MACo’s legislative initiative to “Modernize the Public Information Act” passed its Senate Committee on Tuesday, March 13, clearing its first of several hurdles toward passage.
SB 788 passed the Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee without any “NO” votes, after the Committee spent time during its voting session discussing the bill’s application and effects. At the time of this writing, the bill sits on the floor of the Senate awaiting a second reader vote, and the addition of technical amendments.
MACo is working with multiple other stakeholders – representing law enforcement, victim’s rights groups, school systems, and others – in arguing that the bill provides needed balance to laws generally dictating that public records and documents be shared with the public. Other groups that frequently oppose measures that limit public distribution of such documents (the MD/DC/DE Press Association, and Common Cause of Maryland) have indicated their comfort with this bill’s balance, and did not raise such objections to the bill (into which they contributed very substantial input).
The bill faces opposition on the Senate floor and may be subject to multiple attempts to lessen its scope or effects via floor-offered amendments. Its elements regarding footage from body cameras and similar devices are the central target of this opposition. Some legislators have expressed concern that the bill retains too much direction to provide records of body camera footage. Others have been advised by a limited group of advocates that denying such records compromises accountability in troubling circumstances like police officer misconduct (although the bill explicitly does not change the law regarding such records).
Other bill provisions include tightened assurances that personal identification information such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth should not be released, and that passive subscribers to government newsletters and mailing lists should not have their personal information released under the PIA.
Follow the progress of MACo’s initiative bill through MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.