A previous post on Conduit Street summarized the status of various public information and ethics bills that MACo considered or took a position on. This post summarizes the final status of those bills.
Public Information Requests for Electronic Records: HB 37 / SB 740 alters the State’s Public Information Act (PIA) to address the release of public documents in electronic format. The bill requires 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. 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: SB 740 passed with an amendment sunsetting the bill in 2013. HB 37 failed.
Open Meetings Act Notice and Complaints: HB 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 meeting notice. MACo supported the bill. Status: The bill failed after the Senate changed the 1-year time limit to 5 years and the House refused to accept the change.
Electronic Publication of Legal Notices: HB 909 and SB 545 are two slightly different bills that 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 also requires 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 failed, with the General Assembly citing concerns about lack of Internet access in rural areas and among the elderly and disadvantaged.