Senate Committee Hears Local Government Body Camera & PIA Concerns

MACo Legal & Policy Counsel Les Knapp testified before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee about the need for reforming the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) to better address the release of police body camera footage. The September 13th briefing also included testimony from representatives from the Maryland Municipal League (MML) and the ACLU of Maryland.

Addressing police body camera issues under the PIA has been a MACo legislative initiative for the last three years. For two years, the House of Delegates passed the proposed MACo legislation with near unanimous bipartisan support, only for the bill to stall in the Senate. During the 2018 Session, the Committee debated the MACo bill, SB 788, and ultimately held the bill for further discussion. That decision culminated in the briefing. The ACLU of Maryland has opposed the legislation all three years.

Knapp explained the need for greater clarity regarding body camera footage under the PIA, citing the need for: (1) transparency and accountability; (2) privacy protections; and (3) certainty for local governments. From MACo’s testimony:

Body cameras and other forms of personal surveillance video can help provide transparency and accountability for police officer and other government employee actions as well as protect both residents and the government. It is beneficial and desirable that as many local jurisdictions as possible adopt viable body camera programs. …

Unlike dashboard or stationary mounted cameras, which are limited in both use and the areas they film, there will be far more personal surveillance video generated by the use of new technology and it will show scenes never before subject to public scrutiny – including the insides of private homes and businesses. The potential for abusive use of such video, including posting on the internet or victim shaming, is extremely high. …

Finally, the time and costs for attorney review and potential redaction of body camera video are significant and a single large request could quickly run into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars and consume many hours of staff time. When reviewing videos, every minute of actual footage can take between 7 and 13 minutes to review by an attorney. Redaction adds additional time and costs. Long-term storage of large amounts of video also remains a challenging and costly proposal.

Additionally, without a “bright line” rule, a heavy onus is placed on record custodians to determine when and how existing exceptions to releasing information under the PIA apply. Record custodians and their governmental agencies can be held criminally or civilly liable for making a wrong decision by releasing something that should not have been released or not releasing something that should have been released.

By focusing on those videos that are truly in the public interest to ensure transparency and accountability, the time, costs, uncertainty, and liability risks for local governments can be greatly reduced.

Knapp also stressed that other states have taken more extreme positions on the privacy rights of victims and video subjects. Even the National Chapter of the ACLU has proposed model legislation that provides numerous privacy protections for crime victims and witnesses and limits who can access body camera video through public information act requests. Knapp noted that MACo developed a balanced approach to transparency and privacy by working in collaboration with public school boards, law enforcement, the press, and open government groups, including the ACLU of Maryland. Knapp addressed several of the ACLU of Maryland’s key arguments and urged the Committee to consider updating the PIA, whether it is based on the approach in SB 788, the National ACLU model legislation, or some other methodology.

MML Government Relations Manager Justin Fiore echoed support for the need for PIA reform and discussed the concerns of municipal governments and police departments. City of Gaithersburg Attorney Lynn Board explained the time, cost, and technology challenges local governments face when responding to body camera requests under the PIA. Board also stressed that without a “bright line” rule, the onus is on record custodians and local governments to make difficult decisions on what to release or not using their discretionary powers under the PIA. Board noted that local governments can be held legally liable for releasing information they were not supposed to release or not releasing information they should have released.

ACLU of Maryland Senior Staff Attorney David Rocah argued that legislation was not needed as the current PIA law covers the concerns raised in the bill. Rocah also argued that the bill would not even address the concerns raised by MACo and MML.

Useful Links

Video of PIA Body Camera Briefing

MACo Testimony on PIA Body Camera Briefing

HB 1638 / SB 788 of 2018

Prior Conduit Street Coverage of PIA Body Camera Issues

 

 

Governor: “No Plans” To Take Homes for I-270

Governor Larry Hogan has assured protestors and concerned citizens that his plans to improve traffic conditions along I-270 and the Beltway will not result in any eminent domain affecting residents’ homes. WTOP reports:

At a news conference in Annapolis on Tuesday, the governor repeated what he told a group of concerned citizens at a Labor Day parade in Kensington: “The state has no plans that show anybody’s houses being taken,” he said.

Maryland’s State Highway Administrator Greg Slater elaborated that the State plans on “challenging our private sector partners to find a solution that fits within that right of way.”

The protests and assurances come after the Action Committee for Transit submitted a Public Information Act request for any and all relevant plans. The Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) responded denying the group’s request for a fee waiver and requesting payment.

