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Maryland House of Delegates to livestream sessions in 2020; Senate to follow in 2021

Maryland House of Delegates to livestream sessions in 2020; Senate to follow in 2021
Delegates Robbyn Lewis (L) and Cheryl Glenn (R) are sworn into the Maryland House of Delegates for the 2019 session in the House of Delegates chamber at the State House in Annapolis. (Ulysses Munoz / Baltimore Sun)

Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch said his chamber would begin livestreaming its sessions next year on the General Assembly’s website, and state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the Senate would follow suit in 2021.

Busch’s announcement of the House plan came a day after a bipartisan pair of delegates introduced a bill that would require the streaming.

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“Transparency is key to an open and free government, and I have no doubt that embracing this technology in the House chamber will improve the public’s accessibility to the legislature,” Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, said in a statement.

Busch said Tuesday that the House would partner with Maryland Public Television to stream the sessions. The chamber will be outfitted with several cameras, and an operator will switch between them and add captions identifying who is speaking, said Alexandra Hughes, Busch’s chief of staff.

For several years, committee hearings from the House and Senate office buildings have been broadcast on the General Assembly’s website with video.

But broadcasts of meetings of the full bodies, known as “floor sessions,” have been limited to audio-only feeds on the legislature’s website. The House and Senate rules generally forbid lawmakers from using one another’s names. Instead, they refer to one another by their district number or their home county, such as “the delegate from Howard County,” which can make it difficult for listeners to know who is speaking.

The Senate chamber lacks the “technological infrastructure” to install cameras, said Jake Weissmann, chief of staff to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. But Miller said Wednesday that his chamber would follow the House’s lead and begin livestreaming in 2021.

“We are eager to see how the House implements it, and look forward to continuing to move in that direction,” Weissmann said.

Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga and Democratic Del. David Moon have introduced bills for several years to require a streaming feed of sessions. They introduced their latest effort Monday night. In a statement issued by Busch’s office, Moon said he was thrilled to finally make progress “in an era when it’s easier for voters to watch funny cat videos than to watch Maryland’s legislature in action.”

Szeliga said Maryland is one of only seven states to lack videos of the legislature, and the state’s voters “deserve to see with their own eyes exactly how and why their representatives are voting.”

Gov. Larry Hogan also has pressed for livestreaming, sponsoring legislation and putting money in his budget for it. In a statement, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said livestreaming should be required by law, so that future House and Senate leaders can’t end the practice.

“It is imperative that legislation is passed this session to ensure that Maryland’s commitment to openness and transparency is the law of the land and not left to the whims of individual legislators,” Chasse said.

This article has been updated.

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