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MD Legislative Wrap-up

Wins and losses for the Maryland 2017 Session

The Press Association focused on several issues this past session. Overall, it was a successful session for our concerns. All of the bills discussed will take effect October 1, 2017 unless noted otherwise.  Download a printable copy here

Transparency in Government

Open Meetings Act - Reporting, Posting and Training prohibits a public body from meeting in closed session unless that body has designated at least one member to receive Open Meetings training. If a trained member is not present, the meeting may not be closed unless the body completes a checklist to properly close the meeting. It clarifies acceptable training and now includes the Boardmanship Academy Program through MD Association of Boards of Education in addition to the UMD online course and the MML and MACo Academy course. Uncodified language requires UMD, MDDC and other stakeholders to determine a cost-benefit analysis of tracking who has been trained. (HB 880 / SB 450 passed and takes effect July 1, 2017, Sponsors: Delegate Morales & Senator Manno)

Clarification of redaction for Public Information Act requests requires custodians to provide a reason why redaction would not be adequate in filling a PIA request. (HB383 / SB1057 passed, Sponsors: Delegate Moon & Senator Lee)

Funding for Maryland Public Television.  Beginning in fiscal year 2019, SB1034 requires that, in the event that federal grants to the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission are lower than the amount budgeted, the Governor will include an amount in the annual budget funds that would make up the difference.  Further, if funding is available in 2018, MPT will video stream the State of the State address, the State of the Judiciary address and the floor sessions from the last two weeks of thelegislative session. (Sponsor: Senator King)

Sunshine in Litigation Act. We took a run at dismantling the gag orders that surround many product liability settlements, but this bill (an initiative of the Attorney General) was voted down summarily in committee. (HB0222 / SB0528 failed, Sponsors: Delegate Morales & Senator Kelley)

Reclassifying personnel records of police officer misconduct. This was the second run at this bill and was withdrawn by the sponsor. ACLU led the charge on this bill and advocates will strategize a path forward in the interim. (HB0698 / SB0362, Sponsors: Delegate Barron & Senator Conway)

Records management. Requires each state government unit (local governments were exempted) to designate a records officer who will serve as a liaison to the State Archives, as well as develop and oversee the records management program at the unit. (SB 44 passed, Sponsor: Senator Conway)

Protecting access to body camera footage. Last year, the Press Association worked closely with MACo and MML and other advocates to strike a compromise that protected journalists’ ability to access body camera footage (carving out exceptions for domestic violence and sexual assault). That bill returned, but no action was taken again. The PIA continues to apply to this footage and the bill will most likely not be taken up again. (HB 767/SB 970, Sponsors: Delegate Sydnor and Senator Kagan)

Reforms to the PIA passed in 2015 and the Association has been monitoring implementation. The Attorney General’s office issued an interim report on the efficacy of the PIA in December 2016. MDDC worked closely with the AG’s office and other advocates to design and disseminate a survey which informed the report. The comment period is open until June 30, and MDDC will provide public comments. The final report is due at the end of this year. PIA Ombudsman continues to be active. PIA Compliance Board members have been named and they have met several times to discuss ongoing processes and their first complaint. Chris Eddings, former publisher of The Daily Record, is the board member nominated jointly by press and good government groups, as called for in the law. His first term is up in June and we plan to re-nominate him for this post.

Looking ahead: MDDC will work with stakeholders to ascertain the worth of tracking those trained in Open Meetings in Maryland and whether improvements should be made. In the 2018 session, we will address the recommendations contained in the Attorney General’s final report on the efficacy of the PIA. Transparency in government is a core area for the association and we will continue to monitor closely.

Reporters’ Access

Cameras in the courtroom. Our attempt to get camera footage already captured on courtroom closed circuit systems to be available, at a judge’s discretion, to members of the media for rebroadcast failed in committee. These were significant changes to the original bill, which sought to allow media to record criminal sentencing hearings. (HB0043, Sponsor: Delegate Conaway)

Maryland State House press access. In concert with the MD Capitol Police, MDDC provided draft language that was substantively accepted to clarify requirements to obtain press passes by journalists. In the policy, MDDC will be consulted if future changes are contemplated. Recording from Senate floor. Permission must be granted each day for non-broadcast journalists to record from the Senate floor.

Limits to CaseSearch access. MD Judiciary Rules Committee proposed to limit CaseSearch to display records for 5 years only. MDDC spoke in opposition to the proposal, as did many attorneys and other advocates. The Committee sent the issue back to subcommittee and MDDC will advocate in discussions.

