Maryland's Council on Open Data could soon make GIS nerds very happy - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Maryland’s Council on Open Data could soon make GIS nerds very happy

A proposed bill, backed by the state's new Council on Open Data, would make sure mapping data is made available for free.
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(Photo by Flickr user Digital Collections at the University of Maryland, used under a Creative Commons license)

Even with the focus on the budget, open data is likely to get a look during this year’s legislative session in Annapolis.

While it won’t be a sweeping policy like the one that was passed in 2014, the data bill that’s being talked about marks one of the first formal recommendations of the state’s newly-formed Council on Open Data.

A Maryland lawmaker is likely to bring legislation during the current session in Annapolis that would guarantee online access to GIS mapping data is free to the general public.

The bill would replace a legislative holdover from 1992.

The legislation urged by the Council would reverse regulations passed in the ’90s that allowed the state to recoup costs of operating GIS mapping systems by charging private citizens for access.

Passed in 1992, the fee-for-access system was designed to help fund the first generation of digital maps, and aimed to keep the government from providing a public subsidy to private users. The government can charge a fee for access to mapping products, or reproduction on a hard disk. Additionally, only government contractors can have online access to the mapping data.

The Council argues that’s inconsistent with the Open Data Act passed in 2014, which encourages that data be made available to the public for free.

According to its annual report, members of the Council on Open Data concluded that sales figures of the data have slowed to the point that state agencies weren’t making much money off of it, anyway.

The legislation wouldn’t nix every fee, as public agencies could still charge for hard copies of maps, as well as CDs and DVDs. That provides a way around requiring citizens to file a formal public records request.

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, who represents Baltimore and helped bring the Open Data legislation, sits on the committee. A staffer said Ferguson requested a bill be drafted that reflected a proposed bill presented in the Council’s annual report. As of Jan. 23, legislation was not yet filed.

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The 14-member Council, which was created by the Open Data Act, met four times since being officially created in June. In addition to the mapping legislation, members also discussed the overlaps between open data and public information law, as well as the possibility of taking an inventory of all of the state’s data holdings, the report states.

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