With publishers, Baker weighs in on guns, media and public records

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2015/12/04/with-publishers-baker-weighs-in-on-guns-media-and-public-records/

BOSTON — In the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and a mass shooting on Wednesday in California, Gov. Charlie Baker weighed in on an issue that has divided his party’s field of president candidates, backing a ban on the sale of guns to anyone of the terror watch list.

“I’m mostly interested in what the gun laws are here in the Commonwealth, but I do think if it’s possible for somebody who’s on the terrorist watch list to buy a weapon in the United States that should get fixed, period,” Baker said after speaking to a group of Massachusetts newspaper executives.

Baker said that since the shootings in Paris there has been a considerable uptick in the flow of information between federal, state and local law enforcement, but said that there has been no new credible threats to Massachusetts since the San Bernardino, California killings.

The Republican field of White House contenders has split on the issue of banning guns for those on the F.B.I. terror watch list, with frontrunner Donald Trump supporting a prohibition, but others, including Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina opposed.

A Government Accountability Office report from March found that individuals on the watch list were approved 91 percent of the time they sought to buy guns from 2004 to 2014 and purchased 2,043 firearms, according to CNN.

Baker gave the keynote address on Thursday at the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association’s annual meeting in South Boston, sitting down for lunch at Bastille Kitchen with newspaper executives before recounting some of the challenges he’s faced and goals that remain after 330 days in office.

Acknowledging that much of his administration’s attention in its first year was directed toward solving inherited problems such as fixing the MBTA’s service reliability and repairing computer systems at the Health Connector Authority, Baker said he hopes moving forward to be “more proactive and not just fixing the stuff that needed to get fixed.”

He spoke specifically about getting something through the Legislature to address the opioid crisis and confronting the state’s energy supply issues, telling the media representatives that any energy bill must include provisions for large-scale hydropower procurement.

The governor compared fighting opioid addiction to the financial problems he encountered when he took over Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, suggesting that radical change would be needed to make a dent in the crisis.

“Make no mistake on this opioid problem, playing around the margins is just not going to get us anywhere,” he said.

Baker offered plenty of praise for the work of newspapers and other media, recalling his own days as an aspiring sports writer for the Dedham Daily Transcript.

“Don’t ever let any public official, or any politician or any elected official tell you that what they read and what they see in the news doesn’t affect the way they think about the issues,” Baker said, adding, “I learn a lot from what come in over the transom.”

The governor did not address public records reform – one of the MNPA’s signature issues – until he was asked about the bill moving through the Legislature and his opinion on whether his office should be exempt.

“We basically follow the law, and under the current law and every governor before us the governor’s office is treated differently than the rest of the executive branch,” Baker said. He also said, “If the law changes on this stuff, then we’ll change with the law.”

Baker cited some of the steps he has taken to make other executive branch agencies more responsive to public records requests, including the ongoing work of developing a software solution that will make it easier to respond to requests for bulk data with records in searchable formats.

The governor declined to say whether he believes the governor’s office or the Legislature should be subject to the public records law, saying he didn’t want to comment on specifics of legislation under consideration in the House and Senate. He did say he hopes to sign a bill next year.

“I fully expect that we’ll probably see public records reform at some point in the legislative session when they come back in January and as a general rule we’re supportive of public records reform. Some of it obviously depends on the details,” Baker said.

Senate President Stanley Rosenberg said Thursday that senators are currently discussing the legislation the House passed just before the November recess to make it cheaper to access public records and provide legal recourse in cases when requests are improperly denied. Rosenberg said he expects a version of the bill to come up for vote early next year and move into conference committee with the House.

Baker said the State Police, often held out as one of the most secretive and difficult to penetrate public agencies in the state, are subject to the same disclosure guidelines he put in place for all other executive branch departments, and cited the plethora of paper, rather than electronic records that make it more difficult for the State Police to respond to requests.

— Written by Matt Murphy

Copyright State House News Service