Year two being planned

In 2013 I participated in a group which was a natural fit for me. Since I do the monoblogue Accountability Project on an annual basis, the fact that a group of volunteers took on the task of studying every bill which eminated from the “90 Days of Terror” – my pet name for the Maryland General Assembly session – was a task I felt right at home working on for Maryland Legislative Watch. I think I studied and commented on about 10 or 15 bills, although several volunteers did a lot more.

Well, I’m pleased to receive word from Elizabeth Myers that year two is in the works for 2014:

Thank you for everything you did in the 2013 legislative session. It takes a tireless, irate minority to keep an eye on the Maryland legislature – good government requires the People’s oversight.

Looking at the website statistics, we have tens of thousands of views to date. That means there is a lot of interest in the work we’re doing!

I hope you will be able to come back to volunteer again in the 2014 session. We’re more organized and more determined.

This project was put together in a short span of time for the 2013 session. We learned a lot and made some changes. For 2014, one change is more robust information storage.

In 2014, bills will be assigned via email. The request to read each bill will include:

  • Link to the bill
  • Title of the bill
  • Brief synopsis
  • Number of pages
  • Link to form with 3-4 questions to answer (plus any additional comments you wish to add)

You’ll be asked to let us know if you cannot read the bill (if you can, we ask that you read it within a few days). The whole process should take 5 – 10 minutes per bill and we ask that you commit to reading at least 15 bills during the session.

No Google account will be required. No more searching a Google doc for your name.

In the 2013 session, we found that 1,500 bills were introduced in 2 weeks – this is a function of the calendar and will happen in 2014, too. They turn on the fire hose and we will try our best to miss fewer bad bills.

We are presenting the project to groups in Washington, Harford, Cecil, Carroll, Howard, and Baltimore Counties, in an effort to get Maryland Legislative Watch a wider readership. We’re gaining more followers on social media and lots of subscribers to Please tell your friends and family about the project!

What we learned in 2013:

  • Once a bill gets out of committee, it passes. Bills must be fought IN committee.
  • It takes relatively few people to make an impact on a committee – 15 or so.
  • There is little opposition to bills once they get to the floor – in the House, 75% passed unanimously.
  • We will not win on big bills, we can have an impact only on small bills and build.

Please let us know if you can volunteer again in 2014. We’ll be thrilled to have you back!

Questions/comments – please let me know.

By my count, there were 2,619 bills introduced in the Maryland General Assembly last year; however, in reality the number of separate measures is somewhat smaller because a percentage of the bills are crossfiled between bodies. Those bills are introduced as identical copies in both the House and the Senate, and are assigned bill numbers in each which rarely match. (For example, the gun bill was Senate Bill 281 and its companion House bill was introduced as House Bill 294.) This shaves the number down to a large extent, although not in half as one may gather.

One other thing I seem to recall being done as part of the triage from the deluge of bills was ignoring the “creation of a state debt” bond bills. That also makes up a significant fraction of the proposed legislation, although by themselves the bills are rarely acted upon. Normally these are just considered as requests for funding in the portion of the budget reserved for such bills.

When you boil all these out you are talking about perhaps 1,200 to 1,500 bills of significance. If each person commits to reading 15, that means we need 80 to 100 volunteers. (This would be most useful around the early part of the session in January, when much of the legislation is introduced in the hopes of getting hearings scheduled fairly early on.) In fact, a number of bills are pre-filed for introduction on the opening day of the session and, according to the General Assembly website, these will be available in late December – so some can get a jump.

The frenetic pace of the session in the early going sometimes seems to be the hiding place for bills which are destined to be controversial – seemingly sponsors figure it’s like Obamacare and if it can just be passed we will find out what’s in it once it takes effect. Maryland Legislative Watch intends to shine a light on the process and keep bad bills from becoming law.

Additional reading: last April, just after the 2013 session concluded, I interviewed Elizabeth on the group and its intentions. I’m looking forward to adding my perspective this coming year as well. You can check out their website as well, or contact Elizabeth.

Announcing: the 2013 monoblogue Accountability Project

For the sixth consecutive year, covering sessions since 2007, I have completed my annual guide to the voting record on key issues from the 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly.

There will also be the sidebar link I maintain for future reference.

This guide not only features the General Assembly’s voting records on specific votes in graphical form for easy comparison, but also my take on the bills they voted on this year. Some of the key votes I cover are those on the state’s budget, early voting, and offshore wind, as well as those where foes attempted to petition them to referendum – the (so-called) Firearms Safety Act of 2013, and the death penalty repeal.