Looking ahead: We will work with stakeholders in the interim to develop a path forward for camera footage in the courtroom. MDDC will work with Senate and House leadership to achieve blanket permission to record from the House and Senate floor, as broadcast journalists do. MDDC will participate as appropriate in discussions regarding CaseSearch and will continue to monitor reporter access to State House and other public areas.

Public Notice

Public notice advertising for bid procurement has been under attack. Governor Hogan’s procurement bills stirred thinking that eMaryland Marketplace is a better place to advertise bids than the local newspaper. We had three bills on this issue.

HB1478, a local bill out of Calvert County, would have moved county notices from printed newspapers to eMaryland Marketplace. Ultimately, no legislative action was taken, though the bill passed the House.

The Administration’s procurement initiative included HB426/SB311, which was amended to exempt community colleges from the requirement to post bids in the local newspaper in favor of eMaryland Marketplace.  This legislation also raised the floor for posting bid solicitations on eMaryland Marketplace from $25,000 to $50,000. 

MDDC became aware that part of the Administration’s plan to streamline procurement in SB 310/ HB 390 involved removing Maryland regulation to advertise architectural & engineering bids in a printed newspaper.  The administration heard our concerns and agreed to place uncodified language in the bill to study the issue. 

Harford County has increased notice around liquor licenses with HB 1008 / SB1010, adding notice in one newspaper for two successive weeks for liquor license applications. This is balanced by reducing the number of publications from two to one for board decisions. Publication is also required on the board’s website.

Looking ahead: Public notice is a critical component of the public’s right to know and a core area for MDDC. We ask members to monitor their local towns and counties and contact MDDC if there are discussions referencing erosion of printed notice. Local issues can quickly become state issues. We will continue to monitor closely.

Business Issues

Paid sick leave (HB001). After much debate, the current veto-proof legislation requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide five days of paid sick leave, subject to certain requirements.

Minimum wage bills were passed and vetoed in Baltimore City and Montgomery County.  The District of Columbia passed their version.  There was a bill in the Maryland legislative that would prohibit local jurisdictions from setting minimum wage, but it was withdrawn by the sponsor.

Looking ahead: We rely on the Maryland Chamber to lead on these issues, and monitor for member needs.   

Of interest: Ethics reform

Public Integrity Act of 2017 – The Governor’s bill (HB 879) strengthens the state’s ethics law by improving transparency, giving citizens more oversight through the creation of an advisory Citizen Advisory Board to the Ethics Commission, and helps ensure that public officials not inappropriately influence legislation that could benefit them, their businesses, or their families.

Liquor Board Reforms – Bills moved to apply ethics oversight to all license commissions and liquor control board (HB 1386, Sponsor:  Delegate Lisante) and to strengthen ethics provisions for Prince George’s County liquor boards in particular (SB 488/HB 1317, Prince George’s Delegations).


We continue to work with partners such as Common Cause Maryland, Marylanders for Open Government, Maryland Association of Counties, Maryland Municipal League, the ACLU, and others as our priorities and opportunities demand.

On a local level, our publishers need to know their local elected officials. This is one of the most effective forms of advocacy. Rebecca will be in touch with publishers to identify appropriate meetings.  

National Concerns

Additionally, Rebecca attended the National Newspaper Association lobby day in Washington, DC this week.  She met with the staff of all of the Delaware delegation and staffers from most of the Maryland delegation.  National concerns include postal reform (a markup was read yesterday), potential advertising taxes and health care as well as discussion of a national shield law and other press and first amendment protections.

Looking ahead: MDDC communicates with national organizations such as NNA, Public Notice Resource Center and others to stay abreast of national issues.

What we’re working on now

Cecil County: New county executive has proposed a budget that will eliminate newspaper publication for county council notices for public hearings and shift those notices to the county government website.

City of Salisbury: Home distribution of free newspapers is under threat. A local ordinance has been proposed to regulate this distribution. The City Council stayed the action for two months pending improvements to a do-not-delivery program operated by local newspapers.

Delaware:  The storage auction industry is strongly lobbying to make optional newspaper notice for storage unit auctions.  This bill is gaining traction and will be difficult to stop.  We are working with the sponsor to amend.

Questions? Contact Rebecca Snyder, MDDC Executive Director at 443-768-3281 or rsnyder@mddcpress.com

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