It's political party time in Annapolis as the Maryland General Assembly cranks up its 2017 legislative session.
When Republicans and Democrats are done jousting in legislative hearings, they have a long list of invitations to consider for breakfasts, lunches, happy hours, dinners and receptions all around the state capital.
And last week, the first full week of the session, offered the opportunity for a very busy nightlife.
There were evening receptions for all state lawmakers at the Loews Hotel hosted by the Restaurant Association of Maryland on Monday and the Maryland Automotive Dealers Association on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, the invitations expanded: Every elected official in the state was invited to a 5:30 p.m. welcome reception at Harry Browne's fine-dining restaurant, hosted by two lobbying firms, Capitol Strategies LLC and Harris, Jones & Malone, and by the Greater Baltimore Committee.
By Wednesday, the events had became more exclusive.
Lobbying firm Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC hosted members of the budget and taxation, education, health and environmental affairs committees "by invitation only" at a 6:30 p.m. dinner at Ruth's Chris Steak House.
The firm repeated the party the next night just for members of the finance and judicial proceedings committees.
That same night in the same restaurant, Harris, Jones & Malone and Verizon hosted a dinner for members of the House Ways and Means Committee.
For those who don't get invitations, it can be a challenge to obtain a list of those who do.
The calendar of events is maintained by General Assembly's Protocol Committee, which "organizes, plans, and schedules social activities" of state lawmakers.
If members of the public want a paper copy, they have to trek down to the State House basement. Obtaining an electronic copy requires membership on an exclusive email mailing list.
"The public shouldn't have to look that hard to be informed," said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Maryland. "The concern we have is that these events are an opportunity for special interests to have special access … that the public doesn't get. "It is the most insidery of activities."
The secrecy around the events may soon end.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced an "integrity in government initiative" Thursday that he says would reform ethics rules on conflicts of interest and corruption. The aim of the legislation, the Republican governor said in a statement, is to "increase transparency and public access to state government."
A Hogan administration official said the legislation would call for posting the Protocol Committee's events on the Department of Legislative Services' website.
Invitations to similar events to executive branch officials would be posted on the Maryland State Ethics Commission website.
But why wait for Republican's proposal to grind through the Democratic-controlled General Assembly?
The Sun is attaching the calendar as a PDF online. Check out the parties for yourself.
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