New laws passed by the
State lawmakers said public officials have been able to flout the rules without significant consequences.
"It has no enforcement whatsoever," said Del. Dan Morhaim, a
Maryland's public officials are barred from conducting public business behind closed doors, but the penalties for doing so in the past have been a rarely levied fine and a written notice that Morhaim said was often ignored.
The bill came out of a series of hearings this summer, during which a committee of state lawmakers found that sometimes officials take a written advisory about violations from the Open Meetings Compliance Board and "just throw it away."
Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Gov.
The measure would increase fines for breaking the open-meetings law from $100 to $250. It would also require a public body to announce at its next meeting that the compliance board found it had broken the law. Each member of the group that violated the law would have to sign a statement acknowledging the misconduct.
Morhaim said he drafted the legislation before two Maryland institutions were separately accused last year of holding illegal meetings.
In one incident, the
A Morgan spokesman has said school officials do not believe the vote violated the law. University System of Maryland officials acknowledged the breach but said that the group was "confused" and "overlooked" the law.
Those cases "drew a lot of attention to the fact that there are no teeth to our open-meetings laws," said Common Cause Maryland's executive director, Jennifer Bevan-Dangel.
Another bill passed by the legislature would require public officials to be trained on how to follow the open-meetings law.
That measure, introduced by Republican Del. Anthony O'Donnell, was praised by Common Cause and other watchdog groups.
"If citizens can't see the decisions that are made, they can't hold their elected officials accountable," Bevan-Dangel said. "And then voters can't make educated decisions at the polls if they don't know what their elected officials are doing."