Panel kills petition confidentiality bill

A Senate committee has killed a Republican-sponsored bill to shield
from public scrutiny the names and personal information of people who sign petitions to bring General Assembly-passed bills to referendum.

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee
voted 8-3 along party lines Tuesday night to kill the bill sponsored by Sen. Nancy Jacobs of Harford County. Proponents of the bill said petitions should be exempt from public records laws to protect the privacy of voters.

Jacobs and the House sponsor, Del. Neil Parrott of Washington County, told the committee last week that making personal information public in
the Internet age could lead to fraud and identity theft. They said the bill
would protect voters from being confronted for their political opinions. Opponents of the bill contended open records were necessary to guarantee the validity of petition signatures.

Republican-led petition drives led to referendums last year on three bills, the first such contests in two decades. The voters upheld all three in November, but Republicans were encouraged that they had found a useful tool to challenge actions of the Democratic-dominated legislature.

The committee approved a bill by Sen. Jennie Forehand allowing voting by mail in special elections for such posts as county council seats, which typically have low turnouts at the polls.

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