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Public Information Act Amendments

Testimony to Maryland Senate Committee, March 6, 2015

The Action Committee for Transit strongly supports SB 695 on enforcement, fees, and exemptions for the Maryland Public Information Act. As a community organization that has filed requests under the PIA and encountered difficulties in receiving the records the PIA entitles us to, we believe that the bill will improve the current law and contribute to a more open government that is more accessible and accountable to the people.

We particularly support the following provisions of the bill:

  1. Public Information Act Compliance Board with enforcement powers. The compliance board will provide an additional option for requesters who believe they have been denied records the PIA entitles them to but cannot afford to file suit. In addition, even if a requester is able to file suit and wins the case, a lawsuit takes time, delaying the requester's access to the records. The compliance board will also make resolution of disputes more timely.

  2. Presumption in favor of the public's interest in disclosure, unless outweighed by the state's interest in protecting the privacy of a person in interest. This will weight the presumption towards public disclosure, which will improve transparency and openness.

  3. Fee provisions. The provisions defining commercial purpose, increasing the number of feeless hours for search and preparation from 2 to 5, basing search fees on the salary of the lowest-paid staff member involved in the search, and providing for a fee waiver based on "indigence" will all improve the public's ability to access the requested records without the barrier of high fees.

We strongly support SB 695, and we hope that you will too.