Counties Caution Against Opening Personnel Records to PIA Requests

On Tuesday, Executive Director Michael Sanderson provided oral testified alongside a representative from the Maryland Municipal League in opposition to HB 413 – Public Information Act – Personnel and Investigatory Records – Formal Complaints Against Public Employees as it is currently written.

According to written testimony prepared by Les Knapp, Jr., despite being well-intentioned, MACo is concerned that the current proposed bill would have repercussions far beyond addressing the issues that it attempts to solve.

From the MACo testimony:

…While MACo appreciates the intent behind this bill, MACo is concerned that the bill’s effects would have significant repercussions far beyond addressing any perceived effects of the Maryland Court of Appeals decision in Maryland State Police v. Dashiell, 443 Md. 435. The Court in Dashiell went to great effort to highlight the sensitive nature of these internal records and the long-established and justified precedent of shielding the specifics of such an investigation under the PIA.

County government employees are subject to numerous complaints, sometimes unfounded, and access to such information could lead to abuse by disgruntled citizens. Proper venues already exist for a citizen who wishes to pursue a remedy beyond an internal agency review – the courts or various
quasi-judicial bodies such as the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. Furthermore, the bill’s provisions would become a convenient method of avoiding discovery in a litigation context.

It is MACo’s understanding that the bill sponsor intends to offer an amendment that would limit the bill’s provisions to law enforcement officers, as opposed to all government employees. The amendment would address both the concerns raised by the Dashiell holding and MACo’s concerns about overreach. If the Committee were to accept the sponsor’s amendment, MACo would withdraw our opposition to the bill…

For more on 2019 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.

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