Rule would require audio recordings of committee votes

January 24, 2013|By Michael Dresser, The Baltimore Sun

UPDATE: A decision on this rule has been postponed until next week.

The Senate Rules Committee is expected to vote Wednesday on a proposal that would shed some light on one of the darker corners of Annapolis: the committee voting session.

Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, made a pitch to the panel Tuesday for a proposal to record audio of the session where standing Senate committees vote on whether to kill legislation or send it to the floor.

The panel gave Kittleman's proposal a respectful hearing but deferred a decision for a day.

Senate floor sessions and committee hearings are already recorded and available online, but voting sessions are not. Though the voting sessions are open to the public, often they take place with nobody present except members and staff. By tradition, lobbyists are discouraged from sitting in on sessions where their bills are discussed.

In some cases, reporters do sit in on such sessions and observe more lively, frank and free-wheeling discussions that are common in the more well-attended meetings of lawmakers. Often, on close votes, lobbyists will hover outside the committee rooms and quiz reporters on the fate of their bills when they come out.

Kittleman urged the panel to amend Senate rules to permit the public to listen in.

"I just think openness and transparency trump concerns about what might be said in the voting sessions," he said.

Rules Chairman Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat, said she had mixed feelings about the proposal.

"We have to figure out if it will work smoothly," she said. "Sometimes you're joking around and things can be taken out of context."

Klausmeier said she would give her committee members the night to think over whether to support the change, which would preserve an exception that allows recording to be suspended if directed by the committee chairman.

The trend in the General Assembly has been toward more public access to information -- much of it available in real time online. Audio of House floor sessions is available in real time, as as is video coverage of House committee hearings. But House voting sessions are not recorded. No proposal to change that rule has come before the House.

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