In his all but announced candidacy for County Executive, Senator Allan Kittleman has widened his audience of "constituents" who may be interested in what he gets done during the 2013 session. I've appreciated, and been impressed by, all of the meetings and hearings relating to Columbia-centric matters (such as the HOA legislation), that Senator Kittleman has spent time attending and mulling over with Howard County residents. He's changed focus and, with that, broadened his scope of representation.
I am particularly excited about a set of legislation and rule changes that I've labeled "Good Government Bills." Cynics, and partisans, will call this pandering. I would respond that if that were the case, these bills should have no problem passing, right? In reality, these bills are most likely dead in the water, but I don't expect Allan to treat them that way. Remember, he spent years as the Minority Leader in the Senate. His Senate career is filled with big rocks at the bottom of big hills.
The first is a Senate rule change to allow audio recordings of committee voting sessions to be made available to the public. This is a small change that could make a big difference, particularly for media members who are looking to investigate legislation from years past. The Rules Committee postponed its decision on this proposal until next week.
Allan is also sponsoring legislation that would require legislative sub-committees to comply with the Open Meetings Act. At present, these sub-committees can meet in private, which oftentimes results in the minority party being boxed out of substantive decisions. At the very least, these private meetings shield part of the deliberative process from oversight. I am hesitant to take the Open Meetings Act too far, particularly in the non-governmental realm, but in this context I agree with the proposal.
Allan's third measure is long past due, but does not stand a chance at passage -- the 50 mile overnight stipend. Senator Kittleman's bill would prohibit legislators who live within 50 miles from staying overnight in Annapolis (at the taxpayers' expense). This bill has populist sentiment, but I would suggest an amendment for legislators working on matters past 10 pm. While we all may have an image in our heads of law-makers closing shop at 5 pm and checking into the Old Annapolis Inn, the reality is that this is a hard job that often goes late. Some legislators are older than others and I, personally, would be fine with them staying in town rather than driving hope at 1:00 in the morning.
The fourth measure would prompt third parties to disclose which legislators attend meals provided by them as lobbyists, organizations, or companies. These groups are already asked to disclose who was invited and how much the meal cost, but so long as the entirety of the Senate or Committee is invited, this disclosure is not particularly insightful with regard to who actually attended or what kind of tail may be followed from that meeting.
For at least the fourth time, Senator Kittleman is sponsoring legislation to do away with legislative scholarships and move the money provided under this program to the Higher Education Commission for distribution. These scholarships are incumbent gold and carry with them the inherent risk of abuse.
Senator Kittleman is co-sponsoring legislation that would establish a non-partisan commission to draw legislative districts. Unilateral "disarmament" at the prompting of a Republican Senator probably stands as good of a chance of passing as a bill changing the name of the State to "Bird-land", but it is appreciated.
Understanding this, Senator Kittleman has paired this effort with another bill that would establish a task force to examine alternatives for fair and balanced legislative districts. The hope here is that there may be an available option that would be tolerable for Maryland Dems, while less embarrassing than our current mess.
Senator Kittleman is also proposing a State-wide mechanism by which local jurisdictions may provide a public financing system for local elections. Without a paired effort to make public financing more attractive/mandatory, this measure may be as effective as public financing on the national stage, but it is an attractive idea, particularly in light of how large a role land developers and real estate groups play in who gets elected to County government.
Finally, Senator Kittleman will be entering corresponding Senate legislation with Delegate Morhaim's bill to enhance penalties for Open Meetings Act violations. I don't like this one. From my view, enhancing penalties does little more than expand business for compliance lawyers at the expense of the subject deliberative bodies. What I would like to see is additional outreach and public information about what groups are covered by the OMA, instruction about compliance to those groups, and additional resources to make these meetings even more public (i.e., live streaming, audio recording, etc.). Punishment is a lazy way to make policy.
While we're on this topic, Senator Kittleman has recently be noted in the Baltimore Sun to be weighing his vote on the Death Penalty in Maryland. If you feel the way I do, that the Death Penalty in an imperfect justice system is a threat to us all, but particularly those with the least resources to defend themselves, please consider e-mailing Allan to let him know where you stand. I did.
In completely unrelated news, Ian Kennedy has started a petition to support the Inner Arbor Plan that you all may want to consider signing. It went live around noon yesterday and has 83 signatures as of 6:58 am.
That's all for today. Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!