January 20, 2010

GOP leaders join call for more open Assembly proceedings, votes

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By Andy Rosen
Andy@MarylandReporter.com

Republican leaders in both chambers of the General Assembly made calls for more transparency in General Assembly voting Tuesday, joining a chorus of lawmakers from both parties asking for easier access to committee meetings and voting records.

The Senate put off discussion of procedural measures that would put legislative committee votes online, and that also would make clear that all committee meetings — including voting sessions — are open to the public. The measures will be referred to the Senate Rules Committee.

Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman, R-Carroll and Howard, and House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, made the rounds in support of some additional measures that they say would make legislative proceedings easier for the public to follow.

General Assembly transparency has emerged as an early theme of this year’s session, with several bills introduced in both chambers. Del. Heather Mizeur and Del. Saqib Ali, Montgomery County Democrats, have proposed competing measures for better access to voting records.

The League of Women Voters and Common Cause are also supporting these measures for greater transparency and access.

Other lawmakers have called for measures that include streaming video of floor debate over the Internet and more readily-available analysis of proposed legislation.

Senate Minority Whip Nancy Jacobs, R-Cecil and Harford, said some of her constituents had been confused about whether they could attend committee votes, even though the sessions are open. She said a rule change would make that clear.

“There’s some confusion by the general public about whether they can come down and sit in on a voting session,” she said.

That change, and another measure proposed by Senate Minority Leader Allan Kittleman, R-Carroll and Howard, would only require amending the Senate’s rules, rather than legislation. Kittleman called for the Assembly to put committee votes online.

Senate President Mike Miller, D-Calvert and Prince George’s, said during the floor debate that he was open to discussion of the proposals. However, he said they were essentially in place. Committee votes are recorded in the Senate’s journal, and also are available through the Department of Legislative Services, he said.

Miller said committee votes are always open.

“There’s never been an event to hide those in the Senate,” he said. “But again, expeditiously, we’ll see what we can do about that.”

Kittleman pointed out that the Senate’s journal is not available until after the General Assembly session, and said some people might not know that they have access to the committee reports.

“I’m just saying I think it’s important that we send a message to the people of Maryland that we’re open and that we want them to come in,” he said after the discussion. “We want them to feel comfortable to come in, and that they have a right to see their legislators vote in public.”