January 4, 2010

Analysis: Is 2010 a year for greater transparency?

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This may become a year of opportunity for greater public access and accountability of state government and the state legislature in particular.

What began with a proposal by Montgomery County Del. Saqib Ali to give the public Internet access to committee votes has blossomed into a wider push for more accountability in state government.

Sunday’s Baltimore Sun editorial page gave full throat to this push in a long, detailed editorial.

“Making government more transparent has one appealing quality in a year that will otherwise likely be dominated by the dire state of Maryland’s budget: It may be the cheapest accomplishment our lawmakers can make.”

Among other things, the Sun calls for not just electronic recording of committee votes, but Webcasting of committee debates – the committee voting sessions where seldom any member of the public is present. Video of the sessions would be the next step.

As many have done before, the Sun calls for online access to financial disclosure statements. Currently, an interested citizen must visit the State Ethics Commission, and pay for copies.

The Sun also calls for more information about campaign contributors, such as their employment, and more informative analysis of the data on StateStat.

Del. Heather Mizeur and Ryan O’Donnell of Common Cause join the chorus in Sunday’s Post.

Like the Sun, they also call for real-time access to the actions by the General Assembly, access now only available on State House computers and to subscribers at $800 a year. Everyone else must wait for updates the next day. Mizeur and O’Donnell also want more openness from the Board of Public Works, the three-member panel headed by the governor that has taken major budget action this year.

In recent weeks, other Montgomery County legislators, including Sens. Nancy King and Rich Madaleno, have come out in favor of electronic access to committee voting records, which could be achieved without legislation.

The first sentence of the mission statement of MarylandReporter.com says we are “committed to making state government as open, transparent, accountable and responsive as possible – in deed, not just in promise.” This mission is hardly exclusive to us. In fact, despite differing communities that we in the media serve, giving the public access to the workings of their government is a goal we all share.

Many of the changes proposed are long overdue. So much of what the General Assembly and state government does is now online – but more of it can be and should be, at very little cost. The legislature should act, by law or by rule, to make this happen.

-Len Lazarick