The 15 alternatives proposed by MDOT in fact do not appear to expand existing right-of-way, but rather, implement express toll lanes, carpool lanes, and transit options. Read more about the alternatives here.

Relevant Links

MDOT’s Project Website

WTOP coverage

Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition coverage

 

PIA Compliance Board Considers Inmate Access, Commercial Requests at Annual Meeting

The Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) Compliance Board held its annual meeting on August 7, 2018, and considered several issues related to the PIA, including inmate access to information and commercial requests. MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp attended the meeting.

The Board has authority to determine whether PIA fees greater than $350 are reasonable and can reduce or eliminate them if the Board finds the fees are unreasonable (the PIA law allows for the recovery of fees based on the actual costs of complying with a PIA request, minus the first two hours of work). The Board does not have the authority to determine whether a custodian must legally release information or grant a fee waiver. Deborah Moore-Carter from Baltimore City is the Board’s local government member.

Inmate Access to Public Records

Board Chair John West characterized inmate access to public records as a “systemic issue” and noted the importance of providing convicted inmates with an avenue to information that could potentially exonerate someone who was wrongfully convicted. West stated that the Board was seeking guidance from the Office of the Attorney General on how to address the challenges posed to providing better access to inmates. This could potentially result in legislation in the 2019 or a subsequent session. However, as part of an open discussion with public attendees, West and other Board members acknowledged that some inmates made abusive requests and the any proposed modifications to the PIA would be limited to records directly pertaining to an inmate’s own case.

Commercial PIA Requests

An issue that many attending agencies raised with the Board was that of PIA requests for commercial purposes. Many attendees stated that such requests had become more numerous and complex in recent years and expressed frustration about the increasing time and costs needed to fulfill them. Some attendees shared stories about public anger after a custodian had to provide contact information that was subsequently used for commercial solicitations. The Board was sympathetic to the concerns raised and considered how the issue could be addressed.

PIA Ombudsman

West also complimented PIA Ombudsman Lisa Kershner, who is based in the Office of the Attorney General and acts as a voluntary and non-binding mediator for both records requestors and custodians. Kershner provided a short update on her work, noting that she is focused on reaching “practical solutions.” Kershner agreed that inmate requests were a major issue and also stressed the need for custodians to be appropriately trained on their record storage and retrieval systems. Kershner cited an emerging trend about government agencies reaching out to her proactively for either advice or training, noting that such requests were up threefold from the prior year.

Useful Links

PIA Compliance Board

This Israeli Start-Up Could Help Your County Keep The Water Running

Cybersecurity solutions protect critical county infrastructure, including water systems.

County governments are responsible for numerous public services, many of them increasingly dependent on systems vulnerable to cyber attack.

Now an Israeli start-up focused on industrial cybersecurity could help your county safeguard water systems that your residents rely on.

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Cybersecurity Start-up VP TJ Roe will be speaking at MACo’s Tech Expo on August 15.

At this year’s MACo Summer Conference Tech Expo, hear from TJ Roe, VP Sales North America of Radiflow Ltd., a Tel Aviv-based industrial cybersecurity company that closed an $18 million investment round, as reported by CTech.

From the article:

Founded in 2010, Radiflow pivoted from developing industry communication solutions to industrial cybersecurity in 2013, CEO Ilan Barda told Calcalist. The company now offers cybersecurity services designed to support critical infrastructure and industrial networks such as electricity and water providers, and reports more than 50 customers, primarily in the U.S. and Europe. The company is headquartered in Tel Aviv and operates another office in the U.S. It employs 35 people.

For more information see, Industrial Cybersecurity Company Radiflow Raises $18 Million

At MACo’s Summer Conference, TJ Roe of Radiflow, will join panelists from the Center for Internet Security and Maryland’s Military Department to discuss solutions for county governments seeking to assess threats and protect against them.

All Hands On Deck: Cybersecurity for County Governments

  • Wednesday, August 15, 12:45 – 1:45 PM
  • Roland E Powell Convention Center
  • Ocean City, Maryland

County government networks possess a wealth of valuable personal information, including Social Security numbers, tax ID numbers, health information, and other sensitive data. Counties also manage critical infrastructure, including 9-1-1 Call Centers, water, and waste water systems. Learn from leading cybersecurity experts how counties can work together to keep fast all data, and protect against cyber-attacks on systems integral to the health and safety of all residents.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

 

 

IRS to 501(c)s: Keep Your Irrelevant Donor Data

The IRS has announced that it is no longer requiring 501(c) organizations, other than 501(c)(3) charitable non-profits, to report lists of their donors. The new rule means that issue advocacy groups, labor unions, veterans groups, political organizations, and other 501(c) non-profits will no longer have to  proactively disclose their contributors to the IRS.

