Session Update: Public Information and Ethics Legislation

This post summarizes the status of various public information and ethics bills that MACo either considered or took a position on.

Public Information Requests for Electronic RecordsHB 37 / SB 740 alters the State’s Public Information Act (PIA) to address the release of public documents in electronic format.  The bill will require the State and local governments to provide records in a searchable and analyzable electronic format where possible.  Governments have the authority to remove “metadata” before providing an electronic document.  Metadata is invisible information embedded in an electronic document that describes the document’s history, tracking, and document management information.  If such information were released, it would have to be viewed by a government attorney to avoid disclosure of confidential work product.  All existing PIA exemptions still apply to electronic documents.  The House Government Operations Subcommittee has spent two years working on the bill, with substantial input from MACo and other stakeholders.  Recognizing the need to modernize the PIA to reflect current technology and believing the bill has adequate protections against becoming an unfunded mandate, MACo supported the bill.  Status:  Both bills have passed their respective houses with one difference – the Senate added a 2013 sunset to SB 740.  MACo has indicated it will accept the sunset.  MACo Testimony

Open Meetings Act Notice and ComplaintsHB 48, which was requested by the Open Meetings Compliance Board, sets a 1-year time limit for a person to bring an open meetings complaint before the Board.  It also requires local governments to post their meeting notices online and also physically post them at a publicly accessible location.  Finally, it repeals the requirement of a written notice.  MACo supported the bill.  Status:  The bill has passed the House and is being considered by the Senate. MACo Testimony

Electronic Publication of Legal NoticesHB 909 and SB 545 allow local governments to post legal notices on the Internet instead of in a newspaper.  If a local government opts to post some or all of its legal notices online, it must advertise that fact in a newspaper and offer a free mail subscription service to its residents.  The subscription service provides an alternative to those individuals who may not have access to the Internet.  SB 545 would also require that a short summary of the legal notice still be published in a newspaper, along with a web link of where the full notice may be found.  MACo supported both bills based on a recognition of changing technology and the cost savings to counties.  Status:  Both bills have received Unfavorable reports.  The House and Senate cited concerns about lack of Internet access in rural areas and among the elderly and disadvantaged as the primary reason for opposing the bill.  The fiscal impact on newspapers was also a concern.  It is likely the issue will return next year. MACo Testimony

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