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Lawmakers say training may be needed

September 05, 2000

Lawmakers say training may be needed



By DON WORTHINGTON / Staff Writer


When it comes to accessing information, Maryland's General Assembly will likely spend more time on privacy concerns than opening up records, members of the area's delegation said.

"Privacy is a more pressing issue than public information," Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said.

Technology is giving people access to more and more personal information, Shank said. There are more risks involved when technology is abused, he said.

Nevertheless, legislators said they are concerned about results of a test by Maryland newspapers of how government releases public information.

The test showed information that was clearly available to the public was released only 50 percent of the time.

"If it's the law, it should be complied with," said State Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

"It's healthy it's been looked at," said State Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington County. "It shows everyone should have a policy about what's covered" under the state's Public Information Act.

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State Sen. Donald R. Munson, R-Washington, said "not being able to obtain information which should be public information is frustrating."

Munson said if there were inconsistencies, the General Assembly "would look carefully at that."

He said reports that the General Assembly was resistant to changing the state's Public Information Act were not true.

"I don't think there is a policy, an attitude against revising the Public Information Act," Munson said.

Mooney said, however, that revisions are not what is needed to address the concerns uncovered by the statewide records test.

"We're looking at a lack of enforcement. I'm tired of passing laws that are not enforced. ... enforcement is not a legislative matter," he said.

The state's Public Information Act carries no penalties for nondisclosure.

"We need to stress to managers they need to let their staffs know there is a public right to information," said Shank. "We need to make sure all government agencies are responsive to the public."

He noted that Maryland, as a state, has made a commitment to putting more and more public records online.

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