MACo Policy Associate Kevin Kinnally offered amendments to legislation (HB 880) that would alter the required training requirements for members of public bodies under the Maryland Open Meetings Act before the House Health and Government Operations Committee on February 15, 2017. MACo Legal and Policy Counsel Les Knapp offered the same testimony on the cross-file (SB 450) before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on February 16. HB 880 was sponsored by Delegate Maricé Morales while SB 450 was sponsored by Senator Roger Manno.
As introduced, HB 880 and SB 450 would require every member of a public body to take a training course on the Maryland Open Meetings Act or else submit a letter to the Open Meetings Compliance Board (OMCB) stating that the member is unable or unwilling to complete the class. Currently, each public body must designate at least one individual who is an employee, officer, or member of the public body to take the class.
In their testimony, Kinnally and Knapp supported amendments striking the bills’ provisions and instead replacing it with a new training requirement agreed upon by MACo, the Maryland Municipal League and other stakeholders last year. Both sponsors offered the MACo-supported amendments, along with some additional amendments regarding OMCB reporting and posting requirements. From MACo’s testimony:
MACo has consistently objected to expanding the training requirements to include every member of a public body – the requirements proposed by SB 450 [and HB 880] 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. The inclusion of all employees, officers, or members 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.
However, MACo recognizes the need for open meetings training and would support the bill if it were amended to require at least one voting member of a public body (as opposed to a staff person, etc.) be required to take the training. Voting members have the authority to close meetings and it is reasonable to have at least one such individual take the training. Furthermore, if a voting member who has taken the training is not present when a meeting is proposed to be closed, the public body should have to complete and include in their minutes the short meetings closing checklist that was created by the OMCB. The provision regarding the submission of a letter to the OMCB should also be removed.
MACo believes these amendments would address the need to make sure the correct individuals are receiving open meetings training while acknowledging staffing and implementation realities on the governmental side.
Common Cause and the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association also supported the bill with the same amendments.