Maryland government makes a leap online
It's one of the wonkiest and most powerful creations in Maryland politics, and if you plan to claim a seat -- or even a spot leaning against the wall -- you better have arrived early for the twice-monthly marathon sessions of the Board of Public Works.
That is, perhaps, until now.
Beginning next month, the meetings will be streamed live online, meaning that for the first time, Marylanders outside the governor's cramped reception room in Annapolis will get a glimpse of how the state approves and cuts billions each year from its budget. (And hopefully for those of us stuck inside, the crowd will thin out a bit).
For the nine months of the year that the Maryland General Assembly is not in session, the board is responsible for keeping the budget in balance and giving final approval to every state contract bigger than a bundle of office pens.
The board's three members, Gov. Martin O'Malley, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp, all Democrats, made the announcement Wednesday.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) also announced plans to make it easier to monitor decision-making when the legislature is in session. As expected, the House will begin streaming standing committee meetings next year.
The Senate will also begin airing audio recordings of its committee meetings over the Internet. Audio for full House and Senate sessions is available online.
The open-government push follows a heated debate in the spring brought on by dueling versions of sunshine legislation proposed by Montgomery County Democratic Dels. Heather Mizeur and Saqib Ali.
Mizeur's bill, along with a companion piece of legislation sponsored by Sen. Nancy King, became the leading vehicle for reform, but it died in committee, partially because of concerns about costs.
O'Malley spokesman Shaun Adamec said the measures announced Wednesday will cost the state a nominal amount, perhaps as much as $100,000 annually. He said the state's IT department has the cameras needed to wire the governor's reception room. The recordings will be available online for two weeks, until the next meeting airs.
The General Assembly also will waive a fee of more than $700 annually to get up-to-the-minute results of legislative votes online. Lobbyists and a dwindling number of news organizations could afford the fee.
"We think it's a big victory for everything we were advocating," Mizeur said. "The whole purpose for taking the opportunity to do a summer study proved to be in the end a really good approach ... it allowed each chamber to look at their capabilities and determine that we could do all of this for relatively little cost."
Aaron C. Davis
June 23, 2010; 4:18 PM ET
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