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Murphy’s Law — Your MDDC Update from Executive Director Jack Murphy for April 18, 2013

By Jack Murphy

The General Assembly’s 2013 session proved to be very good for the newspaper industry. The Open Meetings Law was strengthened, the Public Information Act survived several attacks and electronic records were opened permanently, and public notice laws were almost all preserved.

On open meetings, two bills passed with our support. HB 331 increases the fines for violation and strengthens the compliance board. Public bodies that violate the law will have to read aloud the compliance board’s opinion in an open meeting. In addition, the board’s opinions can be introduced as evidence in court.

HB 139 will require all boards and commissions to designate members to be trained in the nuances of the act. At least one member of every board or a staffer at the board must take the attorney general’s online training course, or attend course run by the Maryland Association of Counties or the Maryland Municipal League. No longer will ignorance of the law be an excuse for violations.

On open records, HB 70/SB 342 passed with our support and makes permanent the requirement that the government release records in electronic format, if requested. The original bill passed two years ago, but the provision was set to expire this fall. It was first introduced to extend the law for two more years, but legislators decided to make the requirement permanent.

Two bills which we opposed died in committee. SB 845, which would have deleted all email addresses from correspondence with citizens, passed the Senate but was killed in the House Health and Government Operations Committee. SB 367 which would have made election petitions confidential never got out of committee. We also opposed several bills that would have allowed expungement or shielding of criminal records, and all were either killed outright, or were severely weakened.

The troublesome HB1271, which would create a new state right of publicity, would have hurt members by restricting the right to produce commemorative editions and books or sections. It was finally withdrawn after our sustained opposition.

On public notice, we were able to protect against four separate attacks. Newspaper publication of the comptroller’s abandoned property list was retained in the budget. This was the fourth straight year in which we were able to fend off this effort.

The effort to moved local government notices to their own websites (HB 1136/SB 523) was killed in both House and Senate committees. And bills requiring newspaper notice for public hearings on clean air regulations (SB 61) and for sale of the contents of self-storage units (HB 1127/SB 634) were amended to preserve newspaper notices.

Thanks to the publishers and editors who contacted local lawmakers and testified at hearings, to Eric Lieberman for great work as chair of the Government Affairs Committee and most of all to Ellen Valentino for once again guiding MDDC through the dangerous shoals in Annapolis.
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