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Massachusetts Government


Massachusetts Government

The form of Massachusetts government is provided by the Constitution of the Commonwealth. The legislative power is exercised by the bicameral General Court, which is composed of the Senate and House of Representatives. The executive power generally is exercised by the Governor, although only after receiving the advice and consent of the Governor's Council with respect to certain subjects. Several other officers, including the Attorney General and Secretary of the Commonwealth, perform executive functions and are elected independently. The judicial power is reposed in the Supreme Judicial Court, which superintends the entire system of courts. Cities and towns also act through local governmental bodies that possess only the authority granted to them by the Commonwealth over local issues, including limited home rule authority. Most county governments were abolished in the 1990s, although a handful remain.

The capital of Massachusetts is Boston. The seat of power is Beacon Hill, which is home to the legislative and executive branches. The Supreme Judicial Court occupies nearby Pemberton Hill.


The state legislature is formally known as the General Court, reflecting its former judicial duties in the colonial era. It is composed of two houses: the Massachusetts Senate, which has 40 members, and the Massachusetts House of Representatives, which has 160 members. All members in both houses face election every two years. The Democratic Party holds a supermajority in each of the two chambers. The current President of the Senate is Therese Murray, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives is Robert DeLeo. Given the power they hold, the positions of these two leaders are often considered, along with the Governor's, when evaluating the prospects of changing state law.


There are 151 departments or agencies in Massachusetts, and over 700 independent boards and commissions.[1] The Governor exercises direct control over many of the largest agencies, but only indirect control over independent entities though appointments.

Elected Officials

Office Official First elected Official site
Governor Deval Patrick (D) 2006 [3]
Lieutenant Governor Vacant
Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin (D) 1994 [4]
Treasurer and Receiver General Steve Grossman (D) 2010 [5]
Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) 2006 [6]
State Auditor Suzanne Bump (D) 2010 [7]

Some executive agencies are delegated by the legislature with the responsibility of formulating regulations by following a prescribed procedure. Most of these are collected in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations.

Governor's Cabinet

The governor has a cabinet of ten secretaries.[2] In general, they supervise the state agencies which are under the direct control of the governor.[3] Eight of the secretaries preside over the "Executive Office of" their respective areas.[4]


Supreme Judicial Court

  • Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland
  • Justice John M. Greaney
  • Justice Francis X. Spina
  • Justice Robert J. Cordy
  • Justice Margot Botsford
  • Justice Fernande R.V. Duffly
  • Justice Barbara Lenk

Appeals Court

Trial Courts:

  • Superior Court
  • District Court
  • Land Court
  • Housing Court
  • Juvenile Court
  • Probate and Family Court
  • Boston Municipal Court
  • Chief Justice for Administration and Management
    • Commissioner of Probation[8]


Local government

Massachusetts shares with the five other New England states, plus New York and New Jersey, a governmental structure known as the New England town. Only the southeastern third of the state has functioning county governments; in western, central, and northeastern Massachusetts, traditional county-level government was eliminated in the late 1990s.

The incorporation of land

In many other states, a town is a compact incorporated area; between the towns are unincorporated areas, usually quite large, that do not belong to any town. Such states are completely apportioned into counties, and county governments have significant importance, particularly to those living outside towns, and often perform major functions such as providing police and fire services and operating airports.

In contrast, all of the land in Massachusetts is divided up among the cities and towns and there are no "unincorporated" areas or population centers. (This is generally true of most of the New England states, and is described at length at New England town.) This complicates comparisons with other non-New England states. The U.S. Census Bureau considers Massachusetts cities and towns to be minor civil divisions, equivalent to townships in other states (usually with much weaker forms of government), which do not exist in Massachusetts. Many residents also identify with neighborhoods, villages, or other districts of their towns.


Limits to municipal government

Many Massachusetts towns were established during the British colonial period, long before the existence of an independent United States. The Massachusetts Constitution was written before the end of the American Revolution (1780). This constitution re-established the relationship between the state government and the towns which was originally specified by the charter which was granted to the Massachusetts Bay Company by King Charles I in 1629.

