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The Maryland Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to the largest re-write of public records laws in 45 years.

The measure would create an ombudsman to mediate disputes between the public and the government over whether certain records could be released, marking the first time such agreements could be settled without going to court.

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The legislation also creates a commission to review complaints about fees for public records in cases where the government charged $250 or more to provide the records.

Advocates say the law would grant the biggest changes to the Maryland Public Information Act since it was first written in 1970, and go a long way to changing the culture of transparency.

A coalition of good government groups, media organizations, non profits and environmentalists sought the bill. The Baltimore Sun belongs to a press association that supported it.

The version passed by the Senate Tuesday was considerably changed since it was introduced earlier this year. Representatives from the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League successfully argued that more stringent rules would hamstring governments.

The bill will be up for approval in the Senate later this week before moving to the House of Delegates.

Gov. Larry Hogan has not taken a public position on the bill.

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