In the 2020 legislative session, Maryland lawmakers introduced nearly a dozen bills concerning the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA), of which, only a handful had any broad or significant impact on municipal governments. The Legislative Committee ultimately took positions on four.
· Supported HB 502/SB 590 with amendments: Introduced by Delegate Lierman and Senator Kagan, these bills were based on the recommendations provided by the Maryland Public Information Act Compliance Board and the Public Access Ombudsman. The legislation sought to expand the authority of the Compliance Board with the goal of creating a quicker and cheaper alternative than the courts when it comes to settling MPIA disputes. MML staff worked closely with the various stakeholders (and our Maryland Municipal Attorneys Association), to ensure the bill’s requirements were feasible and included new benefits to municipal custodians. After two good public hearings and several collaborative sessions, neither bill ended up receiving a vote. This bill is likely to return next session.
· Opposed HB 401: Introduced by Delegate Barron, this bill has some overlap with HB 502, but also carried provisions not recommended by the Ombudsman that were very troubling. Between the broad definitions of “public interest” and “representative of the news media,” anyone could ask for and MUST receive a wavier under HB 401 - even if they have the means to pay - if one claims they will use the information to submit an article to a website or start a blog. Citing our inability to verify the claims of bloggers and produce documents that can take dozens of hours and thousands of dollars to complete for free, MML strongly opposed this legislation. The bill received no vote in 2020, effectively dying in committee.
· Opposed HB 42/SB 67: Introduced by Delegate Guyton and Senator West, these bills would have placed impractical time limits on Maryland’s cities’ and towns’ duty to provide important information to the public while protecting sensitive data. The bills sought to reduce the maximum allowable time by which custodians must grant or deny an application from 30 days to seven. It would also have reduced from 10 days to five, the amount of time by which a custodian must give notice that the request will take more time to produce. Such notices already require an estimation of the time it will take, an estimate of the fee that may be charged, and a reason for the delay. Additionally, HB 42 would have required denial notices to be provided within five days (currently ten), which also necessitates considerable, legal research. MML was joined by many other government and quasi-government organizations at the House hearing to oppose the bill. That bill failed to receive a vote. The Senate sponsor cancelled his hearing and withdrew the Senate version.
· Opposed HB 717/SB 514: As introduced by Delegate Carr and Senator Waldstreicher, these bills would have re-opened a loophole in the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) that allowed individuals and companies to mass-collect residents’ personal information - such as phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and physical addresses - by requesting distributions lists used by a governmental entity or an elected official for the sole purpose of periodically sending news about certain activities or sending informational notices or emergency alerts. After speaking with the House sponsor, it was clear that this was not his intent, as he was only looking to be able to verify that MDOT had notified residents that their property was being surveyed as part of a potential expansion of I-495. With this in mind, the MML worked with the Delegate to identify amendments that didn’t harm the 2018 MML priority legislation but accomplished his goals. Ultimately, the bill received no action in the House and the Senate hearing was cancelled.
If you have any questions about these pieces of legislation, please contact Justin Fiore at firstname.lastname@example.org.