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The change does not affect 501(c)(3)s, as the IRS still needs the lists of donors entitled to claim charitable income tax deductions. Since the deduction is not available for contributions to political campaigns and other 501(c)s, however, the IRS does not need this information.

According to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin:

Americans shouldn’t be required to send the IRS information that it doesn’t need to effectively enforce our tax laws, and the IRS simply does not need tax returns with donor names and addresses to do its job in this area. It is important to emphasize that this change will in no way limit transparency.  The same information about tax-exempt organizations that was previously available to the public will continue to be available, while private taxpayer information will be better protected.  The IRS’s new policy for certain tax-exempt organizations will make our tax system simpler and less susceptible to abuse.

It might deserve noting that the requirement elimination has no bearing on any state or federal campaign finance disclosure requirements. That’s a completely different issue.

The IRS press release is available here. Formal guidance is here.

Local Media File Amicus Brief Challenging Baltimore’s Police Misconduct Non-Disclosure Agreements

Baltimore Brew article (2018-06-01) reported that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 19 news organizations, including the Washington PostBaltimore Sun, and the Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association, have filed an amicus brief supporting a case challenging the validity of Baltimore City’s use of non-disclosure agreements when settling police misconduct cases. The case could set a precedent for any local government that utilizes a non-disclosure agreement as part of a settlement and could potentially apply to other situations besides police misconduct.

The original case was brought by Baltimore Brew and Ashely Amaris Overbey. Overbey signed a non-disclosure agreement after settling with the City over alleged police misconduct and was later found to have violated that agreement after responding to social media comments about her experience. The violation cost Overbey half of her prior settlement. The U.S District Court upheld the agreement and dismissed Overbey’s claim. The case is on appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

From the article:

The media brief argues that news reporting on police misconduct settlement claims is more accurate and fair when reporters can speak to complainants and learn the details of their agreements.

“Contrary to the district court’s assumption, it is not enough for news organizations to simply rely on civil complaints filed by victims in order to report these stories,” it argues.

“Without human sources to interpret and fill the gaps often left in documents, reporters cannot provide the public with the information it needs to decide how it wants its government to act.”

 

Why Abuse Victims Are Calling County Finance Officers…

County finance offices might start receiving requests for help – from victims of domestic abuse, to shield their real addresses on their tax records.

Last session, the General Assembly passed HB 633, Secretary of State – Address Confidentiality Programs – Shielding of Real Property Records. Among other things, the bill authorizes a participant in the Address Confidentiality Program for victims of domestic violence or the Human Trafficking Address Confidentiality Program (referred to collectively as ACP) to request the shielding of real property records under specified circumstances. Real property records explicitly include locally maintained property tax records. SAHLogo

The Secretary of State has administered the Maryland Safe at Home Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) for years. The goal of the ACP is to help protect relocated victims of domestic violence and human trafficking from being located by their abuser. As currently operated, the ACP provides substitute addresses for victims and free confidential mail-forwarding services.​

As amended by the bill, beginning January 1, 2019, an ACP participant may request that a county shield their real address on their tax records. To do so, according to the law, the participant must submit specified documentation to the county finance office from the Secretary of State, including an intake sheet and program notice. Upon receipt of the information, the county may not disclose the identity of the ACP participant in conjunction with that person’s actual property.

The Secretary of State is tasked with promulgating regulations to effectuate the new law.

The clerks of the court are currently at work developing a uniform way of privately storing the actual property records, and then recording the public records with fictitious names. The clerks will then provide the counties and appropriate State agencies with the records showing the fictitious names.

It is the ACP participant’s obligation to notify the county if their real name and address must be known to avail themselves of certain benefits – like, for example, certain county-provided tax credits. The counties will be able to verify the information with the Secretary of State’s office.

The new law is the result of recommendations by the Task Force to Study Recording Deeds for Victims of Domestic Violence, created by Chapter 602, Acts of 2016.

More information about the ACP is available at the Secretary of State’s office: 410-260-3875 o​r by email at safe.athome@maryland.gov.

