Sponsor of new open government committee proposes improvements

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By Len Lazarick

Del. Healther Mizeur and Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Del. Healther Mizeur and Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The governor Thursday signed legislation creating a Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government that specifically notes that “Maryland’s overall rankings on government transparency by prominent national organizations continues to lag behind other states.”

Del. Heather Mizeur, the lead sponsor of the bill that attracted 37 co-sponsors — including 10 Republicans — hopes to be appointed to the committee. Just before the bill signing, Mizeur, a Democrat who represents Takoma Park and Silver Spring, handed House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller a memo giving an overview of proposals for the new committee to take up.

Mizeur’s proposals include:

? Using social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and iPhone applications, to make the working of state government and the legislature more accessible. (Two years ago, the legislature’s IT staff blocked access to Facebook and MySpace for a brief period because the sites were generating viruses and malware.)

? Improving the legislature’s website, which “remains less user-friendly than its counterparts in other states,” Mizeur said, a point documented in a recent MarylandReporter.com article.

? Partnering with computer science programs at state universities, “where students could provide innovation work needed to adopt technological improvements at minimal or no cost.”

? Incorporating more data from the governor’s StateStat program for measuring government effectiveness into the legislature’s website.

? Centralizing information on contract bids, tax credits for business and other incentives, which Mizeur says, are “very difficult to find on state websites.”

Mizeur said she also wants the new committee to hear testimony from experts with national and regional organizations interested in transparency and open government,  such as the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments.

The Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government will have 12 members, six each from the House and Senate. It joins 17 other joint committees created by statute. Some are fairly prominent, reviewing proposed regulations and audits, but others are rarely heard of.