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2016 MD Public Information Act Survey

From Adam Snyder, Office of the Attorney General:

Important – Please do not start the online survey until you have read the survey instructions below and gathered the information described in the instructions.  You must complete the survey in one sitting; you will not be able to save your answers and resume the survey at another time.

SURVEY BACKGROUND

House Bill 755/Senate Bill 695 of 2015 made a number of changes to how Maryland Public Information Act (PIA) requests are processed and reviewed.  Among other things, the amendments established two new options for reviewing PIA decisions—the Public Access Ombudsman for mediation of general PIA disputes, and the PIA Compliance Board for review of response fees of more than $350.  The amendments also altered the fee waiver provisions of the Act and the process by which custodians invoke the statutory exemptions from disclosure.

Included within the uncodified portion of the legislation is a mandate that the Office of the Attorney General—in consultation with MACo, MML, and stakeholders from the custodian, news media, and open government communities—report on several issues related to the administration of the PIA and the newly-established avenues for review of PIA decisions, including:

(1) Whether the neutrality and the statutory duties of the State Public Information Act Compliance Board are appropriate, including whether the Board should be authorized to impose statutory damages and whether the functions of the Board and the Public Access Ombudsman should be modified;

(2) The merits and feasibility of merging the State Open Meetings Law Compliance Board with the State Public Information Act Compliance Board;

(3) The use of fee waivers in general and for reasons of indigency, including how often waivers are requested, denied, or granted, to include the amount of the fees that have been waived as a result;

(4) An analysis of the denial process used by custodians;

(5) An analysis of requested public records that are held by a nongovernmental custodian and the appropriate remedies to ensure public access to those records; and

(6) An analysis of State law exemptions outside of the Public Information Act.

With the help of the stakeholder community, we have put together a web-based survey to generate the data that will help ensure that the report we prepare is based on more than just anecdotal evidence.  The survey is easy-to-use, anonymous, and covers all of the issues flagged by the General Assembly.

SURVEY INSTRUCTIONS

The survey first asks the respondents to identify themselves as records custodians or as someone who submits PIA requests.  Depending on their answer, the respondents will be asked a number of specific questions about their experience with the Act and the recent amendments.  Some of the questions are for custodians and requesters alike; they concern the respondent’s experience with the PIA Ombudsman and the PIA Compliance Board.  Other questions are specifically tailored to custodians or requesters and call for specific, empirical information that respondents might have to gather before answering.  Requesters are asked a number of empirical questions about their requests to State, County, and Municipal governments, including:

  • From which State agencies or County or Municipal governments have you requested records?
  • How many requests have you submitted?
  • How long - on average - did it take to obtain the information you requested?
  • Which exemptions have been invoked in response to your requests?
  • Do you agree that the exemption invoked by the custodian applied to the information you asked for?  If not, why not?
  • Have you experienced a situation where a governmental entity invoked an exemption based on a law other than the Public Information Act? If so, what law was invoked?
  • Have you ever been assessed a fee in connection with a PIA request?
  • Did you ultimately pay the fee?
  • Have you ever requested a waiver of PIA fees?  If so, on what basis?
  • Was the waiver granted? If so, what fee amount was waived?
  • Have you ever requested public records and been told that those records are held by a non-governmental custodian and are thus not available to the public?

I include these questions in this article because respondents must complete the survey in one sitting; there is no way for you to save your answers mid-survey and return to it later.  As a result, it works best if you have had a chance to think about, and perhaps even research, your responses before taking the survey.  If you do so, the survey takes only about 15-30 minutes to complete.  The survey is available here.

Thank you for your participation and for helping to ensure that the report we prepare is based on data that reflects how the PIA process works in Maryland.  Please try to complete the survey by Sunday, September 18th.  The survey results will be aggregated and included in the interim report that our Office will submit by the end of this year.  The results will also inform the steps we take next year to finalize the report for submission to the General Assembly by the end of 2017.

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