2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Public Information & Ethics

This post summarizes the status of various public information and ethics bills that MACo took a position on for the 2018 Regular Session.

Public Information Act – Body Camera Footage & Personal Contact Information: HB 1638 / SB 788 would make several updates and changes to the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA). The bill addresses government accountability, privacy rights, and protections for governments from abusive record requests. The bill would:

  1. define “personal surveillance video” to mean audio or video recorded by a device attached to or designed to follow a law enforcement officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician, or an employee of a unit or an instrumentality of the State or a political subdivision (including body cameras, drones, and robots but excluding dashboard cameras and mounted stationary cameras);
  2. require, subject to existing exceptions in the PIA law, a custodian to allow inspection of personal surveillance video that depicts: (i) an arrest or attempted arrest; (ii) a temporary detention or attempted temporary detention; (iii) a search or attempted search; (iv) the issuance of a citation; (v) the injury or death of an individual; (vi) the use of force against an individual; or (vii) an incident that led to a complaint or allegation of officer misconduct against any law enforcement officer involved in the incident.
  3. require a custodian to deny that part of a personal surveillance video that depicts: (i) a victim or information that could identify a victim of domestic violence, a sexual crime, or child abuse; (ii) the death of a law enforcement officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician, or an employee of a unit or an instrumentality of the State or a political subdivision that occurred in the performance of the individual’s duties; or (iii) an incident that does not contain any of the criteria listed in 2. above;
  4. require, subject to existing exceptions in the PIA law, a custodian to allow inspection of personal surveillance video covered under the bill by a person in interest (a person in interest who is the cause or may have caused an incident of domestic violence, a sexual crime, or child abuse is limited to viewing video of the incident but cannot receive a copy of the video under the PIA);
  5. require a victim of domestic violence, a sexual crime, or child abuse who is the subject of a personal surveillance video to be notified of all requests to inspect the record according to uniform standards and procedures developed by the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission, in consultation with relevant stakeholders.
  6. clarify that a custodian shall deny inspection of records for the incidents listed above regardless of subsequent action taken by law enforcement or a court based on the incident recorded;
  7. provide that the bill’s provisions may not be construed to affect the discovery or evidentiary rights of a party in civil or criminal litigation;
  8. require a record custodian to deny inspection of a distribution list, or the inspection of a request to be added to a distribution list, that identifies a physical address, an e-mail address, or a telephone number of an individual that is used by a government agency or elected official for the sole purpose of: (i) periodically sending news about the official activities of the governmental agency or elected official; or (ii) sending informational notices or emergency alerts; and
  9. clarify that the PIA does not allow the inspection of a social security number or date of birth of an individual, except to a person in interest or unless otherwise provided by law.

MACo Position: MACo supported the bill and several technical sponsor amendments, arguing that the bill provides thoughtful and reasonable solutions to the PIA challenges posed by changing technologies. The bill promotes transparency and accountability, protects victims and individuals who passively receive government information, and addresses the expense and potential for abusive requests facing local governments and State records custodians.

Push Icons-NOT IDEALFINAL STATUS: The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee passed the bill with the sponsor amendments. The bill passed second reader on the Senate floor with additional amendments to prohibit the release of video that depicts an individual during a search of the individual’s home that does not result in an arrest and included a group dedicated to civil liberties as one of the stakeholders that the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission must consult when creating uniform standards and procedures for victim notification.

However, the bill was recommitted to the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee during the third reader vote and saw no further action. HB 1638 was withdrawn by the sponsor of the bill.

MACo Testimony on HB 1638

MACo Testimony on SB 788

Public Information Act – Denials of Personal Contact Information Used For Newsletters & Emergency Alerts: HB 677 / SB 477 would require a record custodian to deny inspection of a distribution list, or the inspection of a request to be added to a distribution list, that identifies a physical address, an e-mail address, or a telephone number of an individual that is used by a government agency or elected official for the sole purpose of: (1) periodically sending news about the official activities of the governmental agency or elected official; or (2) sending informational notices or emergency alerts.

Push Icons-WONMACo Position: MACo supported the bill, arguing that: (1) newsletters and emergency alerts are a primary way for local governments to communicate with their residents; (2) recent PIA requests have required counties and municipalities to disclose contact information used for newsletter or alerts, leading to people being spammed with unwanted commercial or political communications; and (3) the risk of disclosure creates a disincentive for people to use government subscription or alert services and erodes the public’s trust in government institutions.

FINAL STATUS: The General Assembly passed both HB 677 and SB 477.

MACo Testimony on HB 677

MACo Testimony on SB 477

Public Information Act – Prohibition on Lawsuits Filed By Record Custodians: HB 387 / SB 167 would prohibit a governmental unit from filing suit against a person who has requested to inspect a record under the PIA.

Push Icons-DEFEATEDMACo Position: MACo opposed the bill, noting that: (1) there does not appear to be any instance of a custodian invoking a lawsuit as a first response to a records request in Maryland: (2) custodian lawsuits were never raised as a potential issue in a recently completed 2-year comprehensive study of the PIA by the Office of the Attorney General; and (3) the bill’s language would appear to prevent the current ability of custodians to bring suit to seek court guidance regarding the release of potentially confidential information, whether the request is abusive, or to resolve a temporary denial.

FINAL STATUS: HB 387 was withdrawn by the bill sponsor. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee gave SB 167 an unfavorable report.

Note: No MACo Testimony for HB 387

MACo Testimony on SB 167

Open Meetings Act – Closing Meetings For Cybersecurity Issues: HB 695 would allow a public body to meet in closed session to discuss cybersecurity issues if the public body determines that public discussion would constitute a risk to: (1) security assessments or deployments relating to information resources technology; (2) network security information; or (3) deployments or implementation of security personnel, critical infrastructure, or security devices.

Push Icons-WONMACo Position: MACo supported the bill, arguing that cybersecurity issues have become a major concern for local governments and that the existing “closed session” language under the Open Meetings Act needed updating so counties could confidentially anticipate and prepare for cybersecurity threats.

FINAL STATUS: The General Assembly passed HB 695.

MACo Testimony on HB 695

Ethics – Meetings and Reports of Local Public Ethics Commissions: As introduced, SB 474 would require a local ethics commission (or the appropriate entity) to meet at least three times a year and file an annual report with the local governing body and members of the General Assembly who represent that jurisdiction. The reports must provide an overview of the local ethics law and the activities of the local ethics commission.

Push Icons-IMPROVEDMACo Position: MACo supported the bill with an amendment that would only require the local ethics commission to meet one time a year, arguing that: (1) unless a jurisdiction is facing an ethics issues or considering changing its ethics laws, there may be no need for a local commission to meet more than once a year; and (2) requiring additional meetings that may not be required is both inefficient and wasteful.

FINAL STATUS: The General Assembly passed SB 474 with the MACo amendment and an amendment striking the requirement that the annual report be sent to the General Assembly members who represent that jurisdiction.

MACo Testimony on SB 474

For more information on all of the legislation that MACo tracked on Public Information and Ethics in the 2018 General Assembly, click here.

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