In 1966, the Home Rule Amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution created a limited home rule mechanism granting certain powers to cities and towns.[9][10][11] According to the Amendment:

  • Municipalities may adopt charters without needing state approval
  • Municipalities may not regulate elections, collect taxes, borrow money, define civil laws or regulations, define felonies or set imprisonment as a punishment for any offense, or dispose of park land; except as provided by the legislature
  • Whether or not it has adopted a charter, any municipalities may exercise any power that the legislature has the power to delegate to it, except in cases where the legislature has already acted, explicitly or implicitly. (Given the large number of matters on which the state legislature has acted, this means the actual powers of municipalities to act are in practice quite limited, and sometimes uncertain until tested in court.)[11]

The legislature is prohibited from passing any special laws that affect fewer than two municipalities, except in any of the following circumstances:[12]

  • Approval of a Home Rule Petition from the municipal government
  • By two-thirds supermajority and the consent of the Governor
  • Establishing metropolitan or regional agencies with borders different than existing municipalities
  • Creation, dissolution, and merger of municipalities, and adjustment of boundaries

Many municipalities seek approval for special legislation giving them desired powers, which may or may not be available to them under the blanket grant of Home Rule, due to potentially conflicting state laws.[11]

The Zoning Act[13] grants substantial zoning powers to municipalities. The Massachusetts Subdivision Control Law[14] also concerns land use regulation.

Form of government: city vs. town

Notable municipalities
by population (2002)[15]
Largest city Boston
Largest town Framingham
Smallest city North Adams
Smallest town Gosnold

The distinction between a "city" and "town" as defined in Massachusetts law is primarily related to the form of government that the municipality has chosen. A town is governed under the selectmen and Town Meeting or Representative Town Meeting form of government. A city has a council or board of aldermen (and may or may not have a mayor, a city manager, or both). This distinction dates to the April 9, 1821, when an amendment to the state constitution was approved that permitted a non-town meeting form of municipal government. Prior to that time, each municipality was authorized to be governed by a Town Meeting only. On February 23, 1822, the Governor approved the act establishing "the City of Boston." The new charter was drafted by Lemuel Shaw, later Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The voters of Boston approved the acceptance of the proposed city charter on March 4, 1822.[16]

The state Constitution stipulates that any municipality that has a population under 12,000 cannot adopt "city" form of government and charter; any "town" with less than 6,000 population cannot adopt a Representative Town Meeting charter and form of government. This applies whether or not the municipality has adopted a Home Rule Charter. Other details of city and town government are left to the legislature.[12]

State law defines six possible options for city governments:[17]

  • Plan A - "Strong mayor" - Mayor and a city council, the councilors being elected at large. Party primaries prohibited.
  • Plan B - "Weak mayor" - Mayor and city council, the councilors being elected partly at large and partly from districts or wards of the city. Party primaries prohibited.
  • Plan C - "Commission" - Mayor and commissioners. Party primaries prohibited.
  • Plan D - "Council-manager"- City council of seven or nine (one of whom is the mayor), and a city manager. Party primaries prohibited.
  • Plan E - "Council-manager"- City council of seven or nine (one of whom is the mayor), a city manager; members of the council and the school committee elected at large by plurality.
  • Plan F - "Partisan mayor-council" - Mayor and city council, the councilors being elected partly at large and partly from wards of the city, with political party primaries.[18]

There are also certain operational differences between cities and towns. A "city" has a clearly structured annual budget process, set out in statute, and the legislative body is prohibited from increasing any appropriation above the amount recommended by the mayor or other chief executive. Changes to town by-laws require approval by the Massachusetts Attorney General, but changes to city ordinances do not.[11]

A 1966 amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution affirmed the right of local municipalities to self-government and to the exercise of powers not inconsistent with state law. It also prohibited the state legislature from abolishing or combining cities and towns without their consent, and made it illegal for the legislature to enact legislation affecting only one municipality without that community's request or consent.

