January 21, 2010

Bill would require closed captioning in bars, restaurants

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By Erich Wagner
Erich@MarylandReporter.com

All bars and restaurants with TVs would be required to show closed captioning under legislation quickly working its way through a Senate committee.

But the measure hit a snag Thursday on its way out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The bill is aimed at making it easier for deaf people to watch programs in bars and restaurants. Though committee members all said they liked the bill in principle, some thought it might be overkill to subject every patron to the text running across the bottom of each screen.

Sen. Brian Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, thought it would be better to only have closed captioning on at least one television.

And Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County, predicted discontent among patrons of sports bars with many screens, where people might get angry about missing some of the action because part of the screen would be covered by text.

“There will be mayhem in sports bars. People will go ballistic,” Brochin said. “You can’t mandate that every screen have closed captioning. There has to be a balance here.”

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said that he supports the bill as introduced, but offered language for a possible amendment to satisfy all sides.

“I like the legislation the way it is, but I’d be open to simply requiring the restaurants and bars to have the captioning by request,” Raskin said. “The main thing is that the closed captioning be available for people when they need it.”

However, Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore City, had reservations about how deaf people would be able to request that closed captioning be turned on. Some hospitality staff could have trouble communicating with deaf people, she said.

“If I am deaf, how do I ask for closed captioning?” Gladden said, while using American Sign Language to make her point. “Do I write it, or what?”

But she understood where her fellow senators were coming from.

“There will be an amendment for ‘by request,’ and to be honest, you probably don’t have deaf people in every environment,” Gladden said. “But when you have a deaf person, you should have closed captioning to help them.”

The legislation was introduced on behalf of Maryland’s Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.