MACo Proposes Amendments to Prevent Unprecedented Change in Fee Provisions

On Thursday, Leslie Knapp testified in support of HB 355 Public Ethics Law – School Boards – Disclosures and Requirements (School System Ethics and Transparency Act of 2019) with amendments.

While a majority of this bill does not directly impact county governments, HB 355 contains an ill-considered Public Information Act provision which would require a records custodian to waive any fee if one-third or more members of a Board of Education make a PIA request.

MACo believes that this provision is unnecessary, and therefore should be amended out of the bill.

From the MACo Testimony:

Currently under the PIA, requests taking less than 2 hours to assemble are free. After that, the custodian may apply a fee based on actual staff and assembly costs. A custodian already has the authority to waive or reduce a fee and there is a process for indigent requestors to ask for a fee waiver. Custodians typically work with requestors that have made overbroad or expensive PIA requests to narrow their request to the information that the requestor really wants. Aggrieved requestors can access a PIA ombudsman or for cases where a fee is $350 or more, appeal to the Public Information Act Compliance Board.

However, under HB 355, a minority of a board’s membership could make a PIA request costing thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to prepare and leave the custodian with no recourse but to gather and provide the information for free. It does not matter if the request is overbroad or abusive – the custodian has no recourse under the bill. 

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