As part of the amendment, Massachusetts for the first time allowed cities and towns to draft and adopt their own home rule charters without receiving permission or approval from the state. The legislature adopted the state Home Rule Procedures Act to establish a process to accomplish the constitutional mandate.

For towns without a home rule charter, changes in the structure of the local government must be approved by petitioning the General Court for special legislation giving it that authority, or through adoption of one of the so-call Acceptance Act Charters, A through F. Communities with home rule charters must also request a Special Act in order to exercise a power the state has reserved to itself, such as increase the number of liquor licenses allowed in a city or town.

As of 2000, 71 municipalities had adopted home-rule charters under the Home Rule Amendment procedure, 13 operated under charters granted by Special Acts of the legislature passed before the Home Rule Amendment, and 19 operated under Special Acts pass after the Home Rule Amendment.[19]

Out of fifty three cities in the Commonwealth, there are now eleven that are legally cities and have city councils, but retained "Town of" in their names. This distinction derives from provisions of state law that reference the town meeting form of government and that provide for greater self-governance authority for the class of communities governed by a form of chief executive and council which are referred to as cities in state law.

Communities adopting a city form while retaining "Town of" as their name are:[20] Agawam, Amesbury, Barnstable, Braintree, Franklin, Greenfield, Palmer, Southbridge, Watertown, West Springfield, Weymouth, and Winthrop.

Legal opinions provided to charter commissions in some of first of the 11 communities adopting a style of government that the General Laws referred to as a city form suggested that for clarity the community be referenced as "the City Known as the Town of X" as its legal name. The term "town" was retained in many cases because a suburban community did not desire to be known as a "city" with the urban issues the name implies, but wished to adopt the city form of government.

How a municipality refers to itself has been said to be a decision that is up to the community. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that what a municipality calls itself doesn't matter: "It is the substance of the thing done, and not the name given to it, which controls". Opinion of the Justices to the Senate, 229 Mass. 600 (Mass. 1918). The "City known as the Town of" reference was intended in communities adopting it to assert its right to exercise the authority of a city in governance, municipal finance and procurement. In the early days of the spread of the council-based municipal government to towns, it served to eliminate confusion as to a town's ability to do a particular thing.

Prior to the adoption of the Home Rule Amendment, no town had become a city in Massachusetts for 45 years, while four made the change in the first 10 years following the adoption of home rule.


  • Local property tax. The Legislature has authorized local governments to administer the property tax under state supervision, and to set property tax rates locally. A 1980 law, passed by popular ballot and known as "Proposition 2½," sets limits on property tax and automotive excise tax rates. There are three parts to the property tax limit calculation.
    • Levy Ceiling: A community may not, in any one year, collect more than 2.5% of the total full and fair cash value of all taxable real and personal property in the community.
    • Levy (Increase) Limit. The annual increase of the amount collected cannot exceed 2.5% over the previous year, plus the amount corresponding to increased property values.
    • New Growth. Each year, the state Department of Revenue calculates a "new growth" figure for each municipality, allowing that community to increase its levy a certain amount beyond the 2.5% limit to account for value-adding improvements in the local property stock, such as the subdivision of farms to high-priced homes.
A municipality is permitted but not required to tax up to the levy limit. If a city or town wants to raise more money than it is allowed under either the ceiling or the increase limit, it must get voter approval for a "Proposition 2½ override" or a "Proposition 2½ debt exclusion." An exception is granted for water and sewer debt. Tax increases voted through a debt exclusion must be tied to a certain cost and expire on a future date; an override increase sets a new benchmark for all future 2.5 percent rises.[21]
Some municipalities have a state-authorized property tax exemption for low-price owner-occupied residences of up to 30%.[22] Other exemptions include hospitals, schools, churches, seniors, veterans, surviving spouses, and blind people[23]
  • Local income tax. The Massachusetts Constitution was modified in 1915 to permit a state income tax. However, the constitution requires that "such tax ... shall be levied at a uniform rate." This means that local municipalities may not impose a local income tax.
  • Local sales tax. The Massachusetts Constitution requires tax rate uniformity, which means that municipal governments may not institute local sales taxes. However, some exceptions have been granted. In 1985, the Legislature granted cities and towns the right to impose sales tax on aviation fuel and hotel/motel occupancy, as a local option.[24]
  • Local aid. A significant portion of the income of cities and towns comes from the state government's general fund, and is known as "local aid".
  • Fees. Some municipal fees, such as parking fines and towing fees, are limited by state law.[25]
  • Unfunded mandates. State laws which place requirements on cities and towns without increasing financial support to cover increased costs are often criticized as "unfunded mandates" and are a controversial issue in local relations. In theory, Proposition 2½ disallowed unfunded mandates after 1981, and in some cases this has been successfully enforced in court. However, the courts have ruled that the legislature may condition other aid on acceptance of the mandates, partially circumventing the law.[26]


