Bill Would Greatly Expand Open Meeting Training Requirements

MACo Legal and Policy Counsel, Les Knapp, testified in opposition of SB 754, Open Meetings Act – Annual Reporting Requirement, Enforcement, and Training, to the Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee on March 3, 2016.

This bill would authorize the Open Meetings Compliance Board (OMCB) to issue binding corrective orders and civil fines and expands who is subject to the open meeting training requirements. The training is currently available through and online course offered through the Office of the Attorney General, or at the MACo and Maryland Municipal League conferences.

From the MACo testimony,

The OMCB should not be granted the ability to issue binding orders or impose civil fees – it lacks a formal administrative and fact-finding process that is inherent to a judicial or quasi-judicial body. The OMCB’s entire structure and current method of operation is built around being an advisory body and the Board would need significant revision in order to provide a fair and equitable system.

MACo also objects to the expanded training requirements as being overbroad – similar requirements proposed by SB 754 were debated and specifically rejected when the initial training requirement was passed in 2013 (HB 139). Public bodies range from large, statutorily created permanent bodies to small, all-volunteer task forces.

Designating one employee, staff, officer, or member of the body to receive the training works well and can be accommodated by any type of public body.  However, the inclusion of all officers will place a burden on all sizes of public bodies and will be especially challenging for small volunteer bodies that in many cases are already struggling to attract participants.

Knapp also noted that MACo was in discussion with the bill sponsors and proponents on potential amendments that could narrow the scope of the bill and remove MACo’s concerns. An identical cross-filed bill, HB 1088, was heard on February 24 in the House.

For more on 2016 MACo legislation, visit the Legislative Database.