Common Cause Maryland Recommends Transparency, Participation Procedures if General Assembly Returns to Session

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As the General Assembly is pressed to return to session, Common Cause Maryland urges the Legislature to adopt specific procedures to ensure transparency, public confidence and public input.

“If the Legislature returns to session, it needs to follow through on its commitment to livestream House and Senate sessions. It should also take other simple, commonsense steps to ensure that the public is still able to participate in our government, even during the pandemic,” said Common Cause Maryland Policy Manager Tierra Bradford.

“All across the country, state legislatures are trying to balance public health with the need to do ‘the people’s business.’ Maryland’s General Assembly should follow CDC guidelines – and at this point in the pandemic, that’s likely to require remote meetings,” Bradford said. “The Legislature can return to session safely, and without jeopardizing public confidence, if it commits to transparency and preserving public involvement.”

Common Cause Maryland urged the General Assembly to adopt the following policies:   

Public Notice

  • Provide widespread public notice of scheduled government proceedings, including subcommittee hearings and all committee and subcommittee voting sessions.

Public Observation

  • Follow through on commitment to begin livestreaming the entirety of both House and Senate voting sessions.
  • Provide public access to observe government proceedings, including hearings, deliberations, and voting sessions, via live and recorded video available on government websites.

Public Participation

  • 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.
  • Provide an opportunity for in-person testimony if Annapolis government buildings are open and social distancing and safety measures are still in effect. Planned out in advance, individuals should have an opportunity to testify from a safe space that provides individuals with access to the virtual meeting.

Public Deliberation

  • 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.

In-person Access

  • 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.

“Public confidence in government is more important during a time of crisis than ever,” Bradford said. “Public officials must do everything in their power to maximize the ability of the public to continue observing and participating in government proceedings.”

“The situation 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,” Bradford said. “We must protect each other as we face COVID-19, and that includes respecting and protecting public participation in and oversight of government.”