Montgomery Council’s Twitter Account May Have Been Briefly Hacked

Bethesda Beat article (2018-05-29) reported that Montgomery County Council staff believe the Council’s twitter account was hacked after a questionable message was posted by the account on May 29. The issue highlights the challenge county governments face in providing communication platforms that are easy for the public to access but also secure from outside tampering.

The article indicated that one tweet was briefly posted questioning different media accounts about the death toll caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and included offensive language. The tweets were removed about five minutes after they were posted. Council staff are continuing to investigate. From the article:

[Council spokesperson Susan] Kenedy said staff members don’t have any evidence that any other social media accounts were hacked but secured them with new passwords as a precaution. They do not believe a county employee was involved in posting the initial message.

Useful Links

Montgomery County Council Web Page

The MACo Summer Conference’s Tech Expo will feature a session on cybersecurity from Wednesday, August 15, 2018, from 12:45 pm – 1:45 pm.

  • All Hands on Deck: Cybersecurity for County Government
  • County government networks possess a wealth of valuable personal information, including Social Security numbers, tax ID numbers, health information, and other sensitive data. This makes county government employees at every level potential targets for online pirates looking to steal sensitive information. Even well-meaning and internet-savvy employees may fall prey to inappropriate release of data…with multiple consequences. Learn from Maryland’s leading cybersecurity firms how counties can work together to keep fast all data, including personal information.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference:

 

Baltimore City Commissioner Resigns Amidst Tax Charges

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa has resigned, following the announcement that federal prosecutors have charged him with failure to file federal income tax returns from 2013 to 2015. Mayor Pugh has announced a national search for his replacement, while Deputy Commissioner Gary Tuggle will serve as acting commissioner.

It has not been reported whether De Sousa also failed to file his state income tax returns, but it seems a logical assumption – meaning he also failed to pay income taxes to Baltimore City.

Reports the Baltimore Sun

Despite De Sousa’s admitting to not filing his tax returns, his attorneys have pushed back against prosecutors, saying De Sousa was not given the opportunity other taxpayers receive to explain or file missing returns before being charged criminally.

“Criminal charges are usually a last resort by the government after the tax payer has ignored the government’s warning,” attorney Steven Silverman wrote in a statement.

Reporters and government officials took to Twitter with responses.

Sun Reporter Scott Dance pointed out the irony that the Governor signed SB 1099/HB 561, Baltimore City Police Department – Commission to Restore Trust in Policing and Audit Review, essentially at the same time that De Sousa announced his resignation. The bill establishes the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, which is tasked with reviewing, investigating, and making recommendations relating to the Baltimore Police Department:

 

Round-up of the 2018 Session for Counties

MACo’s legislative efforts earned an 80% success rate – and as usual, the counties’ voice makes a difference in Annapolis. Bills we support are more likely to pass, and bills we oppose are more likely to fail.

2018 Legislative Results Infographic

MACo’s legislative initiatives, priorities, and positions are directed by its Legislative Committee. This body comprises elected representatives from all of MACo’s members – the 24 county jurisdictions (including Baltimore City).

The “one county, one vote” system of deciding the Association’s legislative strategies, ensures that all counties have an equal voice. All 24 jurisdictions participated regularly in the weekly meetings throughout the session – where they also engaged with policy leaders and advocates who joined the meeting to address county leadership.

Our policy staff have compiled updates and results on all of the bills the Legislative Committee decided to take action on this year.

For the 2018 End of Session Wrap-up for each subject MACo covers, click below:

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Assessments and Taxation

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Business Affairs

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Disparity Grants

2018 End of Session Wrap-up: Economic Development Tax Credits

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Education

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Elections

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Employee Benefits & Relations

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Environmental Legislation

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Finance and Procurement

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Government Liability & Courts

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Health & Human Services

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Housing & Community Development

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Intergovernmental Relations *MACo Initiative Area*

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Parks & Recreation

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Pensions

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Planning & Zoning

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Property Taxes

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Public Information & Ethics * MACo Initiative Area *

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Public Safety and Corrections

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Road Funding * MACo Initiative Area *

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: School Construction * MACo Initiative Area *

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: State Budget & Fiscal Affairs

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Tax Sale Bills

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Transportation and Public Works

2018 End of Session Wrap-up: Wynne Tax Bills

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: County Tax Revenues

2018 End of Session Wrap-Up: Other Tax Bills