HB 755/SB 695 proposes many changes to Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA), including changing how government custodians can charge fees and the creation of a Public Information Act Compliance Board that would decide complaints concerning the denial of records, “unreasonable” fees, and denial of fee waivers. Amendments offered by the bill sponsors and proponents during the bill hearing removed the denial of records review from the Board and instead created an ombudsman who could mediate PIA disputes within the Office of the Attorney General.
As previously reported on Conduit Street, MACo supported the bills with conceptual amendments to address county concerns regarding legal, cost and implementation issues. MACo, along with the Maryland Municipal League (MML), is negotiating with the bill proponents to create a viable and reasonable solution that promotes better public access to records but also acknowledges practical limitations of local governments in fulfilling PIA requests.
From a March 15 Fox 45 article:
A bill to update the current information act would cap fees, close loopholes, and create a compliance board to handle disputes between the public and government agencies. …
The bill was generally well-received during recent testimony before a Senate committee. It drew some criticism from opponents, who say local governments are struggling to fill requests based on their budget and manpower.
A March 16 City Paper blog post adopts a cynical view of attorney review concerns raised by MACo and MML:
Many years after other states have them, Maryland is contemplating the creation of a State Public Information Act Compliance Board….In practice, the attorneys typically review the material with an eye toward finding a provision of the law that will let them deny the request outright, it appears, as every element of the Maryland law seems to underscore its own broad exceptions—with severe penalties—lest someone’s (or some business’) privacy be violated.