A legislative conference committee formed to resolve millions of dollars in differences between House and Senate versions of the Maryland state budget voted unanimously tonight to exclude the public from its deliberations.
The vote came after several legislators charged that the meeting was closed in violation of the state's open meetings law. The six conference committee members will effectively decide such issues as whether $15 million in Medicaid funds and millions in other cuts will be made in the proposed budget of Gov. Harry Hughes.
"I think it's clear that the law has been violated," said State Sen. Howard Denis (R-Montgomery), who was ejected from the conference meeting along with more than a half-dozen reporters. "The budget is being considered here, and what is happening is an attempt to break faith with the people. The hypocrisy is so thick you could cut it with a knife."
House Appropriations Committee Chairman John Hargreaves (D-Caroline) moved to close the meeting "due to the negotiating aspects of resolving the budget differences." Senate Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Laurence Levitan (D-Montgomery) seconded the motion "because we are considering the budget." The four other committee members refused to state why they voted to close the meeting.