The first update to the state law guiding how government records are made public is inching towards Gov. Baker's desk, but the transparency bill that could reshape how state agencies, cities and towns respond to requests for data is being finalized by lawmakers in a very un-Beacon Hill way: out in the open.

The six lawmakers charged with reconciling House and Senate versions of the proposal left their conference committee open to the press and public, something virtually unheard of in the halls of the State House.

Both bills give teeth to an appeals process that would kick in when local officials blow off a public request, and they require towns and cities to designate a public records officer.

The law on the books hasn't been given a sprucing up since the 1970s. 

"It still makes references to having records retained on fine linen and animal skins," said lead House conferee Rep. Peter Kocot (D-Northampton.) "So now we leap into the 21st Century when on my iPhone I can get information on anything in almost a second. We want to make sure this bill is something that lasts for years and gives members of the public confidence in government."

Both sides have dug in their heels about what the eventual final bill should look like. Public data advocates like the Senate's version because the appeals process is stronger. Local officials like the House's plan, which gives them more time and flexibility to respond to requests.

Transparency advocate Pam Wilmot from Common Cause Massachusetts remembers when the public and stakeholders were often invited to help finalize legislation.

"We've always been for open conference committees. They actually did used to exist," Wilmot told reporters after Wednesday's first meeting of the conferees. "That's the way business used to be done. I think that members do find that it can be embarrassing to have frank conversations in public. That's unfortunately the price of transparency, sometimes you get embarrassed."

Many municipal officials say the Senate's plan would require them to pay to process large volumes of requests.

The conference committee has to decide on a final bill to put on the governor's desk.

Also under cover in Beacon Hill's secretive sausage-making process are bills to increase solar energy production, end license suspensions for some criminals and a major effort to fight opiate addiction.