Primary and secondary school attendance is compulsory and free for Massachusetts residents aged 6 – 16.

State law is developed into regulations by the Massachusetts Board of Education to govern local, regional, vocational, and charter schools.

All school districts in Massachusetts must employ a superintendent and business (or finance) manager. Many districts also have assistant or associate superintendents, pupil services directors, special education directors, and other administrators, although these are not required by state law.

Generally speaking, there are three kinds of public schools in Massachusetts, plus independent "charter schools."[27]

Local Schools. Local schools are funded by one municipality. 50% of the municipalities in Massachusetts use local schools for grades Kindergarten through 12. Local schools are administered by the municipality through an elected or appointed school board, and are considered a department of the city or town government. In some cities, such as Cambridge and Malden, the city charter specifies that the mayor has a permanent seat on the school committee. The capital city of Boston is subject to a special state law which allows the mayor to appoint a school committee of seven.[28] The final budget control for local schools is held by the municipality (Mayor or Town Meeting, respectively), although "town-side" or "city-side" officials have little day-to-day control over School Department operations.
Regional Schools. Any two or more municipalities may combine their public schools into one district; 27% of the municipalities in Massachusetts have K - 12 regional schools, while many other communities are served by local primary Schools and regional secondary schools. Regional schools are administered by a school committee that consists of representatives of the municipalities in the region. Final budget control for a regional district is still held by the voters of its member municipalities, however. Participating mayors and Town Meetings still vote on the bottom line of their share of the regional budget. If municipalities within a school district disagree (e.g., if one town funds 100% of the regional school committee's request, and another funds only 75%), a second round of decisions is taken. If the disagreement persists, registered voters within the regional district's boundaries assemble for a "district meeting," similar to a town meeting, at which a majority vote of attendees prevails. Each member city or town must then adjust its own budget to accommodate the voted assessments.
Vocational Technical Schools. Several regional school districts overlay the "academic" school district system and provide vocational and technical high schools for students from several communities. Vocational/technical schools are administered by a regional school committee. The structure of this committee is established in the regional agreement. Like any regional school committee, vocational committees have final budget control for school spending decisions, but still depend on local authorities for funding.
Charter Schools. Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are subject to different administrative structures from traditional public schools. There are two types of charter schools in Massachusetts. Massachusetts law specifies governance and entities eligible to apply for a charter, or operate a charter school as follows:[29]
Persons or entities eligible to submit an application to establish a charter school shall include, but not be limited to a non-profit business or corporate entity, two or more certified teachers or ten or more parents; provided, however, that no for profit business or corporate entity shall be eligible to apply for a charter. Said application may be filed in conjunction with a college, university, museum or other similar non-profit entity. Private and parochial schools shall not be eligible for charter school status.
Commonwealth Charter Schools. Commonwealth Charter Schools were created as part of Education Reform in 1993. Commonwealth Charter Schools are formed by the approval of a charter that defines its administrative structure. Charter Schools are not subject to the collective bargaining agreements that are negotiated for other public schools. There are 51 Commonwealth Charter Schools in Massachusetts. Commonwealth Charter Schools are administered by a board of trustees of the private entity that received the charter authority to operate the school.[29]
Horace Mann Charter Schools. Horace Mann Charter Schools were defined in 1997. The charter for these schools must be approved by the local school committee and the local union. There are 8 Horace Mann Charter Schools in Massachusetts. A Horace Mann Chater school is run operated and managed by a board of trustees independent of the school committees which approve said schools. The board of trustees may include a member of the school committee. The board of trustees may include a municipal school committee member.[29]

