AUGUSTA (AP) – Maine organizations and private citizens gained ground in their effort to ensure access to government information and meetings with the enactment of a bill creating a Freedom of Access Advisory Committee. Gov. John Baldacci signed the bill into law on Thursday.

The panel will answer requests from the public for interpretation and clarification of the state’s freedom of access laws. It will also serve as a resource to the Legislature in its ongoing review of all of Maine’s laws that allow exceptions to public record access.

The panel will assist in the creation of a public Web site that provides the text of the freedom of access laws and guidance on how the public can apply those laws. The Web site must list who to contact if there are complaints and concerns.

In addition, the new committee will serve as a resource to support training and education about the freedom of access laws, and recommend changes in the laws to improve public access.

Enactment of the law marks the first time Maine’s had a permanent citizen advisory group on freedom of access issues, said Mal Leary, president of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition.

The commission members will include lawmakers, law enforcement officials, representatives of advocacy groups, media organizations, the public and the attorney general’s office.