ANNAPOLIS -- A House committee last night fine-tuned and then unanimously approved a Senate bill intended to strengthen Maryland's open meetings law.
The Constitutional and Administrative Law Committee's version of the bill differs from the Senate bill in mostly minor or technical ways.
The most substantive changes involve an expansion of the definition of which "public bodies" are covered by the open meetings law, and a modification to the bill's original broad authority permitting meetings to be videotaped, televised or otherwise broadcast.
The bill now goes to the full House with only four working days remaining in the 1991 session.
The House panel decided to include under the bill's definitions of public body "any multi-member board, commission or committee appointed by the governor [or] chief executive authority of a political subdivision" that includes "at least two individuals not employed by the state or the political subdivision."
The purpose, said Committee Chairman Anne S. Perkins, D-Baltimore, is to include under the law gubernatorial advisory commissions that have been allowed to meet in private legally under the state's current open-meetings law.
Among the commissions that have conducted some of their business in private were the "2020 Commission" on growth in the Chesapeake Bay region, the governor's advisory commission on off-track betting, and the Linowes tax restructuring commission.
Including the advisory boards "makes the bill stronger," said Ms. Perkins, adding, "but it'll also pick up a lot of flak."
Delegate John S. Morgan, R-Howard, described the addition as a direct challenge to the governor, and called it "veto bait."
The House panel deleted part of the Senate bill that would have guaranteed the right to videotape, televise, photograph or broadcast a public meeting, saying meetings could be jammed by media and others carrying cameras. Instead, the committee decided to require a public body to adopt and enforce "reasonable rules" regarding photographic or broadcast activities in public meetings.
The House committee also added a 14th reason why governmental meetings may be closed to the public or press: saying discussions of matters directly related to the awarding of a contract or opening of bids "if public discussion or disclosure would adversely impact the ability of the public body to participate in the competitive bidding or proposal process."
Otherwise, the committee left essentially unchanged the major provisions of the Senate's revision of the open meetings law.
"I just think we made refinements to it," said Ms. Perkins. "Most of the amendments were just improvements, not stronger or weaker."
The only committee member not to vote for the bill was Delegate Carol S. Petzold, D-Montgomery, who abstained after expressing concern that small municipalities in her district could be inconvenienced by provisions aimed at larger governmental bodies.
The bill would create a three-member Open Meetings Compliance Board to resolve disputes quickly and without the expense of going to court. It also imposes for the first time in Maryland a $100 penalty for people who "knowingly and willfully" violate the law.