May 20, 2005

The Honorable Michael E. Busch
Speaker of the House
State House
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution, today I have vetoed House Bill 900 - Children - Records - Access by the Baltimore City Health Department.

House Bill 900 requires the Judiciary, and the Departments of Juvenile Services, Human Resources, State Police, and Public Safety and Correctional Services to provide the Baltimore City Health Department with confidential records. The disclosure of the confidential records must concern a child under treatment or care by the Baltimore City Health Department, and the disclosure must be for a related purpose. If the disclosure concerns a victim of violence who is residing in Baltimore City, the purpose of the disclosure must be the development of appropriate programs and policies intended to reduce violence against children in Baltimore City.

The protection of the confidentiality of youth is an issue this Administration takes very seriously. I believe, however, House Bill 900 is overreaching and unnecessary under the prevailing laws of the State. House Bill 900 is overly broad and sets a bad precedent as it begins to erode the confidentiality protections surrounding the records of our youth and their families. The inability to guarantee certain protections to families regarding the confidentiality of their personal information makes the work of the agencies sworn to protect this information extremely difficult. Requiring a local department of social services to release information to an entity other than the court without any discretion on the part of the agency is irresponsible. Information from child protective services, for example, could have potential political ramifications if it is used inappropriately. The liability safeguards in the bill are inadequate.

Under current law, information relevant to the provision of treatment or care of a youth is available from the Department of Juvenile Services if the youth's parents sign a release. Additionally, the Department of Human Resources provides, through statute, information to the local health departments. Court records, as well as police and fingerprint records, pertaining to a youth are confidential and may not be divulged except by court order on good cause shown. No one can deny the need to have the appropriate information in the hands of appropriate staff at the appropriate time. There is a workable process to obtain such information available in current law. These laws are in place to protect Maryland's youth and to ensure they receive appropriate services.

My Administration believes the appropriate amount of information sharing necessary to develop programs and a policy aimed at greater protection for our youth currently exists. In its wisdom, the General Assembly, in keeping with the provisions contained in the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, passed Citizen Review Panels and Child Fatality Review Teams in 1999, thereby creating a system of citizen review that addresses the very issue that House Bill 900 proposes to resolve. Each of the citizen review entities, Citizen Review Board for Children, State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, and the State Child Fatality Review Team are required to review and make recommendations for improving the State's child protection activities. This statute requires a representative of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to participate as a member on the State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to be a member of the State Child Fatality Review Team, and the local health officer be a member of the local child fatality review team. As members of the citizen review entities, local health departments have access to local departments of social services child protective services investigations - the department can see the actual records, but not retain them. This access, however, stops short of an absolute requirement to provide all such records to a local health department on demand, without regard to whether or not the local health department is providing a service to a family.

My Administration has offered its cooperation to the Baltimore City Health Department in developing new initiatives to prevent children from becoming victims of crime. Further, we will continue to strive for a suitable balance between the protection of our children, privacy rights of our families and the needs of our localities. The issues presented in House Bill 900 would be more appropriately addressed through a memorandum of understanding among the affected entities, rather than through legislation.

For the above stated reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 900.

Very truly yours,
Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.