Senate rejects rules changes on audio, hearings

The Maryland Senate turned back efforts Thursday to allow taping of committee voting sessions and to make it more likely that people who come to Annapolis to testify on bills will be heard.

On the recommendation of the Rules Committee,  senators rejected an effort by Sen. Allan Kittleman, a Howard County Republican, to make public an audio record of the discussions that take place before committees vote on whether to kill bills or let them move to the floor for action. The vote was 41-6 against.

While the Senate makes video and audio of its committee hearings available on line, the voting sessions can be heard only by coming to Annapolis.

The Senate also voted 37-9 to turn back an effort by Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin to set up a procedure under which prospective witnesses on bills with an unusually high level of public interest would be guaranteed their chance to speak no matter how long the hearings last.

Pipkin, an Upper Shore Republican, said his effort was prompted by last week's Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing on Gov. Martin O'Malley's gun legislation. Though senators heard testimony for about nine straight hours, many witnesses -- mostly gun control opponents -- did not get a chance to speak.

Some senators said by the time Chairman Brian E. Frosh adjourned the hearing, they had heard the arguments on both sides many times over. But Pipkin said that explanation didn't satisfy witnesses who were turned away.

"When we say we've heard enough, that really grates on a lot of our citizens that come here," he said. "It raises the whole issue of arrogance of elected officials in this body."

The proposed rule would have allowed the Senate president to designate certain hearings as ones of extraordinary public interest and would have required committee chairmen to make provisions to hear every witness who showed up.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, said an open-ended hearing process could allow a few hot-button social issues to crowd out all other topics in a 90-day legislative session.

"This essentially is a filibuster without closure," he said.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he has asked the Rules Committee to study both issues over the summer and fall as part of a comprehensive review of the chamber's rules.




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