Captioning Mandate Held Again


ANNAPOLIS (Feb. 05, 2010) - Despite changes designed to alleviate bar-restaurant concerns, a bill requiring closed-captions to be displayed on televisions in public places was held up in committee Thursday.

The bill, which originally said all public television sets would have to display captions at all times, was amended in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to say only one TV in each public area would need captioning. The change was made after bar and restaurant owners dependent on sports programming said they might lose business if they had to display captioning.

But lawmakers still uncertain about the bill decided they were not ready to vote.

The bill also says additional requests for captioning by the public must be met.

Maryland's Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing requested the bill after their constituents complained they were not always being accommodated in public places.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, R-Harford, is supportive of what the bill could do for people with a hearing impairment, but voted to hold the bill again.

"I personally think this is just another government intrusion in the way to run a business," Jacobs said. "But at the same time I totally understand where they are coming from."

Jacobs said captions for play-by-play commentary would obviously benefit someone who can't hear, and she said she believes business owners should already be willing to accommodate the hearing impaired upon request.

"I think there is a compromise to be struck rather than requiring businesses to do something that could cost them more," Jacobs said after the hearing.

Mark Srour owns Cornerstone Grill in College Park, a sports bar that uses ESPN and similar sports networks to generate business. He says closed captioning is usually on at least one of his televisions, but not all of them.

"I don't know how much it will hurt us at this point," Srour said. "But it definitely won't help us."

Sen. Lisa Gladden, D-Baltimore, is vice-chairwoman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Gladden favored the bill even before its added amendments, saying it would fully include the deaf community.

"Sometimes technology hurts us and sometimes it helps us. I believe this is one of the times it helps us," Gladden said. "I hear the committee's concerns but I think they're just minor."

Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, wants to accommodate deaf people, but not at the expense of small businesses.

"We certainly want to reach out to the hearing impaired and I will support it," Simonaire said, "but I'm trying to come in at a balanced standpoint."

After the bill's hearing on Jan. 20, Simonaire said he thought it would pass with amendments. Both amendments suggested by committee members were on the revised bill, but members still voted to hold it.

"If there is no reason to have (captions) on because nobody actually needs it at the time, why have a state law that says you must have it on," Simonaire said.

Maryland's Office of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing is willing to work with legislators to get the bill passed.

"My hope is that we would be able to come to some sort of agreement," Director Lisa Kornberg said.

Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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