Government Transparency: Nancy Soreng Team Leader
The League of Women Voters of Maryland testified in favor of three bills that would improve transparency in government or campaign spending, only HB183 passed both houses.
HB 183 Public Information Act – Revisions (Equitable Access to Records Act) would add accountability to the custodians of public information by requiring them to publish an annual report that includes the number of Public Information Act (PIA) requests received, the outcome of these requests and the time frame for granting or denying requests as well as the reasons for requests that took more than 30 days to process. It also requires documentation of fees charged and fees waived. This bill improves the make-up of the PIA Board by requiring at least one member be knowledgeable about electronic records and at least two members to be attorneys. It also requires detailed reporting of the disputes handled by the Ombudsman and their outcome. Status: sent to Governor.
HB 1352 Campaign Finance Reports - Business Contributors - Registration Status would require the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to electronically transmit a list of all businesses that are registered with the Department and all businesses that forfeited their registrations to the State Board of Elections who would transmit that information to all active campaign entities. When campaign finance reports are filed with the Board of Elections, it is not easy to know which companies who made political donations are actual businesses and which may be sham companies who are used by contributors who want to exceed donation caps by giving in the name of a sham business. This bill passed the House (97 to 39) but was never voted on by the Senate.
The third transparency bill the League supported is SB 72/HB 344 Open Meetings Act – Requirements for State Agencies and Local Boards of Elections (Maryland Transparency Act of 2021) which called for all Executive Branch Agencies and Local Boards of Elections to have meeting materials publicly available on their website at least 48 hours before any open meeting. It further requires that these public bodies provide live video or audio streaming of their proceedings and maintain an unedited, accessible archive of these recordings. This bill did not receive a vote in either the House or Senate Committee where it was heard.