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Pipkin wants to strengthen open meetings law

Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-Upper Shore

Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin, still smarting following the removal of one of his staffers from a closed meeting of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s gambling expansion work group, intends to try a legislative remedy.

The Upper Shore Republican sent an e-mail to supporters Tuesday afternoon saying that he would sponsor legislation that makes the state’s Open Meetings Act apply to any group formed to “make legislative recommendations to the General Assembly.”

The Office of the Attorney General wrote in a letter that the work group could meet behind closed doors because it was not formed by an Executive Order, and also because it included only one member who is not a state employee — Chairman John W. Morton III.

“By not forming the 11-member work group through an Executive Order, the governor deliberately created a convenient escape hatch to circumvent the open meeting law,” Pipkin wrote. “There is something inherently wrong with shutting the public out of deliberations of significant importance.  The real decisions about gambling expansion will be made behind closed doors.”

The group intends to meet in private once more, Wednesday at 10 a.m., before holding a public meeting at 1 p.m.

“The work product of the group will be announced and unveiled at a public meeting after the private meeting.  What we will be treated to on June 20 is a fait accompli – take it or leave it.  The legislature will have almost no time to study the legislation before the July 9 special session.”