Seriously, People: HB37 in Maryland Needs Some Attention!

I talked a bit about Maryland HB37 yesterday. It began with the best of intentions, but dang, it’s become a bit of a mess. The bill’s current language confuses rather clarifies certain important issues, and rather than enhancing transparency, it may instead undermine the public’s right to know.

House Bill 37 is so deeply flawed that the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Society of Environmental Journalists oppose this bill in its current form.

HB 37 allows agencies far too much latitude on the question of whether to provide records in electronic formats and if so, in which formats.  It lacks the clear, compelling language provided in other states’ laws and under federal law.  Under those laws, if an agency possesses a public record in an electronic format, and a person or organizations asks for that record in that format, the agency generally must provide it in that format.

HB 37’s vague language allows agencies in too many cases to continue providing public records solely in degraded electronic formats or in paper copy.  This practice obstructs research, education, and informed public participation.  It also undermines the public’s ability to inform agencies and elected officials – including the General Assembly – with expert analysis on important issues.

Perhaps worst of all, HB 37 authorizes a state agency to out-source public databases to a private, for-profit contractor.

This out-sourcing practice not only obstructs public access, it perpetuates a system in which Maryland has two classes of records requestors: those who have deep pockets with which to buy public records, ample time to wrangle with agencies, or the legal resources to sue agencies into compliance; and those who do not.

And, in a novel and truly horrifying new twist… HB 37 allows a custodian to delete or redact information about the origin and history of a public record.  That information often exists in the form of metadata, which has been ruled to be a public record in several states in the past couple of years. HB 37 inappropriately allows an agency to scrub this information wholesale from a public record without informing the person or organization requesting the record.

If you’d like more information on HB37, feel free to reach out to Greg Smith at Community Research:

(240) 605-9238

We need some media attention on this folks. I’m hearing crickets in Maryland…

Testimony Opposing HB 37- Soc of Pro Journalists – 20110307

Testimony Opposing HB 37 – NFOIC – 20110309

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One Response

  1. Thanks for this fine alert and summary, Charles.

    The battle now shifts to the Maryland Senate, where HB 37’s companion bill, SB 740, is scheduled to be heard by the Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on the afternoon of Tuesday, March 15.

    We encourage people to testify, in person if possible and in writing. We also encourage people to call senators on the committee.

    Unfortunately, the Maryland House of Delegates approved HB 37 last Friday, with all of the damaging language intact and with the out-sourcing amendment attached.

    Unless people raise a little hell, the public’s tight to know in Maryland will be further undermined.

    Do you really want to be forced to pay thousands of dollars for public databases that could be emailed, burned to a CD or posted to a public web site to be downloaded at will and at no charge?

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