Enforcement powers change for the Public Information Act Compliance Board

By Frank Johnson
Deputy City Attorney, City of Gaithersburg

The General Assembly made some significant changes to the Public Information Act (Md. Code Ann., General Provisions, Sec. 4-101 et seq.) this year. First, as part of the changes related to police reform, Senate Bill 178 removed the confidentiality of certain police personnel records, now allowing disclosure of police misconduct files unless there is a finding that the public interest requires withholding those files.

As to the Public Information Act Compliance Board, House Bill 183 made significant enforcement changes for both the Ombudsman and the Board itself. The Board’s jurisdiction is now limited to fees, but will expand, such that the Board will now hear disputes on fees, denials, redaction, or a failure to respond, and custodian requests to find PIA requests as frivolous.

Mediation with the Ombudsman can be requested, by either the party seeking records or the custodian, to attempt to resolve the dispute, but if the dispute isn’t resolved within 90 days, the complaint can then go the Board for consideration. The Board will have authority
to require inspection or a response.

While the Board would not review a fee waiver, the Board can require, for an improper delay, waiver of all or part of a fee. The bill will not take effect until July 1, 2022.

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