Campaigning Judges May Hear Cases From Attorneys Who Donate

The Maryland Judicial Ethics Committee issued a ruling Tuesday that answered questions over whether judges are required to recuse themselves if they have received campaign contributions from attorneys appearing before them. The Committee ruled that it is up to each judge to make a decision whether recusal is necessary based on the details of the case. Generally, judges must withdraw from proceedings if their impartiality may be reasonably questioned. This has led to debates over…

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PIA Ombudsman Stresses Importance of Accurate Record Custodian Contact Information

Maryland's Public Information Act Ombudsman is reasserting the value of accurate record custodian contact information. Through the ongoing COVID-19 crisis many agencies are changing the way they operate by implementing telework and other policies to encourage social distancing. While these measures make responding to Public Information Act (PIA) requests even more challenging for record custodians, it is important that agencies keep updated contact information of a designated PIA representative conspicuously posted on their website. This…

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SDAT Offers Guidance for Constant Yield Advertisements/Hearings Amid COVID-19 Epidemic

In response to the COVID-19 epidemic, counties have implemented several measures designed to prevent community transmission, while at the same time allowing for essential business to continue. With these procedures in mind, the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) is offering guidance for counties to comply with the strict procedures governing advertisement and public hearing for tax rate increases above the constant yield tax rate. The constant yield tax rate is calculated by SDAT…

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Public Information Act Timelines During COVID-19 Crisis

The Public Information Act Ombudsman has released general guidance for government record custodians regarding Public Information Act (PIA) timelines during the COVID-19 crisis. The guidance stresses the importance of communication with record requestors and good faith attempts to provide record access.    From the Ombudsman: Q. Does the Public Access Ombudsman have any guidance for State and local governmental custodians about dealing with PIA requests and PIA deadlines in the current COVID-19 crisis? A. Although…

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2020 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 during the 2020 Regular Session. County governments gather and maintain public information as part of their various functions. Compliance with the Maryland Public Information Act and maintenance of a high level of ethics in all government practices are priorities throughout the administrative agencies and legislative bodies of Maryland’s county governments. Through its advocacy and professional education in…

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Open Meetings Act Questions Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

In response to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the General Assembly has implemented several measures designed to prevent community transmission of the virus while allowing the Legislature to continue proceedings. This includes restricting public access to government office buildings and holding sponsor-only bill hearings. Many local governments will likely want to adopt similar measures for their public meetings, which will invite several questions relating to the Open Meetings Act. In general, public bodies should attempt to…

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Baltimore City Considering Funding Public Campaign Financing with Energy Tax Revenue

Baltimore City will consider legislation that would mandate money from the City's energy tax be set aside for the Fair Election Fund that supports public financing for candidates. The bill introduced by Councilman Kristerfer Burnett would require $2.5 million from the energy tax go directly to public campaign financing. The City's energy tax, which is based on the number of units of energy delivered to users, was projected to bring in $41,208,800 in fiscal year…

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Counties Support Data Sharing to Help Local Health Departments Address Opiod Crisis

MACo Legislative Director Natasha Mehu submitted testimony to the Senate Finance Committee to support SB 710 - Health – General – Prescription Drug Monitoring Program – County Health Officer. This bill would strengthen local health departments’ ability to help identify and deter prescription drug abuse and diversion as the state continues to struggle with an opioid crisis. From the MACo Testimony: SB 710 adds a local health department (or local health officer) to the list…

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Counties Oppose State Intrusion into Local Ethics Laws Decisions

MACo Legislative Director Natasha Mehu testified before the House Environment & Transportation Committee to oppose HB 1565 - Public Ethics and Campaign Activity – County Governing Bodies and County Executives – Planning and Zoning Applications.  The bill unnecessarily imposes ethics requirements adopted by only one jurisdiction and extends them to every county, with all forms of county government.  From the MACo Testimony: Every county makes land use decisions differently, and accordingly, develop their own ethics laws when…

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