Two open meetings bills heard in House Health and Government Operations Committee

Two Carroll delegation members made their pitch in Annapolis earlier this week to make changes to the state's open meetings law intended to improve accessibility for the public.

The bills, one sponsored by Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, and another sponsored by Del. Warren Miller, R-District 9A, were heard Wednesday in the House Health and Government Operations Committee.


Krebs' bill, HB 217, was heard first. It calls for public bodies subject to open meetings law to make available an agenda 24 hours in advance of any meetings.

While there would be exceptions made for emergencies and unanticipated circumstances, the bill, if passed, would make it easier for members of the public to participate in open meetings by bolstering the transparency of governmental bodies, Krebs said.


"This bill affects any body, from the smallest little boards, to the legislature, to governments," she told the committee. "We're trying to say if a person wants to participate in an open meeting, they should know what's on the agenda."

It's not the first time Krebs has brought the legislation before the committee. She has submitted similar legislation for years, she said, but the bill has never made it past committee, despite a lack of vocal opposition at hearings.

Representatives from the Maryland Amusement and Music Operators Association, the IMAGE Center for People with Disabilities, and Common Cause Maryland testified on behalf of the legislation.

Mike Alksnis, from the IMAGE Center, said his organization is encouraged by language in the bill that would require bodies to provide documents related to the meetings ahead of time as well.

In the past, the members of the organization have been asked to weigh in at meetings on information provided in documents only obtained at the start of the meeting, something that made it difficult for the group to speak with a unified voice, he said.

"To me, it's about so much more than doing the common courtesy of telling someone what you're going to talk about before you hold a meeting about it," he said. "It's about the ability to meaningfully participate in the decision-making process and government that the public is invited to."

Del. Dan Morhaim, D-District 11, asked Krebs how realistic it is to require public bodies to provide all of the documentation used in meetings to attendees.

"We're not going to try to provide all of the stuff we get for every bill hearing to everybody," he said, motioning to the pile of papers on his desk.

While the chairman of the Open Meetings Compliance Board said the board would not take a position on Krebs' bill — they supported it last year — the board did take a favorable position on Millers' bill, which calls for all employees, officials and members of public bodies, including new and returning members, to take open meetings law training.

Under Miller's bill, a version of which he also submitted late in the 2015 session, new and returning employees and officials would have to undergo training on Maryland's open meetings requirements within the first 30 days of the start of a new term.

Online classes are offered through the Office of the Attorney General and the University of Maryland, Miller said.

Jonathan Hodgson, chairman of the compliance board, said he could see no downside to more education on the regulations.


"Training can only be beneficial to people — to public employees," he said.



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