Massachusetts has a school choice law which allows students to attend a school in a district outside their municipality if the other district has space and approves.

Kindergarten through twelfth grade (K-12) students may also attend private schools. Private schools are not state-funded and generally charge tuition. Many are parochial schools operated by subdivisions of the Roman Catholic Church.

"Such attendance shall not be required of a child ... who is being otherwise instructed in a manner approved in advance by the superintendent or the school committee." -- Chapter 76, Section 1.

School funding and construction

The cost of operating public schools comes from two sources: local government, funded primarily by the property tax, and payments from the state Legislature (out of the state general fund), calculated to provide more aid to economically weaker school districts and thereby equalize educational opportunity across the state. These "Chapter 70" payments are in addition to separate local aid payments to town and city governments' general funds.

Cities and towns are required by state law to spend a minimum amount on education. This required amount is referred to as "Net School Spending" and is calculated as part of the Chapter 70 funding formula. [30][31]

Each school district is allocated a certain amount of funding through a foundational budget, which is based on the amount of students that community is required to educate according to enrollment figures as of October 1st of the previous year, as well as the calculated wealth of a community. However, when a student transfers out of district to another public district, to a charter school, a public vocational school, etc., a certain amount of funding is transferred along with them.[32]

School construction and renovation projects fall under the budgetary and land use powers of the municipalities rather than the school boards.[33]

Growing abolition of county government

By the 1990s, most functions of county governments (including operation of courts and road maintenance) had been taken over by the state, and most county governments were seen as inefficient and outmoded. The government of Suffolk County was substantially integrated with the city government of Boston more than one hundred years ago, to the extent that the members of the Boston city council are ex officio the Suffolk County Commissioners, and Boston's treasurer and auditor fulfill the same offices for the county. Thus, residents of the other three Suffolk County communities do not have a voice on the county commission, but all the county expenses are paid by the city of Boston.

The government of Nantucket County, which is geographically coterminous with the Town of Nantucket, is operated along similar lines — the town selectmen (executive branch) act as the county commissioners.

Mismanagement of

District attorneys and sheriffs are elected by constituencies that mostly, but not entirely, follow county boundaries; they are funded by the state budget.[35][36]


Many municipalities have their own police departments, as do many Massachusetts colleges and universities.[37] Though most county governments have been abolished, each county still has a Sheriff's Department which operates jails and correctional facilities and service of process within the county.

The Massachusetts State Police have statewide jurisdiction, including full criminal law enforcement, Highway Patrol and traffic enforcement, investigation, and special air, marine, and tactical response. They share concurrent jurisdiction with municipal and institutional departments, and have primary jurisdiction in towns that have no local police force. State police divisions ("Troops") are dedicated to the Massachusetts Turnpike and Logan International Airport, and since 1992 the state police have had primary responsibility for the state capital building, facilities of the Registry of Motor Vehicles, and DCR parks. State police also have sole authority under state law for investigating homicides, except for Boston, Worcester, and Springfield.

Though fully deputized in 175 cities and towns, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Police have primary responsibility for MBTA facilities and commuter railroads statewide, and share enforcement duties (such as writing tickets for parking in bus stops) with local and state police, especially in remote areas and on Massport property. The Massachusetts Environmental Police [38] are also independent of the State Police.

A number of federal police agencies also operate in Massachusetts, subject to the limits and jurisdiction of federal law, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.


