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Public Information Act legislation introduced at General Assembly

The Maryland Senate is set to debate two House of Delegates bills that would tighten enforcement of the Maryland Open Meetings Act.

The passage of the bills in the House came only a few days before the beginning of Sunshine Week, which is a national effort that focuses on open government and the Freedom of Information Act. The House bills are set to go before the Senate for discussion and adoption in the upcoming weeks in Annapolis.

House Bill 331 would force a public body found in violation by the Maryland Open Meetings Compliance Board to pay a higher fine if it is taken to court. The bill sets the fines at no more than $250 for the first violation and $1,000 for each subsequent violation within three years after the first offense. Previously, the fine was set at no more than $100 per offense. The bill also stipulates that if a public body is found in violation, it must announce the violation and orally summarize the compliance board's opinion at its next open meeting.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-District 9, cross-filed the bill in the Senate. Kittleman's bill sets the fines at $1,000 for the first violation and $10,000 for each subsequent violation within three years of the first offense, which were the penalties in the first version of the House bill.

The second House bill that was recently passed, HB 139, would require at least one individual who is an employee, officer or member of a public body to receive online training on the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

Del. Anthony O'Donnell, R-District 29C, is the lead sponsor of the bill. Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 9B, is a co-sponsor of the bill.

While the Senate prepares to debate and vote on the recently passed House bills, there are a number of other pieces of legislation in both chambers focused on open meetings and the right to public information. Here's a breakdown of some of the bills that cover those topics:

House Bill 22

Description: The bill would repeal certain provisions limiting access to specified information in birth and adoption records by adoptees and biological parents for adoptions in which a juvenile court entered an order for adoption on or after Jan. 1, 2000.

Sponsor: Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, D-District 10

Status: Received unfavorable report by House Judiciary Committee

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House Bill 90

Description: The bill would require a custodian of records to deny inspection of a record of a specified handgun permit and a specified handgun permit application. The bill would also require a custodian to permit inspection of specified records by the handgun permit holder or handgun permit applicant.

Sponsor: Del. Kevin Kelly, D-District 1B

Status: In the House Health and Government Operations Committee

House Bill 265

Description: The bill would make the Maryland Public Information Act applicable to the University of Maryland Medical System Corporation.

Sponsor: Del. James W. Hubbard, D-District 23A

Status: Received unfavorable report from House Health and Government Operations Committee

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House Bill 484

Description: The bill would authorize the Attorney General or a local state's attorney to file a petition with a circuit court that has venue and ask for a specified remedy after receiving a receipt of a verified complaint from a person that a public body has failed or may fail to comply with specified provisions of the Open Meetings Act.

Sponsor: Del. Elizabeth Bobo, D-District 12B

Status: Withdrawn

House Bill 825

Description: The bill would require the Public Service Commission to make available on its website video and audio streaming of specified hearings and proceedings. The bill would also require the commission to maintain the specified recordings on its website for at least two years.

Sponsor: Del. Alfred C. Carr, Jr., D-District 18

Status: Withdrawn

Senate Bill 230

Description: The bill would alter the definition of a "public body" for the purposes of the Open Meetings Act to include an entity that is created by a memorandum of understanding or a master agreement to which a majority of the county boards of education and the State Department of Education are signatories.

Sponsor: Sen. Joseph Getty, R-District 5

Status: Passed the Senate, now in House Health and Government Operations Committee

Senate Bill 268

Description: The bill would require the Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals to post each of its opinions on the website of the Maryland Judiciary and designate whether the opinion is reported or unreported.

Sponsor: Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-District 20

Status: Withdrawn

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Senate Bill 453

Description: The bill would require a political party's central committee to provide public access to records related to filling a vacancy in public office similar to the requirements of the Public Information Act. The bill would also require central committee perform activities related to filling a vacancy in public office in an open and public manner similar to the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

Sponsor: Sen. Roger P. Manno, D-District 19

Status: Received unfavorable report from Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee

Senate Bill 825

Description: The bill would alter the definition of "public body" for the purposes of the Open Meetings Act to include a multi-member subcommittee of a standing committee of either house of the General Assembly.

Sponsor: Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, R-District 9

Status: In the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee

Senate Bill 844

Description: The bill would require specified governmental units to post on the websites a statement notifying the public that electronic mail addresses are public records.

Sponsor: Sen. Joseph Getty, R-District 5

Status: In the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee

Senate Bill 845

Description: The bill would require a custodian of a public record to deny inspection of the part of a public record that contains an electronic mail address that was provided for the purpose of or in the course of communicating with the state or local governments.

Sponsor: Sen. Joseph Getty, R-District 5

Status: In the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee

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