Hogan backs $1.2 million plan to livestream Maryland General Assembly

Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday he supports a $1.2 million plan to livestream video of debate from the floor of the General Assembly chambers.

In his first endorsement of legislation this year, the governor got behind a proposal to outfit the historic State House with cameras and employ a four-person team to make sure the public can watch as debate unfolds in the House of Delegates and Senate. The system would also archive the footage.

The governor said in statement that he backed a bill that would require the state legislature to broadcast not only debates on the floor of each chamber, but also all voting sessions of committees. Committees currently livestream bill hearings, but not all debate and voting sessions.

"Maryland citizens deserve accountability and transparency from their elected leaders, especially when modern technology should make access easy and inexpensive," Hogan said in a statement. "This is a common-sense piece of legislation."

Maryland is among seven states that do not stream video of debate in either house of the legislature, although an audio stream is available from both the House and the Senate.

Three states provide video from just one chamber, but the remaining 40 provide a video stream of both, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Del. Kathy Szeliga — a Harford County Republican who is seeking the party's nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski — and a freshman Democratic lawmaker, Del. David Moon of Montgomery County, introduced the legislation. A similar proposal did not receive a committee vote in 2014.

Hogan's backing could give the costly proposal some momentum. The governor said that voter advocacy group Common Cause also supports the bill.

Expanding video streaming of voting sessions has been controversial in Annapolis. Senate committees did not stream any voting sessions until 2013, even though those sessions could be attended by the the public.

That changed when a key committee chairman, current Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, decided to livestream debate of the sweeping 2013 gun control legislation.

Part of the reluctance, at least in the Senate, stems from tradition. Lobbyists generally do not sit in on voting hearings in order to avoid the appearance of influencing debate. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, has argued that preventing permanent records of discussions during the voting sessions also helps encourage a more free-flowing debate.

Legislative analysts estimated it would cost $1.2 million to outfit the chambers with video capabilities, and about another $400,000 a year to operate the system.

The governor's office said it livestreamed and archived bi-weekly Board of Public Works meetings for between $3,000 and $3,500 a year.