Fire protection is generally also provided by municipal fire departments. Massport has its own fire department, and its Fire Rescue provides protection on agency property.[39] Fire departments have mutual aid agreements, such as the Massachusetts Metro Fire District in Greater Boston, which facilitate emergency response across department boundaries.[40]

Water and sewer

Water and sewer districts are generally operated at the municipal level, providing retail service to residential and business customers, and making provisions for sewage treatment and acquiring water from wells, rivers, or wholesaler. Some local water districts have been consolidated across municipal boundaries[41] and some operate at the sub-municipal (village) level.[42] Running water and sewer service is not necessarily available to all buildings, especially in low-density areas; building owners in these areas must obtain their own water and dispose of their own sewage.

The Massachusetts Water Resources Authority provides wholesale water and sewer services to many cities and towns, mostly in Greater Boston, in cooperation with DCR watershed land management. Combined sewers in some areas are being separated to reduce water pollution.

Federal government

Subsequent to the 2010 national census, and the 2011 change in allocation of United States House of Representatives districts among the states, Massachusetts has nine seats. They were all Democratic. Massachusetts has two Democratic United States Senators.


For legal research, see Mass. General Laws on-line

Criminal law

Current prisoners convicted of felonies may not vote. However, Massachusetts does not prohibit former prisoners convicted of felonies from voting.

Massachusetts does not have a capital punishment statute. However, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts explicitly authorizes the Massachusetts Legislature (General Court) to enact statutes providing for capital punishment.[43] Since the abolition of capital punishment in the Commonwealth, attempts have been made by supporters of capital punishment to reestablish it in Massachusetts; however, these attempts have failed in the Legislature.

Massachusetts' conspiracy law is broader than most other states in the nation, as it does not require a direct act. If a felony were discussed, it would constitute conspiracy though no one took any overt action.[44]


See Code of Massachusetts Regulations.

Open standards

Beginning in 2003 Massachusetts became one of the first states specifically to address so-called open formats for its state government digital documents and address the importance of being able to read electronically stored public documents long after the application that created them was no longer supported or available. The effort was part of a wider effort by the state to standardize on an overall Enterprise Technical Reference Model (ETRM), an effort that was also announced in 2003.

However the process by which the standardized format issue was addressed by a small group of state information-technology (IT) employees, working behind closed doors according to a 2006 legislative report23 and possibly with favored technology suppliers according to media reports, was found to be ill-advised if not illegal. The IT employees involved worked for Eric Kriss, the state's then Secretary for Administration and Finance, an appointee of then Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The legislative committee involved—known as the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight—was controlled by the majority Democratic Party.

The committee had actually begun investigating the ETRM in 2003 when it was first announced because Kriss said at the time that

"Effective immediately, we will adopt… a comprehensive Open Standards, Open Source policy for all future IT investments…."

The committee immediately expressed concerns about the cost of the ETRM effort and the new Open-Standards/Open-Source (OS/OS) policy but questioned what Kriss meant by "we." As part of the governor's office, Kriss arguably had no constitutional or legal authority to put his department in charge of public records (which are the responsibility of a separate Massachusetts constitutional officer) and clearly had no constitutional authority for legislative- and judicial-branch public records. The legislative committee also questioned the process by which the ETRM would be developed.

Various versions of the ETRM were released between 2003 and 2005 but they received very little publicity because of their technical nature and the fact that the involved IT employees had not tried to dictate procurement policies that crossed into other non-IT departments, departments under the authority of separate constitutional officers, or departments reporting to the legislature or judiciary. Specifically, none of the first few ETRMs mentioned document formats other than to say that they were an issue that should be addressed in a future ETRM. But following a proposed open format standards meeting (link previously included in this article but no longer available on site) held by Kriss on June 9, 2005; the standardization issue boiled over into a battle about what the term "open standards" meant. On August 31, 2005, Kriss' department released a revised draft of the ETRM that explicitly endorsed the OASIS OpenDocument format developed by Sun (JAVA) Microsystems along with following three other "standard" formats: HTML, Adobe PDF, and TXT.

