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Webcasts of Senate panel voting shot down

Maryland citizens will have to wait at least another year to get remote access to one of the most important but least accessible parts of the legislative process: committee voting sessions in which bills are amended, killed or sent to the floor.

The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday voted down a proposed amendment to Senate rules by Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, that would have required Senate committees to webcast the crucial voting sessions, as the committee hearings already are. The recordings of the hearings are also archived, for later listening.

When he introduced the proposed change four weeks ago, Kittleman said he had heard from constituents who wanted to listen to committee votes over the Internet. “I think it would be another way to make it more transparent,” Kittleman said.

At the time, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. sounded sympathetic. “It’s a very laudable goal. I think if we can do it, we should do it.”

Consideration of Kittleman’s rule change was put off four times.

Even before Kittleman’s proposal had been voted down Wednesday, Miller announced from the rostrum that after this 90-day session the Rules Committee would review Senate rules to modernize procedures and bring its practices into the 21st century, including a review of practices in other states.

At the Rules Committee meeting, Kittleman got some support from two fellow Republicans on the committee. But the proposal was rejected by the five committee chairs and two vice chairs that make up the Democratic majority of the 11-member rules committee.

“Why don’t we defer and see what other legislatures do?” said Senate Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton, D-Charles.

Two years ago, in response to pressure for more transparency, Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch ordered the recorded committee votes on legislation posted on the Internet. But citizens had to be in Annapolis committee rooms to actually witness the meetings at which the votes were taken. In fact, some committees actively (but unofficially) discourage lobbyists from attending committee work sessions.

Some legislators fear more open voting sessions would discourage the frank discussions that often occur as bills are voted on.

Even reporters in the room have a hard time following the action of a voting session. Voting lists are often unavailable and are typically posted only with bill numbers and not titles, when they are available at all.

Unlike the newer House of Delegates committee hearings rooms, which are wired for video transmission, only audio is available in Senate meeting rooms. Senators can only be identified by voice, and without a list of bills, the discussion and voting would be hard to follow.

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