PIA Compliance Board Considers Expanding Scope; Seeks Public Comments

The Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board (PIACB) and Public Access Ombudsman have issued a letter (2019-08-29) requesting public comment on the possible expansion of the PIACB’s scope of duties. The PIACB is considering the expansion in response to .study request by the Maryland General Assembly in the General Assembly’s 2019 Joint Chairmen’s Report.

Currently, the PIACB can decide whether a fee of $350 or more charged by a records custodian in response to  a records request made under the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) is unreasonable. The PIACB may alter the fee if it finds the fee is unreasonable. Both records requestors and record custodians may use the Ombudsman for voluntary and non-binding mediation when any kind of PIA disputes arise. The proposed expansion would include expanding the PIACB’s scope to include all PIA disputes and require parties to participate in Ombudsman mediation prior to going to the PIACB. As per current law, parties could still take any PIA dispute to Maryland’s courts.

From the PIACB letter:

The PIACB and Ombudsman are in the process of collecting and analyzing the requested data, and are considering frameworks that may enhance the extra-judicial PIA dispute-resolution process. The two entities are in a unique position to make recommendations by drawing on their programmatic experience to date and, in the case of the Ombudsman, by pulling from her extensive interactions with requestors and agencies across the State.

Although still in its conceptual stage, the PIACB and Ombudsman believe that a promising avenue for enhanced PIA dispute resolution lies in permitting parties who are unable to resolve their dispute through Ombudsman mediation to seek a binding resolution from the PIACB, whose jurisdiction could be expanded to include all PIA disputes. By requiring parties to participate in Ombudsman mediation before they could petition the PIACB, this framework would preserve the benefits of the current informal PIA dispute-resolution process. Simultaneously, this framework would enable a currently-underutilized PIACB to address a very real need of requestors and agencies—the need for an accessible enforcement remedy as an alternative to going to court. This framework would not preclude the judicial remedy for those who want it, and any final decision of the PIACB could be appealed for judicial review.

The PIACB and Ombudsman expect to provide more detail on their findings and recommendations before they submit the final report at the end of the year, and, in the meantime, welcome comments from interested stakeholders by email: pia.ombuds@oag.state.md.us.

If you have any questions, please contact, Janice Clark, 410-576-7033 Administrative Officer, Public Information Act Compliance Board, and Public Access Ombudsman.

The PIACB and Ombudsman report is due to the General Assembly by December 31, 2019.

Useful Links

PIACB Request for Comments Letter

Joint Chairmen’s Report – PIACB Report and Information Request

PIACB Webpage