This post summarizes the status of various public information & ethics bills that MACo took a position on during the 2021 Regular Session.
County governments gather and maintain public information as part of their various functions. Compliance with the Maryland Public Information Act and maintenance of a high level of ethics in all government practices are priorities throughout the administrative agencies and legislative bodies of Maryland’s county governments. Through its advocacy and professional education in the areas of public information and ethics, MACo urges a balance between public safety, government efficiency, and public information demands and works with the State’s Office of Attorney General and Ethics Commission on behalf of counties.
This year the Maryland General Assembly conducted a legislative session unlike any other due to the enduring COVID-19 pandemic. The unique circumstances surrounding the 442nd legislative session posed a challenge, preventing some bills from moving or being heard. However, MACo was still able to effectively advocate on behalf of its members. For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 resource page.
Body Camera Footage
MACo supported legislation that would have instituted a balanced release of police body camera footage. As more and more departments expand the use of body cameras, the increased video leaves victims subject to potential abuse in the form of online shaming, and costs local governments significant resources to redact and release the footage. Public Information Act – Inspection of Records From Body-Worn Digital Recording Devices would have ensured police officer accountability and transparency, included victim protections, and addressed the expense and potential for abusive requests facing local governments and State records custodians. The bill passed the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee for the first time, but stalled in the House Judiciary Committee late in Session.
MACo supported legislation that would have clarified state law to allow for the publication of legal notices in online newspapers of general circulation. The number of local papers has declined over time, leaving local governments with few options. Some local papers may transition to online-only offerings, leaving a jurisdiction with no printed newspaper in which to publish notices. This would harm local government’s ability to be compliant with existing state law. Legal Advertisement or Legal Notice – Publication in Newspaper or Newspaper in General Circulation – Online Newspapers did not advance following committee hearings in both chambers.
For more on public information & ethics legislation tracked by MACo in the 2021 legislative session, click here.