ANNAPOLIS – Maryland legislators on Thursday amended a bill introduced in January that would limit public access to records of ongoing research at public institutions, but opponents continue to criticize the potential boundaries the bill would create.
Delegate Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, presented the bill with its amendments to the House Health and Government Operations Committee Thursday, saying that faculty at public institutions in Maryland should be able to do research without fear of public intervention.
“We want to encourage inquiry. We want to encourage debate,” Rosenberg said.
The bill initially called for denial of record requests for unreleased research data as well as correspondence or research regarding public policy. The main change to the bill was deletion of the limit on public policy correspondence.
Despite the amendment, the bill still calls for denial of any public record that “is produced or collected by a faculty member of a public institution of higher education” or “is created within the faculty member’s scope of employment.”
“Even with the amendment I still think it’s too broad … What is the scope of employment?” said Jack Murphy, executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association, which has opposed the bill since its first reading.
Currently, “essentially anybody could get access to preliminary inventions” under development at public institutions of research, said Patrick O’Shea, the University of Maryland’s vice president for research. “People are going to see this loophole exists eventually.”
Those in support of the bill fear that if preliminary research remains accessible, information could be released before a patent or copyright is attained, causing companies that invest in public research to shy away from doing so, and driving them to invest in private research institutions
“It hasn’t gotten to that point yet, but I think it could,” O’Shea said.
Delegates Pat McDonough, R-Baltimore County, and Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, also questioned the reaches of the bill. Krebs pointed out that public universities are distinct from private research institutions in that “they are taxpayer funded, and that’s a big difference.”