A proposal in Baltimore County would push Maryland lawmakers to tighten access to policy body camera footage considered to be public record.
For all of Maryland’s virtues, the state has some major corruption issues. For one, Maryland received low marks for corruption prevention in a Corruption Risk Report Card last year (which include grades of “F’ in executive accountability, legislative accountability, and public access to information). Oh, and then there was expanded gambling and a notorious Congressional gerrymander, both of which were steamrolled into existence and disingenuously argued for. There’s also the illegal arrangement that state and local governments have with their speed camera operators. Oh yeah, there’s also the issue of accountability in the comic-book-worthy prison scandal.
There’s a non-profit that would like to help us with those issues. OpenGov Foundation, a self-described “scrappy little non-profit, non-partisan outfit working to open government,” has launched an open-data website on Maryland law. Marylandcode.org makes state codes and laws easily accessible. It’s also an Application Programming Interface, which means it’s set up to allow programmers to create free apps that use the information in various ways.
When the Sun made a public records request to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s office, it accidentally received a slew of text messages the office had meant to withhold. According to the paper there wasn’t anything actually damaging in there, just plenty of candor from a politician who would rather you not see behind the scenes of his administration.
There were the governor’s distaste at a homeless benefit being black-tie and a failed deal between the rival gambling interests that fought to buy Question 7 last November. What is really most disconcerting is that O’Malley attempted to hide these messages at all.
Sure, Maryland was recently praised for the availability of information on its government websites, the state is generally regarded as opaque and susceptible to corruption. But that doesn’t mean the General Assembly isn’t taking baby steps toward transparency. In an article in Maryland Reporter, Len Lazarick lays out the state’s recent attempts at lifting the veil.
This doesn’t seem right. Just ten months after a nonpartisan study ranked Maryland 40th among states in corruption prevention — citing “unchecked Democratic control, a revolving door between lobbyists and government officials, failure to correct audit findings, and limited data access across the board” — a new study has given Maryland a “B+” for transparency, putting us in a five-way tie for first place.
Under the new measure, large shopping centers (upwards of 100,000 square feet) would be able to put in a request with the director of Baltimore County’s Department of Permits, Approvals, and Inspections to reduce the required size of their parking lot by up to 40 percent. The legislation would effectively eliminate the period of public comment that currently accompanies such requests, but why?
Currently, Maryland is one of a minority of states in which the occupations and employers of large contributors to political campaigns are not disclosed to the public. Thankfully, our otherwise flailing General Assembly managed to pass a bill to rectify the situation, requiring campaigns to collect that kind of information about anyone giving more than $500. If Gov. Martin O’Malley doesn’t veto it, it will go into effect June 1.
According to an article in The Baltimore Sun, the bill’s sponsors think a veto would be unlikely (and pretty audacious considering the measure passed 46-0 in the Senate, 89-45 in the House).
The bill is just one of several passed this legislative session that might help Maryland raise its corruption grade from a shameful D- to a disgraceful D, or maybe even a lackluster C-. Also awaiting a gubernatorial signature is a bill “requiring that the ethics disclosure forms filed by legislators and other high-ranking officials be made available online.” And coming up for referendum in November: a constitutional amendment that would boot from office elected officials immediately upon conviction of a crime.
So even if our budget falls to pieces, our legislators can’t compromise on a gaming bill, at least they’ve made government a little easier to keep an eye on.