Recently the issue of transparency in the General Assembly has come up a lot.
The biggest issue is the fact that the House of Delegates, with the permission from Attorney General Doug Gansler, have been holding behind closed doors hearings on the gun legislation. They argue that it doesn’t count because they didn’t invite a majority of the committee, only the major players, to be able to hash out the legislation with lobbyists without the public input. This is an extremely scary precedent to exist, and was apparently done during the slots bill last year.
Gansler needs to have friends in the legislature for his upcoming contest with Lt. Governor Anthony Brown. Brown, a former Delegate, has an extensive network from his days as Vice-Chair of the Judiciary Committee in Annapolis, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Gansler to stretch some legal rulings in order to make friends and influence politicians.
On the other side of the transparency front, Senator Allen Kittleman tried to change the rules to broadcast voting sessions on the internet. Some Senate Committees have broadcast their voting sessions, the Judicial Proceedings having done so for the death penalty repeal and the assault weapons ban.
The General Assembly though has come a long way in opening up the curtain in the past few years. In the “olden” days, voting sessions used to be off limits to the public, along with conference committee meetings, but vigilant reporters exposed this as a violation of open meeting laws and then Attorney General Joe Curran agreed. Voting records for committees used to be impossible to get unless you drove down to get them in person.
The General Assembly definitely has some ways to go and a prohibition on any closed door hearings should just be common sense. For the Speaker Busch to purposely skirt the intent, if not the letter, of the open meetings act is pretty outrageous. Broadcasting voting sessions would be great, but another area that needs to be addressed is publishing financial disclosures on-line. There is no reason to force the public to drive down to Annapolis other than the protection of those in power.
Overall though, things are moving in the right direction on transparency and Annapolis should be commended for the success it has had on this front.