The Maryland General Assembly took a step toward public transparency in a time of the coronavirus pandemic.
For the last two weeks, the legislature’s Joint COVID-19 Work Group has met by video conference call. Audio of the meetings was posted later in the day after the meetings had ended.
When the group meets Wednesday at 10 a.m. it will do so for the first time in as public a manner as possible given social distancing requirements, by live-streaming its meeting on YoutTube. An earlier effort planned for its YouTube channel had to be adjusted on the fly because of technical difficulties an hour before the scheduled broadcast.
Government bodies around the state have struggled to continue to function while at the same time balancing serious public health concerns as the number of confirmed infections and deaths from the virus has climbed since March 5.
The General Assembly came under criticism during the final days of its abbreviated session as the public was barred from House and Senate office buildings and committee rooms and from the State House itself.
The legislature streams audio of House and Senate floor sessions — and started a limited pilot program of video in the House of Delegates — but that system proved insufficient. There were a large number of complaints from members of the public that those streams were not accessible in the final three days of the session as lawmakers finalized budgets and a multibillion-dollar plan to expand public school funding that was part of the Kirwan Commission recommendations.
In it previous two meetings the COVID-19 work group has heard from top officials in Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, including Maryland Health Secretary Robert “Bobby” Neall and Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson. Hogan himself met with the panel last week — marking the first time that the governor has appeared before a legislative committee or panel.
The legislature has come under criticism the last two weeks for holding the meetings without live access.
The panel was formed last month via a joint announcement from House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson. Because of the way the group was formed, it is not subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act and could meet legally without public access.