Senate rejects bill barring MTA audio-taping

The Senate rejected a bill Monday night that would have prevented the Maryland Transit Administration from audio-taping passengers' conversations after a vigorous debate over the competing values of safety and privacy.

The 23-22 vote to kill the measure was a victory for Baltimore senators, who were annoyed that they were not consulted in the development of a bill that disproportionately affects their constituents -- many of whom travel on buses through high-crime neighborhoods. Voting unanimously against the bill, they prevailed on a relatively rare maneuver that kills a bill that has passed in committee when it first reaches the floor.

Some city senators said MTA riders deserve to feel safe on buses, rejecting the notion that people expect privacy on public transportation.

"This is a bus, so I'm probably not going to talk about my finances on a bus. I am not going to talk about my private life either," said Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, a Baltimore Democrat.

But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jim Brochin, charged that the MTA has "extorted" riders' right to privacy by posting signs saying that those boarding transit vehicles give their consent to be taped.

"You should be able to discuss whatever you want and have a reasonable presumption that Big Brother won't be listening to you," said Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, a Baltimore Democrat who made the motion to reject the bill, said city senators tried to work out a compromise with Brochin, but their efforts were rejected.

"There is an expectation of safety when you get on public transit," he said.

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