February 19, 2010

Bill would require closed captioning at Md. watering holes

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By Erich Wagner
Erich@MarylandReporter.com

Bars and restaurants would have to turn on closed captioning of their TVs if patrons ask for it, according to a bill advancing through the Senate that has apparently rankled even the agency that proposed it.

The bill had been requested by the state Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. As originally proposed, it would have required establishments to enable closed captioning on all televisions, but lawmakers feared it was too burdensome, particularly for sports bars. Closed captioning on all televisions could impede customers’ ability to watch programming, some worried.

Sen. Jennie Forehand, D-Montgomery, who first proposed an amendment to scale back the bill, said she has found that closed captioning can be “very distracting” when she is trying to watch television.

Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery, said the state Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing would be opposed to an amendment requiring that closed captioning be enabled only by request, which passed Thursday in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. The committee approved the bill unanimously, but it split on the amendment.

He said it would be embarrassing for deaf patrons to ask for closed captioning, and that many members of the deaf community also suffer from social anxiety.

Raskin said it is unfair to put the burden onto deaf and hard of hearing people to ask for closed captioning.

“There are enough deaf, hard of hearing and elderly people that there should be a norm,” Raskin said. “There should be at least one television [with closed captioning] on.”

The bill initially called for closed captioning on all televisions. Legislators had proposed an amendment requiring closed captioning on only one screen, with more available for closed captioning by request.