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Murphy’s Law — Your MDDC Update from Executive Director Jack Murphy for Mar. 7, 2013

By Jack Murphy
Some good news for us from Annapolis. The House subcommittee hearing the budget reconciliation bill has adopted our position and inserted language that would keep the comptroller’s abandoned property list in newspapers. This has been a signature issue for us for four years running.

This action does not guarantee us keeping the list in newspapers, but it does mean that, if the House agrees, we will have a chance to keep it in the budget if the bill goes to a conference committee. You may recall that was the venue in which we have been successful in the last three years. The fight is not over, but now we have a better chance of winning.

Also, the Senate Finance Committee has approved our amendment to SB 634 which regulates self-storage units. This will continue to require newspaper publication of notices when the facility owners want to take the contents and sell them for unpaid bills. After the Senate acted, the proponents agreed to take the same amendment in the House version of the bill, HB 1127.

Meanwhile, the Senate has completed work on the governor’s firearms bill, SB 281, and the portion we opposed – which will make confidential the names of people who have gun permits – stays in the law. It is highly unlikely we will be able to get the provision removed.

This week and next, a couple of bills are coming up for hearing which just focus on this confidentiality issue alone. For the hearing this week on SB 688 we will only offer written testimony. The two separate bills (the other is HB 90) are very unlikely to move out of committee, since the issue is already being covered in the governor’s bill, which will be approved.

We will file written opposition to two bills that would restrict access to email addresses of people who communicate with public officials by email, SB 845 and SB 880. We will argue that people communicating with public officials should have no expectation of privacy. Letters which contain the name and address of the sender are and should be public, and we believe the same should hold true for email communications. We will take no position on HB 844 which would warn visitors to the government website that their email addresses will be public if they submit an email.

We will file written opposition to SB 701 which allows shielding of criminal records for misdemeanors, as we did in the House. It still would allow criminals to hide their record from most potential employers, potential spouses and neighbors. We believe it is an unwarranted re-writing of the court’s historical record.

We will support SB 826 which is the crossfile for Del. Dan Morhaim’s HB 331 which would strengthen the Open Meetings Compliance Board. The fines proposed by Morhaim -- $1,000 for first offense and $10,000 for subsequent offenses – were reduced in the House to $250 and $1,000, but we are not too concerned because the fines are never actually imposed. The bill still does require the public body to announce during its meeting that the compliance board has ruled that it violated the act. And it would allow citizens suing the public body to introduce the board’s decision as evidence.

We also will back SB 825, which would include legislative subcommittees in the open meetings act. Inspired because House members were meeting secretly to discuss the gun bill, it has little chance of success. And we support SB 644 which would bring the University of Maryland Medical System under the public information act. The House crossfile has already been killed in committee, so this bill is doomed.

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