November 21, 2011 at 6:45 am
The Maryland Register, a state news publication that provides updates on state regulations, legal opinions and hearings, has reversed a decision to charge consumers for its real-time, online news. The policy reversal came after two articles and a legislative inquiry highlighted a new annual fee for consumers to view information the same day it was published.
“Yes, the Register is once again available online on the day it’s published for non-paying consumers,” wrote Register Editor Gail Klakring in an e-mail to MarylandReporter.com. “We realized that any change to the availability of Maryland Register has had an unintended impact on the transparency of Government and that was never the intent.”
The policy reversal took place shortly after MarylandReporter.com published a story Nov. 7 confirming an abrupt, new fee imposed by the Secretary of State’s Office. Readers wishing to view the publication in real-time, would have had to pay a $190 annual subscription or wait five days after the bi-weekly publication date. An HTML viewing option was also eliminated for non-payers.
The fee was added in early October after years of not charging for real-time access, prompting a complaint by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce to the state’s Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government. Committee member Del. Heather Mizeur, D-Montgomery, sent a letter to Secretary of State John McDonough.
“Why did the Department choose to implement this paywall? . . . Why did the Department choose to implement a five-day waiting period for the non-paying public? . . . Has the Department considered allowing public comment on this decision?” Mizeur asked.
Mizeur went on to criticize the Secretary of State’s Office for what appeared to be a reversal in progress in government transparency. She cited 2010 changes in the General Assembly’s policies, including live broadcasting of Board of Public Works hearings, posting online committee votes and eliminating an $800 General Assembly website subscription fee.
Maryland Register readers may again access the publication every-other-Friday, free, in the HTML or pdf version.