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Murphy’s Law — Your MDDC Update from Executive Director Jack Murphy for March 28, 2013

By Jack Murphy

Both the Senate and the House of Delegates have voted to keep the comptroller’s abandoned property list in print and inserted into newspapers. Barring some unforeseen circumstances such as a last-minute change in the conference committee, we should be in good shape once again on public notice as the session closes.

The comptroller’s list is not the biggest public notice issue, because the money is not that significant for members. But it has become a wedge issue for opponents of newspaper notice. The fact that newspaper notice has been dropped out of the governor’s budget for several years in a row is cited whenever notice opponents testify in committee hearings. We can be certain it is being repeated in private meetings with legislators.

Fighting the change sets the tone for the larger battle to preserve far more important notice requirements. We were successful again this year in defeating the bills that would have allowed counties and cities to put notices on their own websites. We were successful in keeping notices for changes in air quality regulations for newspapers in affected areas. The administration so far has not made a wholesale assault on other notice provisions. And the judiciary has kept newspaper notice provisions for all of its rules. But we also know that the county and city bill is being sent to summer study this year, so the battle will go on.

The participation of local publishers and editors in reaching out to their local lawmakers and in testifying in committee hearings is of paramount importance in this fight. Paul Milton, MDDC President and editor of Baltimore Sun Community newspapers, made calls to delegates and senators this year that were instrumental in keeping the comptroller’s list in newspapers. Karen Acton, CEO of the Gazette and Southern Maryland Newspapers, again made calls to Southern Maryland lawmakers as well as testifying twice. Geordie Wilson of the Frederick News Post and Tim Thomas of the Baltimore Sun also testified at bill hearings. Thanks to them all.

We are heading toward the end of session (April 8) with some open government issues still in doubt. HB 331, Del. Morhaim’s bill strengthening the Open Meetings Compliance Board, passed in the House, but a crossfiled bill was killed in the Senate Health Education and Environmental Affairs Committee, for reasons we do not know. We are trying to work with Morhaim and the leaders of the EHE committee to get his bill a hearing, even though it is unusual to hear a bill when the crossfile is killed.

SB 845, which would keep confidential the email address of anyone writing to a public office or government, has passed the Senate and we are now trying to stop it in the House. As you know, public officials have to keep a file of their written correspondence and it is open to public inspection. This bill would undermine the integrity of the public record, requiring the official to delete the email address of the sender, even if there were no other identifying information in the email. We filed written opposition to the original bill in the Senate, but the committee adopted amendments that made it worse. So now we are preparing to testify against it in the House Health and Government Operations Committee. The hearing has not been scheduled, as of this morning. We are also contacting other organizations expected to oppose the bill, including open government groups and the ACLU.

HB 1006 and HB 854 are expected to pass the House soon. The first would allow persons convicted of minor offenses to apply to have their record shielded under limited conditions. The second would provide for expungement of minor juvenile offenses. We opposed both in committee, and both have been strictly limited in the kinds of records which can be changed.

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