Thursday 15 November 2018

NEW LEGISLATION WOULD IMPROVE OVERSIGHT AND CLOSE LOOPHOLES IN PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT LAW

Senator Raskin, Delegate Cullison Propose First Major Update to Law in 45 Years

(Annapolis, MD) - Good government organizations, public health groups, environmental organizations, consumer advocates and social justice organizations applauded the introduction of new legislation to update the Maryland Public Information Act of 1970. The legislation would update the Maryland Public Information Act and remove obstacles to public access to public records by limiting and standardizing fees, improving oversight and closing exemption loopholes. The bill, SB695 is sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin (District 20) and will be cross-filed in the House of Delegates by Delegate Bonnie Cullison (District 19).

“Democracy is built on transparency, and Marylanders need total access to our own government,” said Senator Jamie Raskin.

“We’re always striving to do better in Maryland,” said Delegate Bonnie Cullison. “In this digital age when limitless information is only a click away, there is no excuse to keep Marylanders in the dark.”

The legislation would address three key components of Maryland’s existing laws regarding transparency and open government. The bill would:

  • Limit and standardize fees that local governments charge for Public Information Act (PIA) requests. Advocates say that inconsistent fees across state agencies are sometimes so high they deter reasonable requests.

  • Improve oversight by requiring faster PIA responses and designating a citizen Public Information Act Compliance Board to hear appeals.

  • Close loopholes in its exemptions by making public all official documents from entities that receive tax credits or direct subsidies and establishing a “balance test” to

determine whether existing exemptions to the PIA law are actually in the public interest.

More than two-dozen nonprofit organizations are championing the bill as an important step forward for Maryland. Marylanders for Open Government is a diverse network of environmental organizations, public health groups, good government groups, consumer advocates and social justice organizations working together to pass this legislation. 

READ FULL PRESS STATEMENT

 

Waterkeepers Chesapeake generally supports much of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) proposed definition of Waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act. We particularly support the strong scientific grounding in parts of the rule that identify categories of waters that are, by definition, waters of the U.S. or that have a “significant nexus” to waters of the U.S. Waterkeepers Chesapeake urges EPA to strengthen those definitions in accordance with comments from members of the EPA Science Advisory Board (“SAB”) and as detailed in our full comments. Waterkeepers Chesapeake is also, however, very concerned about EPA’s efforts to categorically exclude a large number of waters, often with little grounding in the science and law. Waterkeepers Chesapeake believes categorical exclusions are not dictated by the statute or the case law and are likely to lead to waters being subject to pollution that should be protected. In particular, EPA’s approach to groundwater is plainly not warranted by the science as demonstrated by the many comments on this point by individual members of the SAB. Finally, Waterkeepers Chesapeake objects to EPA continuing to allow mining and coal interests to use our precious water resources as dumping grounds for their wastes through the so-called “waste treatment” exclusion from waters protected by the Clean Water Act. 

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