Open Government Advocates Applaud Senate Committee Action on Public Information Act Reform
- Jennifer Bevan Dangel
SB695 would limit fees, improve oversight and close loopholes
(Annapolis, MD) – Good government organizations, newspaper editors, public health groups, environmental organizations, consumer advocates, social justice organizations and other advocates applauded the actions of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee today. The Committee amended SB695 with sponsor amendments and gave the legislation a favorable report. The bill is sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin (District 20) and will now head to the Senate floor for a vote. Delegate Bonnie Cullison has a cross-file bill in the House of Delegates, HB755.
The timely movement on the bill comes during Sunshine Week (March 15-21), during which media outlets highlight the need for open and transparent government.
“It may be raining outside, but today the sun is shining on Maryland government,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “This bill represents a big step forward for Maryland and for good government.”
Major newspaper editorial boards across the state have endorsed the legislation, and several newspaper editors testified in committee in favor of the legislation. Over the course of Sunshine Week, newspapers have been offering op-eds and feature articles on the need for Public Information Act improvements.
“Journalists need access to public records and information to tell their stories and hold the government accountable,” said Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland, Delaware, DC Press Association. “This legislation will help us do our jobs more effectively, and help us inform Marylanders about their government.”
The legislation addresses three key components of Maryland’s existing laws regarding transparency and open government. The bill would:
* Improve oversight by establishing a Public Information Act Compliance Board to adjudicate disputes of fees and an ombudsman to act as a mediator between requesters and governmental agencies.
* Limit and standardize fees by shifting the cost charged to requestors from “reasonable” to “actual.” This would prevent governments using inflated costs to discourage requests for public information.
* Close loopholes in exemptions to the law by setting clear timelines and requiring that agencies that deny requests explain how the harm in disclosing information would outweigh the public interest.
Recent poll results showed strong support for updating Maryland’s Public Information Act.
Advocates are tweeting about the bill using #MdOpenGov.