2014 End of Session Wrap Up: Public Information & Ethics

This post summarizes the status of various public information and ethics bills that MACo took a position on for the 2014 Regular Session.

Study on Requiring Public Bodies to Provide Agendas: HB 157 / SB 847 as introduced would have required a public body to include an agenda that informs the public of the matters to be discussed or decided at a meeting as part of a meeting’s advance notice under the State’s Open Meetings Act.

MACo supported the bill with amendments to limit the information that must be in the agenda to the information available at the time the agenda was sent out and added exception provisions for emergency meetings held with 24 hours or less notice.

FINAL STATUS: HB 157 and SB 847 with amendments turning the bill into an interim study by the Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government. The study language required the Joint Committee to consult with local governments, MACo, and the Maryland Municipal League. However, the House Health and Government Operations Committee took no action on SB 847 and HB 157 was delayed on the Senate floor on Sine Die – thus neither passed.

Note: There is no MACo testimony for this bill.

Lobbyist Registration for Associations Representing Counties or Municipal Corporations: HB 1250 would require officers, directors, members, or employees of an association engaged only in representing counties or municipal corporations, including the MACo and the Maryland Municipal League, to register and be treated as regulated lobbyists under State law.

MACo opposed the bill, citing the differences between public sector representatives and private lobbyists and noted that the bill would limit county official and employee participation in the policymaking process.

FINAL STATUS: The House Environmental Matters Committee gave HB 1250 an unfavorable report.

MACo HB 1250 Testimony

State Ethics Commission – Compliance Enforcement for Local Governments and School Boards: As introduced, SB 91 would have authorized the State Ethics Commission to issue an order directing a local government or school board that has not made good-faith efforts towards complying with State ethics law requirements to comply with State law. Under existing law, the Commission’s only option is to petition a circuit court for appropriate relief to comply compliance. The bills also created analogous enforcement requirements for school boards, which until recently were not required to have ethics laws mirroring the State law.

MACo supported the bill with amendments due to concerns about the bill unintentionally shifting the legal burden of proof and reducing the ability of a county government argue its position should the Commission seek enforcement through the courts.

FINAL STATUS: MACo and the Commission reached agreement on a set of amendments deleting the compliance order language in the bill and replacing it with language allowing the Commission, upon a determination that a local government or school board has not made good-faith efforts towards complying with State ethics law, to issue a public notice concerning the failure of the compliance and include a listing of the specific areas of noncompliance. The General Assembly passed SB 91 with the MACo/Commission amendments.

MACo SB 91 Testimony

For further information about the bills in this section or other public information and ethics bills, please contact Les Knapp at 410.269.0043 or lknapp@mdcounties.org.