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Murphy’s Law — Your MDDC Update with Executive Director Jack Murphy

By Jack Murphy

MDDC is supporting a group of bills that would strengthen the Open Meetings Act, and I will testify Thursday at a hearing at the House Health and Government Operations Committee in favor of four of them.

We also submitted written testimony seeking a change in the governor’s firearms bill (HB 294), which was heard Wednesday. We are opposing a provision that would make confidential the firearm permits in the state.

A separate bill, HB 90, would also closed records of handgun permits or permit applications. No hearing has been scheduled on that bill yet, but we are prepared to oppose it. Both are inspired by the controversy over the New York newspaper that printed the names and addresses of all gun permit holders in its home county.

We believe the information on firearm registration should be open because there is a strong public interest in the information. At a minimum, the name, address and criminal history of the permit holder should be public information.

David P. Burns, president of the Society of Professional Journalists Maryland Professional Chapter, has written a letter to the HGO committee opposing HB 90 as well.

At the Thursday hearing on the open meetings bills, we will be saying that we support efforts at increasing enforcement of the Open Meetings Act, increasing penalties for violations of the act and increased training for public officials. HB 331 would require members of public bodies to directly acknowledgement their failure to follow the law when the Compliance Board rules against them. It also significantly increases the possible fines, even though such fines are seldom imposed. In addition, it would allow a citizen to use the rulings of the Open Meetings Compliance Board as evidence in Circuit Court to prove that a public body was consistently ignoring the law.

HB 140 would require the compliance board to make yearly recommendations on fines that should be levied for violations of the act. We also support HB 139, which would mandate online training for public officials concerning the act. The Attorney General’s office has created an excellent training course which is available online, but this bill requires training.

HB 265 would require the University of Maryland Medical System Corp. to follow the Open Meetings Act. The corporation used to comply with the law, but a court has ruled that it does not need to do so.

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