Maryland House offers mea culpa for locking out reporters

Patrick Semansky/AP - Members of the Maryland House of Delegates sit at their desks on the first day of the 2013 legislative session in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013.

This time, locking out reporters appeared to be an honest mistake.

Maryland’s House of Delegates unanimously approved two pieces of legislation on Thursday, as reporters and members of the public were locked outside the chamber.

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The bills — one making aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft a misdemeanor, and another classifying abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult as Medicaid fraud — likely wouldn’t have drawn headlines had the public been allowed to watch.

But that was not the case with reporters outside tweeting pictures of the chamber’s locked door and lines about it being a bad day for democracy.

Aides to House Speaker Michael E. Busch said the snafu appeared to be the result of a clerks’ attempt to multitask while not knowing the chamber was still locked for a lawmakers class picture.

It was unfortunate timing for Busch (D-Anne Arundel) who has come under fire from open government groups and some fellow lawmakers for choosing to hold a series of private hearings on gun-control.

In contrast to a public hearing in the state Senate that drew 1,000 people last week, Busch and 16 lawmakers key to the legislation’s fate in the House have been meeting daily in a conference room off limits to the public. The chamber does not hold it’s first public hearing on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) proposed gun-control legislation until March 1.

Alexandra M. Hughes, Busch’s deputy chief of staff, said neither the Speaker nor the clerks who began calling the bills realized the doors were still locked.

“It was an oversight on our part,” Hughes said. “The public and fourth estate should always have access to the proceedings on the floor of the House of Delegates.”

Reporters had been told to wait in the House lounge during the set-up for a panoramic photo shoot. They could still hear the vote taking place over an internal public address system, but some members of the public denied access to the visitors’ gallery had little knowledge of the vote.

 
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