On Monday February 14th, the Maryland Senate will end the public’s ability to provide remote virtual testimony during committee hearings.
Organizations and leaders across the state are demanding Senate committee hearings continue to allow remote testimony, even if in-person testimony is allowed. If a hybrid is not possible, Common Cause, CASA, NAACP Baltimore, ACLU, and League of Women Voters want to see committee proceedings remain virtual.
“These are the people we most need to hear from – those who have been marginalized by our society,” said Rev. Kobi Little, President of the NAACP Baltimore Branch. “A return to the status quo is a return to a racist, classist system of governance that serves the interest of the wealthy and their corporations.”
“The Jewish sage Hillel taught that we can’t separate ourselves from the community. We appreciate that Speaker Jones has recognized this wisdom in the guidelines she has set for the House of Delegates.” said Molly Amster, Maryland Policy Director & Baltimore Director for Jews United for Justice (JUFJ). “We urge the Senate to acknowledge this truth as well and allow all Marylanders, especially those who can’t come to Annapolis in person, to remain connected to the Senators who are supposed to represent them.”
While Senate President Ferguson has made improvements to Senate protocols, he has refused to continue allowing the public to have the option to remotely participate in committee bill hearings.
“Reverting back to in-person hearings only, without the continuation of a virtual option to testify is a step backward, not forward. Pandemic or not, failure to extend a virtual option only excludes the voices that legislators need to hear the most. Black and brown Marylanders are those who will be impacted the most. The Senate should be maximizing access, not limiting it, to ensure that every voice is heard,” said Cathryn Paul, Government Relations and Public Policy Manager at CASA.
“Removing technology from the Senate process is a setback in government transparency. The Senate has the ability to open government to as many Marylanders as possible, but they have chosen to limit public participation. Our legislative leaders are not thinking about all people.” says Nikki Tyree, Executive Director of LWVMD.
“We now have the opportunity and duty to build on the increased accessibility of the legislative process so that more Marylanders, particularly Black, Indigenous, People of Color and other people who are marginalized, can more easily participate in shaping policies that impact them. The ultimate goal must be to have both in person and virtual access, but if that cannot be fully realized yet, our Senate committee hearings should remain virtual,” says Yanet Amanuel, Interim Public Policy Director for the ACLU of Maryland.
“I’m disappointed and the public should be concerned. You would think new leadership would mean new ideas and ways of doing things in Annapolis but that does not seem to be the case,” said Joanne Antoine, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland. “This mid-session protocol change in the Senate indicates a larger problem – they plan to go back to doing things like ‘before’ where the people of Maryland have minimal access to work being done on their behalf. The pandemic forced a level of transparency that should have been in place years ago. Let’s learn from the pandemic and put a permanently accessible process in place. That’s what a true democracy looks like and what Marylanders deserve.”
Advocacy organizations urge President Ferguson to reconsider the recently issued protocols and allow the public to continue providing virtual testimony for Senate hearings. View the letter here.