MACo’s PIA Initiative Bill Sent Back to Committee, Likely Defeated

MACo’s initiative legislation to modernize the state’s Public Information Act, SB 788, received its likely death blow on the Senate floor, and has been recommitted back to its Senate Committee. That, very likely, ends the debate on the matter for this session. The House cross-filed bill has not received any House action.

During the bill’s hearing the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who objected to certain provisions of the bill regarding the release of body camera footage. MACo’s bill sought to carve out narrow classes of materials as not appropriate for release under the PIA — including footage that could identify crime victims, show the death of a public safety officer, or are offered without any claim of wrongdoing or other potential rights violations. Despite these provisions, the Maryland ACLU testified the bill was too broad. Some time after the public hearing, additional groups representing other communities came out in opposition to the bill.

On the Senate floor, the Chair of the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Joan Carter Conway noted the opposition from groups that had not appeared before the committee, and after making that reference, urged the Senate floor to recommit the bill “for more work.” No Senators objected to the request, which then passed on a voice/acclamation vote.

In most cases, “recommitting” a bill represents a final chapter in legislative deliberations. While it is still procedurally possible for the bill to be reported out again, that appears unlikely.

After a three year effort to bring change to these public records laws, it appears the effort will go unresolved. These sensitive classes of documents and records will remain conditionally releasable, as custodians will be without bright-line rules on what documents should not be released to the public.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties