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Published on March 6th, 2013 | by Len Lazarick

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House approves changes to Open Meetings Act

The House of Delegates in a 125-10 vote Tuesday approved changes in the Open Meetings Act to boost penalties and establish other requirements. But one delegate complained that the changes didn’t go far enough, and would penalize the citizens it was designed to help.

The bill sponsored by Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, would force a public body found in violation by the Open Meetings Compliance Board to acknowledge the violation at its next public meeting. The bill also increased potential fines for violating the act from $100 to from $250 to $1,000, and removed a provision that prevented the finding of a violation by the board from being admitted as evidence in court.

In floor debate, Del. Liz Bobo, D-Howard, who had introduced her own open meetings legislation, said the bill applied the fines to the public body, rather than its individual members. This meant that any fines would have to be paid by the taxpayers who were denied access to the meeting in the first place.

Morhaim conceded that the bill as amended did not achieve everything he had hoped, but that was the nature of compromise in the legislature.

Bobo said the passing this watered down legislation would preclude making more substantive changes in subsequent sessions.

A bill by House Minority Leader Tony O’Donnell to require a member of a public body or its staff to take a training course on the Open Meetings Act passed the House unanimously on Friday.

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