Voters support legislation to address fees, oversight and exemptions

For Immediate Release
February 19, 2015

 

Contacts:
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, Common Cause Maryland, 410-303-7954
Heather Iliff, Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations 443-438-2348
Karla Raettig, Maryland League of Conservation Voters 202-674-3174

 

(Annapolis, MD) – Marylanders overwhelmingly support updating the law that governs how and when government data and information can be released to the public, according to a new statewide poll of 500 registered voters.

Marylanders for Open Government released the survey results in advance of legislative committee hearings next month on legislation that would update the Maryland Public Information Act of 1970. SB695/HB755 would remove obstacles to public access to public records by limiting and standardizing fees, improving oversight of the Maryland Public Information Act and closing loopholes that inhibit public access.

According to the February 2015 OpinionWorks survey:

  • Eighty-four percent of respondents believe the Maryland Public Information Act of 1970 needs to be updated. Support was strong among all political affiliations: Democrats (87 percent), Republicans (75 percent) and independent voters (89 percent).
  • Seventy-one percent would support legislation that would limit fees governments can charge for public documents and establish an oversight body to ensure agencies comply with the law.
  • The poll asked respondents about their views on making certain government records accessible to the public. More than three-quarters of respondents supported eliminating the exemption that makes agriculture pollution control plans secret. Seventy-seven percent would support legislation to make agricultural pollution control plans available to the public, including 71 percent of respondents in rural counties.
  • After hearing about the three key components of SB695/HB755, support rose to 87 percent of respondents, with 49 percent saying they strongly supporting updating Maryland’s Public Information Act.

Full results of the survey can be viewed at www.MdOpenGov.org .

“Support for updating Maryland’s public information laws was strong across the board,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “This is not a partisan issue – all Marylanders want better government transparency and accountability.”

“This survey made clear that a large majority of Marylanders believe government dealings should be more open and accessible,” said Heather Iliff, president and CEO of Maryland Nonprofits. “We now know that this issue is important to the public, not just nonprofits and watchdog groups.”

“Marylander taxpayer dollars are supporting agricultural pollution control programs, and we deserve to know if they are being effective,” said Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. “To clean up the Chesapeake Bay and local waters, Marylanders want accountability from all sectors – including agriculture.”

SB695/HB755 would address three key components of Maryland’s existing laws regarding transparency and open government. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin and Delegate Bonnie Cullison, both from Montgomery County. The bill would:

  • Limit and standardize fees that local governments charge for Public Information Act (PIA) requests. Advocates say that state agencies charge widely varying fees that 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.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 6 and in the House Health and Government Operations Committee on March 11.

Thirty 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.

Advocates are tweeting about the bill using #MdOpenGov.

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