Amendments to MGDPA

On May 18, Governor Pawlenty signed into law a bill relating to data practices and data classifications. Although not imposing sweeping reforms, the law does contain some noteworthy changes. For example, the bill expanded what types of personnel data are classified as public, including classifying the “terms and conditions of employment relationship” as public data under § 13.43, subd. 2(a)(1); and also classifying “work-related continuing education” as public data in 13.43, subd. 2(a)(7).

More significantly, however, the Legislature reworked a subdivision that will undoubtedly impact public sector labor law. Minn. Stat. § 13.43, subd. 2(b) was amended so that disciplinary action will be not public data if an arbitrator sustains a grievance and reverses all aspects of the disciplinary action. Prior to the amendment, if a disciplinary grievance proceeded to arbitration under a collective bargaining agreement, the final disposition of the grievance, the specific reasons for the disciplinary action, and the data documenting the basis of the discipline were classified as “public data”—even if the grievance was ultimately sustained and the discipline reversed by the arbitrator. With the new amendment, however, if a grievance is sustained and all aspects of the discipline are reversed, then the disposition, the documentation, and the reasons for the disciplinary action are classified as “not public data.” This seems to bring the practical effect of the statute more in tune with its intent. A successful grievant need no longer be concerned that the “facts” giving rise to the disciplinary action will be disseminated to the public. It should be interesting, however, to see how parties interpret the phrase “all aspects of any disciplinary action.” For instance, if an arbitrator reverses a discharge but imposes a suspension, is that a reversal of “all aspects” of the disciplinary action? Perhaps more interesting (read, nuanced), if an arbitrator reverses a discharge and reinstates the employee but does not award backpay, is that a reversal of “all aspects” of discipline?

There were two other interesting amendments tucked into the bill. First, an amendment which classifies the “security features of building plans, building specifications, and building drawings of state-owned facilities and nonstate-owned facilities leased by the state” as “nonpublic data.” Second, parole and county probation authorities have been given access to firearms data (i.e. purchase/transfer documentation and applications for permits to purchase or carry) on individuals subject to their supervision.

Last, the procedure for a responsible government authority to seek permission to temporarily classify data as private or confidential (with respect to data on individuals), or nonpublic or protected nonpublic (with respect to data not on individuals) was amended. Most notably, an application may be withdrawn prior to the commissioner’s decision unless it affects similar government entities. The amended law also permits the responsible authority to request approval for a new or different use or dissemination of the data during the period of temporary classification.

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