Who's who, and how the process works Public access

January 13, 1991

Maryland's State House and the offices of General Assembly committees are open to the public.

Visitors may observe floor action in the House of Delegates or the Senate, testify at public hearings on bills in House or Senate committees, or observe committee discussions or voting sessions.

To see the full House or Senate in action, visitors should go to the second floor of the State House to the doors leading to public galleries overlooking the House or Senate floor. Each chamber has two public galleries, one in the back of the chamber and one in the front.

Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis and there is no time limit. On rare occasions, such as inaugurations or formal addresses, some seats in the galleries are reserved for dignitaries.

The only limitation on public access to committee meetings is the fire code restriction on the number of people permitted in each hearing room. Generally, there is plenty of room for the public to observe committee action, although on particularly controversial bills it is always wise to arrive early to get a seat.

Citizens wishing to testify on a specific bill must sign up to do so before the beginning of a public hearing. At least a half-hour before each hearing, and often earlier than that, the staff of each committee puts on a table in the committee's hearing room sign-up sheets for each bill to be heard that day. Those wishing to testify must sign their name, give their affiliation, if any, a telephone number, and whether they are for, against or neutral on the bill. The sign-up sheet becomes part of the permanent legislative file on that bill.

Some committee chairmen refuse to allow anyone to testify who has not signed up in advance of a hearing.

Witnesses who have copies of statements or other materials they wish members of the committee to see are asked to bring sufficient copies to circulate to all committee members as well as several extra for the staff. Generally, 15 copies for a Senate committee and 30 copies for a House committee are sufficient, but witnesses should check with the staff of each committee to determine their specific requirements. Copies of such testimony should be made available to committee staff before the hearing begins, if possible.

The schedule of committee hearings and specific bills that are to be considered is published weekly by the Department of Legislative Reference. Specific questions may be answered by calling the Legislative Information and Bill Status 841-3810 or 841-3886, or by calling specific committee offices. Committee staff members are available to answer questions, by telephone or in person, from citizens interested in the committee's activities.

A listing of the committee hearings on bills also is published each Sunday in The Sun.

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