Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

February 16, 2013

Bad example

Legislators discuss gun issue behind closed doors

You would think that the Maryland General Assembly — the body that writes laws to ensure that state and local government operate in the sunshine — would set the standard for everyone else to follow. You would be wrong.

The Washington Post reported last week that a 16-member study group called the House Working Group on Gun Safety has been holding closed-door meetings to discuss how to handle gun control. The House Speaker and other key lawmakers have been huddling with lobbyists, experts and state officials and barring the public from attending.

Then there is the Senate Rules Committee which, according to MarylandReporter.com, has rejected a proposed amendment to Senate rules requiring committees to webcast crucial voting sessions.

Webcasts of committee votes may eventually be approved by the Senate. But for this year the idea is dead. Senate Finance Chair Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles), was quoted as saying, “Why don’t we defer and see what other legislatures do?” How is that for leadership?

When General Assembly members shield themselves and their actions from public scrutiny, public trust is violated. The gun control issue is of paramount importance both in Maryland and the nation. The House study group, which includes Delegate Kevin Kelly of Allegany County, should be doing its work in open session so that Marylanders know exactly what is being considered.

The Post said the closed meetings have included sessions with the National Rifle Association's top lobbyist, sheriffs, gun-control advocates, Gov. O’Malley’s secretary of health and the state superintendent of schools. Police and prosecutors were scheduled to meet with the group at the end of the week.

House Speaker Michael Busch, on whose authority the sessions are closed, said the meetings are exempt from Maryland’s open-meetings laws because the working group is similar to previous such committees that have been set up to consider contentious legislation. Those previous groups also met in secret.

Closing these groups off to the public is hardly in the spirit of Maryland’s open meetings laws.

We agree with Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, who said: “The public has a right to be part of this process, especially on an issue as sensitive as gun control.”

It’s too bad the House Speaker and other legislators don’t feel the same way.

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