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Murphy’s Law — Your MDDC Update from Executive Director Jack Murphy for April 4, 2013

By Jack Murphy

The last day of the General Assembly session is next Monday, April 8, so for better or for worse, the final issues for this year are being resolved.

MURPHYDel. Sandy Rosenberg’s bill which would offer to celebrities more protection from use of their likenesses (HB 1271) has been officially withdrawn by the sponsor. Early in the session, MDDC had tried unsuccessfully to prevent the introduction of this bill. We set up a meeting for First Amendment lawyer Laura Handman of Davis Wright Tremaine in D.C. (who is also a trustee of the MDDC Press Foundation) with Rosenberg. She also wrote a memo outlining why the bill was unnecessary. But he chose to introduce it anyway. We then opposed it, noting that it could hurt the ability of newspapers to create other products like commemorative magazines for sports championships. Also opposing the bill was the Motion Picture Association. Rosenberg offered to accept amendments, but we believed the bill was flawed at its core. Finally he agreed to pull it late last week.

On Wednesday, we testified against SB 845, even though the hearing didn't start until after 6 p.m. The bill would require public officials and government agencies to delete email addresses from any communication received from the public. The bill was originally introduced in the Senate and we opposed. The City of Baltimore also opposed it, saying it would be too difficult to delete some addresses but keep others where that was the only verification of identity. So the committee adopted an amendment making the bill worse, deleting all email addresses, except in communication with the Judiciary.

The effect of the bill is to degrade the public record, by making the correspondence files at all levels of government incomplete and, for some people, anonymous. The public will not be able to check who is communicating with elected officials. Common Cause of Maryland will join us in opposing the bill in the House Health and Government Operations Committee, and other citizen activists groups may do so as well.

We are still working on strategies to save Del. Dan Morhaim’s bill which would strengthen the Open Meetings Act and the compliance board (HB 331). It suffered a setback when the crossfiled bill in the Senate, SB 826, surprisingly received an unfavorable recommendation in Senate Health Education and Environmental Affairs Committee. We have not been able to get good information on why the Senate bill failed.

We are working with Morhaim and with Senate leaders to get them to take a second look at the bill, even though that is fairly unusual. Committees seldom hear a bill when they have killed the crossfiled bill. Morhaim’s bill has the support of the Association of Counties and the Municipal League and no organized opposition.

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