To understand just how outdated is the Massachusetts Public Records law, consider that it was enacted the same year Xerox introduced the Alto, generally considered to be the first-ever personal computer.

Now a bipartisan bill that would substantially update and strengthen the 1973 statute is under attack by opponents led by the Massachusetts Municipal Association, who claim it will impose a financial hardship on government agencies, especially cities and towns.

The principle that citizens — and news media representatives working on their behalf — should have ready access to public information is so embedded in our democracy that it would seem hardly in need of defending. Yet statistics compiled by the Boston Globe found that Massachusetts lags behind other states on several indicators of transparency.

By one measure — the speed with which Massachusetts officials respond to requests for documents — only Hawaii has a worse track record. That statistic rings true here on the Vineyard, where it took the town of Tisbury four months to provide the Gazette with minutes of selectmen’s meetings relating to the Stop & Shop project, despite repeated requests. The Gazette is currently awaiting action from the airport commission on a months-old request for minutes.

Much as justice delayed is justice denied, failing to provide timely information on a matter of immediate public interest is a sure way to chill public debate.

In an era when police routinely video record arrests on cell phones and a hand-held document scanner can be purchased online for fifty-nine dollars and ninety-nine cents, the argument that cost is an impediment to public access seems specious. Surely there are ways to use inexpensive and readily available technology to enable interested citizens to monitor the actions of their government.

Thanks to Cape and Islands Rep. Timothy Madden for taking a strong stand in support of needed changes to the state public records law.

Let him know you share his interest in bringing the commonwealth’s reputation on government transparency out of the cellar.