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More on those criminal checks on the media

A spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley has elaborated on the issue of criminal background checks for reporters that went into effect today.

maryland-state-houseLast week, the state announced new procedures for issuing media credentials to reporters who cover the State House and state government. The badges issued by the state allow reporters to move freely between buildings in the State House complex without passing through security checkpoints and allow access to the floor of the House of Delegates and Senate and governor’s reception room.

Included in those new procedures is a requirement for each reporter to submit to a criminal background check.

Nina Smith, an O’Malley spokeswoman, said the state will do a cursory search on the state courts Case Search database which lists all court-related activity in Maryland.

Smith said the check will look for “major criminal charges [felonies] for which the person was found guilty.” Reporters can obtain a credential by submitting a letter on company stationery, signed by their editor.

Reporters who are flagged in this search will initially be denied credentials. Smith said House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller will also be notified and can overrule the denial.

“So there is an appeal,” Smith said.

The cost of the review [which is not fully known] will be absorbed by the Department of General Services, which issues the credentials.

The review is a lot less intensive that those conducted by other agencies, such as the U.S. Secret Service, which typically requires social security numbers as well as other personal information.

Given that the review will only include Maryland court records, the state will miss any crimes committed by reporters who worked in other states but then recently moved here. [Hey, it could happen, right?]

The changes are the result of a review of current press credential rules.

In October, state officials raised security issues related to 673 active press credentials in circulation. Many of those, officials said, were no longer in use. All of those credentials routinely expire in in two or three years.

But the executive director of the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association said the changes were also related to another attempt to restrict bloggers and other non-traditional media from covering state government and create a litmus test by which government would define who is and is not a journalist. [Subscriber access]