PRACTICALLY every state in the nation has a law that eases access to public records and documents, a godsend for researchers, public advocacy groups and ordinary citizens, not to mention lawyers and journalists. Those laws, modeled on the federal Freedom of Information Act, have been mainstays of open and transparent government for several decades. That's why legislation pending in Maryland to cripple the state's Public Information Act is so singularly dimwitted.
Want state records on the Chesapeake Bay cleanup? Crime statistics? Information on the juvenile justice system? The legislation would block access to all of that if the request for information were "related to" a pending lawsuit -- a staggeringly broad and undefined exemption that would be almost impossible to administer. It would force document-seekers to petition a court to grant access to records that have been readily available for decades. No wonder Maryland judges, among many others, have opposed the legislation, warning that it may well be unconstitutional and would certainly result in a logjam of motions in court.