Legislative Review 2016

Posted by Jennifer Bevan-Dangel on April 12, 2016

With the 2016 legislative session finished, we are disappointed that more progress was not made on good government reforms in the past 90 days. While the legislature made some advances this session, particularly on expanding access to voting, overall we saw no meaningful progress on key reforms.  At a time when the public is clamoring for open and honest government and is sick and tired of political duplicity, the lack of action on these issues sends the wrong message.

While we are keenly disappointed that the state legislative session failed to address so many issues, Common Cause Maryland will continue the fight this summer – in the nation’s capital, in our counties, and in summer legislative studies.

Access to Voting

At a time when so many states are erecting barriers to voting, Maryland took significant steps to tear barriers down. These bills will help ensure that all voices are heard in our elections:

  • PASSED Freedom to Vote Act (HB1007): Modernize our voter registration system and increase opportunities to register to vote. This legislation will give many agencies already offering voter registration services a technological upgrade, and will also expand registration opportunities to a suite of new agencies. 
  • PASSED Unlock the Vote (SB340/HB980): Reinstate legislation that will streamline the process through which former felons regain their ability to vote, restoring voting rights to 40,000 Marylanders.
  • PASSED Special Election Reform (HB260): Give voters a voice in the event of vacancies in the offices of United States Senator, Attorney General, and Comptroller by mandating that replacement appointees be selected from the same party as the officer who vacated the position and that a special election for the postition be held in the next scheduled election year.
  • PASSED Expand Early Voting Centers (HB1008): Increase the number of early voting centers across Maryland, in order to expand access and increase participation.
  • PASSED Budget Bill (SB190): Require the State Board of Elections to audit the new machines after the primary, ensuring that the transition to secure voting systems is successful.

Redistricting Reform

Maryland’s process for drawing congressional and legislative district lines is broken. Governor Hogan convened a Commission to study solutions last fall, and introduced legislation based on their recommendations. Unfortunately the legislature failed to act on this important reform.

  • FAILED General Assembly and Congressional Legislative Redistricting and Apportionment Commission (SB380/HB458): Establish an independent commission to draw both congressional and legislative district lines to ensure that the maps are drawn in a fair, transparent process. The newly drawn districts will be compact, contiguous, and respect county and municipal lines.

Campaign Finance

Maryland must do more to fight back against the flood of dark money pouring into our elections. While we saw a few discreet reforms pass this session, we have a lot of work ahead of us to ensure our next state elections are decided by the voters, not the donors.

  • FAILED Avoid a Constitutional Convention (SJ5/HJ6): Interests on both sides of the political spectrum are attempting to force a constitutional convention that would throw our system of government into chaos.  Maryland has four constitutional convention calls on the books that must be rescinded. While we are relieved our legislature did not pass any new calls this session, we missed a critical opportunity to rescind those existing calls.
  • PASSED Civil Penalties for Fundraising During Session (SB480/HB241): Allow the State Board of Elections to level civil penalties against elected officials who fundraise during the “blackout” period of the legislative session.  
  • PASSED Reform petition process and protect the ballot (SB 459/HB963): Ensure transparency in our petition process by establishing reporting requirements for petition drives.
  • FAILED Legislation that would ensure Super PACs are not secretly working with candidates (HB1201), require repayment of loans to candidates (SB290), require shareholders to approve political spending (SB501), ban foreign spending in our ballot campaigns (SB420), and free our courts from the influence of money in politics (SB179/HB448).

 Transparency and Accountability

Open and transparent government is critical for an accountable democracy. In 2015, the Center for Public Integrity gave Maryland a grade of D for public access to information. Unfortunately, Maryland only took meager steps towards advancing transparency this year. 

  • PASSED Public Access to Information: Ensure that agendas are available for public meetings (HB217) and address the failure of the Howard County Schoolboard to provide public documents to parents (HB1105).
  • FAILED Ensure Open Meetings Accountability (HB823/SB754): Ensure that members of public bodies understand their responsibilities under the Open Meetings Act. 
  • FAILED General Assembly – Live and Archived Video Streaming of Meetings (HB 316): Make all meetings of the Senate, House, and standing committees available to the public via online videos.

Public Ethics

Ethics laws set standards of behavior for lobbyists and ensure transparency and accountability for elected officials.  The legislature missed opportunities to address recent issues of concern.

  • FAILED Promoting Responsible Agency Oversight (SB973/HB1230): Prohibit a secretary of a principal department of the Executive Branch of State government from soliciting contributions or donations from an entity doing business with the State.
  • PASSED Increasing Oversight of Conflicts of Interest (SB395): Create a uniform set of requirements for conflicts of interest to increase accountability in local government.
  • FAILED Promoting Ethical Stewardship of Government Property (HB5): Mandate that certain government furnishings be put up for auction, as opposed to sold or transferred at a loss to office-holders.

Office: Common Cause Maryland

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