Analysis: the legislature is more transparent than ever

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The pandemic has prompted the Maryland General Assembly to make its actions more open and transparent than ever. This includes many measures that have been advocated for years by journalists and the right kinds of government.

This doesn’t mean that this greater openness will make the actions of lawmakers more acceptable if you don’t agree with them. But it can help you understand them.

In perhaps the biggest step, live streaming and archiving of videos of plenary sittings in the House and Senate chambers now appear to be a permanent feature.

This includes chyron, screen captions, speaker identification.

Audio for floor sessions had been available for over a decade. But knowing what lawmakers were talking about and what they were talking about was a problem, since the rules of both chambers require that personal names not be used.

Committee hearings have been live streamed and archived for years, but the voting session in which bills are actually debated and voted on was prohibited. Last year, committee votes were filmed and the House plans to continue this throughout the session, although it is not clear whether the Senate will do so after February 11.

Equally important, the list of bills to be voted on in committee will be published in advance. It is a huge improvement. Even for reporters and others actually in the committee room, it was often difficult to know what lawmakers were voting on unless a friendly lawmaker showed you a voting list.

People wishing to testify on a bill can also register the day before. At Home, they participate via Zoom. Written testimonials will also be available online in many cases.

All of these measures are big improvements for open government. There is now a huge amount of material online on each bill, including video links, especially on the third of all bills that go to committee.

Getting the most out of the Assembly website still requires a lot of knowledge and experience. But the process is much more transparent and open than it was decades ago, when you had to be physically present in Annapolis and move from room to room and building to building to get information that is now easily accessible. available online.

Will there still be behind-the-scenes deals, hidden agendas and legislative hoaxes? Will committee chairmen always put bills “in the drawer”, without a vote or explanation?

Sure. But the more accessible the process, the more these agreements, agendas and deceptions can be made visible.

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