In “PIA can help restore trust, faith in government,” Maryland’s Public Access Ombudsman and Public Information Act Compliance Board Chair argue that if the General Assembly passes legislation to further empower their two organizations, then open government in Maryland will be enhanced (The Capital, March 8).

True, the sponsors of the legislation claim it will enhance open government. But the devil in the details reveals otherwise, which is why the two leading trade associations in Maryland that vehemently oppose open government, the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League, quietly supported it.

The crux of the problem is that the enforcement entities the legislation empowers have already been captured by the entities they are supposed to hold accountable, and the legislation only makes that problem worse. Giving MACo and MML control of one seat on the Compliance Board illustrates just one of many clever ways this is accomplished.

The bill’s creation of a sweeping and vague exemption allowing agencies and the Compliance Board to dismiss complaints that are “frivolous, vexatious, or in bad faith” is tailormade to weaken Maryland’s already loophole-ridden Public Information Act. And the so-called new reporting requirements will only further incentivize the current smoke and mirrors enforcement culture.

If the General Assembly really wanted to foster public access to public documents, it would 1) require public documents to be published online so the public need not use the slow, loophole-ridden PIA process, and 2) require local governments to pay litigation costs if they lose an open government lawsuit

Alas, this awful legislation will likely pass.

Source: Snider, J.H., False Transparency: Change to Maryland Public Information Act not really a change at all, Capital, March 11, 2021.