There’s apparently a new Annapolis group so secret that obtaining the list of members is said to be protected by law.
Ironically, it’s made up of a group of men and women charged with shining light in the dark corners of the Maryland State House — the press.
The governor’s office this week denied a request from The Daily Record to obtain a list of State House reporters and their media affiliations. The request was made in the wake of a new credentialing policy (subscriber access) enacted prior to the start of the 2014 General Assembly session.
“I am not sure that is public,” Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin J. O’Malley, wrote in an email as part of a reply to a series of requests made for related information. “I will verify and get back to you.”
Smith did not cite any of the exemptions allowed in the Maryland Public Information Act and did not respond to follow-up questions about why the information would not be releasable.
You may remember that in October, The Daily Record reported that the state intended to issue new rules on the credentials that allow members of the press access to the buildings in the State House complex and the areas reserved for the press on the floor of the House of Delegates and Senate.
At the time, the state estimated there were 673 media credentials in circulation — nearly all of which would expire in 2014 or 2015.
The new rules as discussed in the fall would have severely restricted who could get a credential by limiting it to reporters who work in the complex on a year-round basis — fewer than six reporters.
Everyone else would be required to submit to a daily temporary credentialing and searches before entering each building in the complex.
The changes being considered were an attempt to create a government litmus test that would define who a journalist was in Maryland and was intended to limit access to partisan bloggers like Maryland Juice and Red State Maryland (as two examples).
A lot of it is being driven by the election season. The House and the Senate committees are also imposing rules limiting photography and videography in committee rooms. At least one reporter this week working for MarylandReporter.com was questioned about taking photos in a Senate committee. Another person who was not a member of the media was also asked to stop taking photos from an area where the public has access.
In the Senate earlier this year, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller reminded members of rules limiting photos and videos on the floor without the express permission of the presiding officer. The House briefly considered adopting identical language this session but ultimately did not.
The reminder is driven by two election-year incidents in 2010 involving Dels. Saqib Ali, D-Montgomery, and Richard A. Sossi, R-Upper Shore. Both were sleeping during House sessions when they were photographed by political rivals.
The state eventually walked those provisions back but issued new rules including a provision requiring a criminal background check for each reporter seeking a credential.
Earlier this week, the paper requested information on the credentialing process in order to look at whether or not the state was denying requests for access and if so, who was being denied.
Smith, in an email response said that the state has received 335 requests for credentials after the new rules were imposed. Of those, 257 background checks have been processed and another 78 are in the process.
The state has issued 113 credentials and has denied none, so far, according to Smith.
But who received those credentials remains unknown.
We could tell you but then we’d probably have to kill you.
Note: This version corrects an earlier one that reported that the House of Delegates had adopted a rule limiting photography and recording on the chamber floor.