Specifically not listed were any standards associated with Microsoft Office document-production applications even though Microsoft was the leading supplier of such applications to the state. "Standard" is in quotes above because PDF was no more a "standard" at the time than Microsoft's Office formats. The August 2005 release of the ETRM noted that the new "standards" would not go into effect until January 2007. The effort to freeze Microsoft out of such procurements was possibly part of a multiple-year process that began in 2002 with a study24 by a state-sponsored group called the IT Commission. The IT Commission was "facilitated" by IBM (IBM) consulting employees under contract and included a Sun employee but no Microsoft employee. IBM uses ODF in one of its less popular Lotus products or at least did so at the time. Procedurally, it would seem logical that Microsoft should have been represented on the commission or all vendors should have been barred.

In addition to the relevant official state documentation on the subject noted below, there is contemporaneous reporting of the non-public dealings about ODF between Sun and state IT employees on ZDnet.25 One of the sentences about what appears to be a Sun-ODF effort to manipulate the definition of open standards was this information from David Berlind of ZDnet in October 2005:

"Although it isn't clear what Massachusetts' test for openness was back in the early 2005 timeframe, it is clear that "the test" was officially revised... by the time (the latest Massachusetts' Enterprise Technical Reference Model) ETRM was ratified on Sept. 23..."


Why the test was revised was answered in 2006 in a Post-Audit and Oversight Committee report titled "Open Standards, Closed Government". The information about a flawed process developed by Berlind was confirmed in the legislative report, which said that August 2005 version of the ETRM was put together by a "kitchen cabinet", which not only failed to give outsiders such as Microsoft a reasonable chance to comment on or react to its plans but also froze out all other relevant Massachusetts IT groups, including the ones involved with aiding the disabled and those in charge of public records.

The legislative report lays out how this small IT group called the Information Technology Division (ITD)—remember despite all the surrounding publicity about the open standards issue in Massachusetts, this IT group is actually one department in one part of one branch of the Massachusetts government—took numerous steps to try to manipulate the document-preparation application procurement process. The legislative committee concluded that the group was:

"… not aware of the cost of the ETRM, the impact it could have on the state's public records, limitations on IT accessibility for persons with disabilities, that the agency excluded key governmental and advocacy groups, and that the proposal was issued in violation of state law."

The above is the summary; the details involve dozens of findings and recommendations and almost 100 footnotes. In particular, in terms of access for the disabled, the committee found:

1. "ITD released the ETRM despite public testimony that the OpenDocument Format ("ODF"), an ITD approved open standard, may impair IT accessibility for thousands of workers with disabilities. ITD, the Massachusetts Office on Disability and advocates from the disability community testified that the ODF may not be compatible with assistive technology, such as screen readers and voice recognition software, required by persons with disabilities.

2. "After seven months of negotiations, the Information Technology Division still has not completed a Memorandum of Understanding between state agencies and the Massachusetts Office on Disability to ensure accessibility of IT applications.

3. "The Committee learned that the state has had a history of accessibility problems with IT applications, including the state's human services website and the state's main website,"

Today as in 2005 the issue of document format standards is, as it should be, a minuscule part of Massachusetts's ETRM (now in its fifth version26). The exclusive ODF bias supposed to have gone into effect in January 2007 was stopped by the legislative committee's actions. Kriss—most likely coincidentally—left his position in October 2005, only a month after releasing ETRM 3.5. New IT management in state government gave Microsoft a chance to make the "open standard" formats list (which it did when OOXML was accepted as a standard by the ECMA in 2006) and it gave Sun a chance to make ODF handicapped accessible (and thereby stay on the list).

Massachusetts ETRM currently considers HTML, ODF, OOXML, PDF, RTF and Text to be acceptable document formats for public documents. The issue of accessibility for the disabled is now a key part of the IT procurement process. The issue of constitutional authority was never specifically settled but given the breadth of acceptable "open standard" formats, the issue is apparently moot.

See also


23 24 25


External links

  • Massachusetts General Court.
  • Organizational structure of the Government
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