  The proposed regulation was filed Friday afternoon and will be published in the State Register on May 25, 2012.

In December 2011, the AG issued a proposed regulation that would have defined the term “Knowing or Knowingly” with respect to the Open Meeting Law.  Following the public comment period and a hearing on that regulation, the Attorney General proposes, in the alternative, amending the current definition of “Intentional Violation.

“We value and encourage input from the public and stakeholders when proposing regulations,” said AG Coakley.  “As a result of this input, we have suggested amending the current definition of ‘intentional violation’ and believe this will provide necessary guidance about what conduct our office considers evidence of intent to violate the Open Meeting Law.”  

The Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law regulations currently read: 

Intentional Violation means an act or omission by a public body, or a member of a public body, that knowingly violates M.G.L. c. 30A, sec. 18-25.  Conduct in violation of M.G.L. c. 30A, sec. 18-25, shall be considered evidence of an intentional violation where the body or member has previously been informed by receipt of a decision from a court of competent jurisdiction or advised by the Attorney General, pursuant to 940 CMR 29.07 or 940 CMR 29.08 that the conduct violates M.G.L. c. 30A, sec. 18-25.

The proposed regulation would amend the definition to read:

Intentional Violation means an act or omission by a public body or a member thereof, in knowing violation of M.G.L. c. 30A, sec. 18-25.  Conduct in violation of M.G.L. c. 30A, sec. 18-25 shall be considered evidence of an intentional violation where the public body or public body member acted with specific intent to violate the law; acted with deliberate ignorance of the law’s requirements; or was previously informed by receipt of a decision from a court of competent jurisdiction or advised by the Attorney General, pursuant to 940 CMR 29.07 or 940 CMR 29.08, that the conduct violates M.G.L. c. 30A, sec. 18-25.  Where a public body or public body member has made a good faith attempt at compliance with the law, but was reasonably mistaken about its requirements, or acted in good faith compliance with the advice of the public body’s legal counsel, such conduct will not be considered an intentional violation of M.G.L. c. 30A, sec. 18-25.

Under the Open Meeting Law , once a determination is made that a violation has occurred, the AG’s Office determines whether that violation was intentional or unintentional.  If it is determined that the violation was intentional, the AG’s Office may impose a civil penalty of $1,000 after a hearing.

The Attorney General will hold a public hearing on the proposed regulation at One Ashburton Place, 21st Floor, Boston, MA, on Tuesday, July 17, 2012 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Copies of the proposed amendment to the regulation can be found at www.mass.gov/ago/openmeeting or may be obtained at One Ashburton Place, 20th Floor, Boston, MA.  If any member of the public wishing to attend this hearing seeks special accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, please contact Philip Mantyla at 617-963-2055, or at Philip.Mantyla@state.ma.us.

The public is also encouraged to submit written comments on the proposed regulation.  Comments should be limited to the proposed regulation only.  Please direct comments to Amy Nable, Director, Division of Open Government, Office of the Attorney General, One Ashburton Place, 20th Floor, Boston, MA 02108 or by sending comments by email to openmeeting@state.ma.usComments must be submitted by July 17, 2012 at 5:00 p.m.           

On July 1, 2010, the Attorney General’s Office assumed responsibility for enforcement of the Open Meeting Law with respect to local, regional, district, county and state public bodies.  Prior to that date, the state’s District Attorneys enforced the law as it pertains to local, regional, district and county public bodies.  Since July 1, 2010, AG Coakley’s Division of Open Government has responded to thousands of inquiries about the law’s requirements, conducted or participated in more than 63 trainings across the state, and issued dozens of determinations.  In October 2011, in an effort to provide greater transparency and access to the office’s decisions, all of the Attorney General’s Open Meeting Law determinations became available online through an interactive database, the Open Meeting Law Determination Lookup.

For more information, please visit the Open Meeting Law section of the Attorney General’s website.

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