COLUMBIA, Md. (March 17, 2017)—Starting next year live C-Span style deliberations of the Maryland House and Senate could be televised and live streamed during the last two weeks of each session, under a provision in a bill to support Maryland Public Television should Congress cut funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as President Trump has proposed.
The bill, SB1034, cleared the Senate 47-0 on Thursday and now heads to the House of Delegates for a vote.
The measure would mandate the administration fill any shortfalls in grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and provide additional state funds when general fund revenues grow.
The bill also provides for the administration to include up to $500,000 annually to televise and live stream deliberations of each chamber during the last two weeks of each session, not a mandate under the bill but merely expresses "the intent of the General Assembly" to be more transparent.
State expenditures total $14.5 million through fiscal 2022 ( mgaleg.maryland.gov/2017RS/fnotes/bil_0004/sb1034.pdf ).
Larry Unger, president and CEO of Maryland Public Television, told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee last week that potential cuts in annual grants from CPB are a serious threat to MPT's future.
"As you are aware from recent news reports there has been conversation on the national level about defunding CPB," Unger said at the bill's hearing on March 8. "The loss of CPB's community service grant to Maryland Public Television would be crippling."
"The bill ensures that Marylanders will not lose their MPT service no matter what happens in Washington, D.C.," he said.
Before passage in the Senate, Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll, tried to postpone a final vote with a motion to bring the bill back to floor debate with an amendment to broadcast floor deliberations during the entire 90-day session.
The motion failed 32-15.
The bill sponsor, Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, and Budget and Tax Chair Ed Kasemeyer both said there was not enough money in the budget to broadcast an entire session. King said the additional coverage would cost $2 million.
"Were in the process of trying to get a budget wrapped up," King said. "There just isn't money to put that in the budget."
Ready's amendment mirrored parts of The Legislative Transparency Act of 2017 ( mgaleg.maryland.gov/webmga/frmMain.aspx?pid=billpage&stab=03&id=hb0438&tab=subject3&ys=2017RS ) offered by Gov. Larry Hogan at the start of the session ( marylandreporter.com/2017/01/19/hogan-proposes-ethics-reform-more-openness-for-legislature/ ).
The governor's proposal and King's bill are fundamentally different. Hogan's bill would provide live streaming and archiving of legislative sessions over the Internet using low-definition equipment similar to what is currently used to stream Senate and House committee hearings.
This would be far less expensive and more comprehensive than a broadcast television production.
Currently only audio streaming is available during the session.