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Bills would change Open Meetings Act

February 17, 2006|By TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Two bills that would expand Maryland's Open Meetings Act - to permit more public access to actions taken in closed meetings - were presented Thursday in the House Health and Government Operations Committee.

One, sponsored by Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick, requires a public body that adjourns an open meeting for an "executive function" to report those functions in its minutes for its next meeting.

The second, sponsored by Del. James W. Hubbard, D-Prince George's, would change the law's exemption from "executive function" to "administrative function" and would subject such activities to the same notice requirements as open meetings. It also applies the Open Meetings Act to a public body's consideration of the budget for its next fiscal year.

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Though there was little opposition to Weldon's bill, Hubbard's bill drew opposition from the Maryland Association of Counties.

Executive Director Dave Bliden told the committee the bill would not only apply to towns and cities, but to state agencies like the Board of Regents and others. It also would give a "blanket exemption" to budget discussions, he said.

"It's evident that if you eliminate the exemption, even a meeting with a department head about developing the budget would be subject to the Open Meetings Act," Bliden said.

Eliminating the exemption for budgets could lead to removing other exemptions, he said.

"You'll just be opening the barn doors," Bliden warned, and requiring public bodies to give notice of meetings where the public is not invited.

The Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association endorsed both bills.

Tom Marquardt, executive editor of the Annapolis Capital and an MDDC board member, told the committee the bill had support from the public at large as well as from news organizations.

"This is not a media bill - this is out there for the public. It's not an unfair requirement," he said.

House Bill 698, House Bill 772

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