There is a chance that the next Maryland General Assembly session will take place remotely. If remote, Common Cause Maryland urges strict compliance with CDC guidance and the guidance of state and local public health officials.
Public confidence in government is more important during a time of crisis than ever. Both during a pandemic and during a regular General Assembly Session, public officials must do everything in their power to maximize the ability of the public to continue observing and participating in government proceedings. These recommendations should be considered for both remote and in-person General Assembly Sessions.
- Provide widespread public notice of scheduled government proceedings, including subcommittee hearings and all committee and subcommittee voting sessions.
- Follow through on commitment to begin live streaming the entirety of both House and Senate floor sessions.
- Provide public access to observe government proceedings, including hearings, deliberations, and voting sessions, via live and recorded video available on government websites.
- Provide public ability to participate in government proceedings via videoconference and remote submission of written testimony. There must be an opportunity for people without internet to participate, and so, testimony by phone should become a permanent form of oral testimony.
- Provide an opportunity for virtual advocacy including virtual submission of testimony via email and virtual testimony sign up, including panels. Testimony needs to be archived and made accessible on the General Assembly website.
- Provide an opportunity for in-person testimony if Annapolis government buildings are open and social distancing and safety measures are still in effect next session. Planned out in advance, individuals should have an opportunity to testify from a safe space that provides individuals with access to the virtual meeting.
- Require all members of a public body participating in a meeting or proceeding to be clearly audible and visible at all times, including to the public. At the start of the meeting, require the chair to announce the names of any members of the public body participating remotely.
- Require all votes to be roll call votes, including committee votes on amendments.
- In the event audio or video coverage of a proceeding or meeting is interrupted, require the presiding official to suspend discussion until audio/video is restored.
- At the beginning of any executive session, require all members of the public body to state that no other person is present or can hear them.
Public Records Retention
- Testimony needs to be archived and made accessible on the General Assembly website.
- Record all open sessions of meetings, including hearings, deliberations, and voting sessions. Recordings of all proceedings need to be maintained and made available on government websites.
- Recordings of voting sessions should be permanently available.
- When access to government buildings is restored, there should be a rapid credential process for the public ensuring people who are frequently in Annapolis can avoid waiting in long lines to enter.
- Excluding legislators and their staff, everyone should be given equal access to government buildings in accordance with health and safety practices.
Any reduction in public transparency and public participation in government proceedings must not be exploited by any political party or interest group for personal, partisan or other political gain. The same rules of access must apply to everyday Marylanders and well-connected lobbyists, including lobbyists representing agencies or quasi-public entities. We must protect each other as we face COVID-19, and that includes respecting and protecting public participation in and oversight of government.
FOR 50 YEARS, Common Cause has been focused on ensuring our federal, state, and local governments are transparent and accessible to the public. As an organization dedicated to creating an open and honest democracy that is accountable to the people, we have led the passage of strong government transparency, open meetings, freedom of information, and ethics laws at all levels of government. These important laws help create opportunities for participation in and access to government, from allowing citizens to file public records requests, to allowing people to watch hearings and government meetings, to ensuring members of our communities can testify on legislation that affects us all. Now with the COVID-19 pandemic, we face a new challenge to ensure our public bodies are transparent and accessible to the people. We urge the Maryland General Assembly to adopt the policies outlined above.