I began this project in 2008 as a continuation of the former Maryland Accountability Project, which was a similar attempt to catalogue legislators’ votes that ended with the 2006 session. (Here is a cached version of its website, which is no longer active.) Over the last seven legislative years I have focused on well over 200 votes by the General Assembly. Once committee votes became publicly accessible in 2010 I began adding those as well, giving me a total close to 400 separate tallies over the life of the mAP. This year I looked at 52 separate votes – 22 floor votes and 30 committee votes, or three from each of the ten voting committees in the General Assembly.

So what can you do with the information?

Well, while the mAP is by its nature reactive because it documents events which occurred in the recent past, we can learn from history. While I can count the number of legislators who have attained a perfect 100 percent rating in any given year’s legislative session(s) on one hand, the sad truth is that Maryland has far too many who score 10 percent or less year after year cluttering up the General Assembly. Our job is to learn who they are, find quality opponents for them, and most importantly educate the voters of that district why their legislators are voting against the interests of the people in the district. That’s why the bulk of the mAP is a summary of why I, as someone who favors liberty, would vote in the way I denote in the report.

On the other hand, there is a group I consider the Legislative All-Stars, those who score 90 percent or above or at least lead their legislative body if none reach 90 percent. (Sadly, this has happened on occasion.) If the Maryland General Assembly had those legislators as a working majority we could vastly improve our state’s lot in life.

It’s particularly important that this year’s edition came out early and was indeed a fortunate break that no Special Sessions are anticipated for the remainder of the year. There’s still a little time to get together a campaign against some of these entrenched incumbents of both parties who seem to have lost their way. Many of them will be leaving on their own, but newcomers who would be high scorers on this chart are encouraged to get involved.

Before I conclude, I want to point out that there is a relatively new accountability project which perfectly complements the idea of this one by working during the legislative session. Elizabeth Myers (who I have interviewed before for TQT) runs Maryland Legislative Watch, which works during session to determine the merits of each bill and works to keep bad ones from ever getting out of committee. With over 2,500 bills introduced last session, dozens of volunteers are needed to keep track of them all, grade them on pro-liberty merits, and keep the heat on legislators in stopping violations of liberty from proceeding.

Moreover, they actually just completed yesterday a far larger voting compilation which has every single vote – for example, my legislator’s chart runs 91 pages. It may seem like competition but we actually work together in the respect that MLW provides a lot of raw data and I give context on key issues. The Maryland Legislative Watch data is also useful for showing just how many votes are unanimous and how much of the legislature’s time is devoted to local issues; these are the ones which incumbents generally point with pride at bringing home the bacon.

You can judge for yourselves whether legislators vote the correct way on the issues I present. I simply provide this service to Marylanders as a way of being more aware of how the sausage grinding in Annapolis turned out this year.

Methinks there was something rotten in the state of Maryland, now known as the “Fee State.”

Ten Question Tuesday – April 9, 2013

I gave her somewhat short notice, but this week’s guest came through like the trooper she is and provided me with an enlightening TQT chapter. She’s Elizabeth Myers of MD Legislative Watch, a group I was happy to do a little volunteer work for during the recently-completed General Assembly session. I had the pleasure of meeting her at MDCAN in January as well.


monoblogue: My interviewee today is Elizabeth Myers of MD Legislative Watch, a group which tried to make sense of this year’s General Assembly session. I believe this is the first year you have undertaken this venture, is that correct? What have you learned from the experience?

Myers: Yes, this is the first year (and) I learned quite a bit. First, this year before an election year saw the oppression of liberties and extraction of wealth from the people of Maryland at its peak. Of course, having a governor with eyes on the White House does not help matters and likely made this session one of the worst.

Second, I learned that some politicians respond to being called out publicly for not responding to e-mails.

Third, Assembly members don’t have consistent answers on how bond bills get into the budget – one Delegate voted for the operating budget because she wanted a “bond bill” for a pet project – these “bond bills” are in the capital budget, though. Bond bills in Maryland are similar to earmarks at the federal level. In order for one to find out how his or her Delegate voted on bond bills, one must hound the Delegate and county delegation chair since the delegations meet to prioritize the bond bill requests; that prioritization list is sent on for inclusion in the capital budget. While a Delegate may vote against the capital budget, (the question is) did he/she vote for the prioritization list?

Most Assembly members don’t receive emails from the people on bills that don’t make the news. For instance, many people sent emails about the proposed regulation of process servers, a bill which may have forced some of the smaller firms out of the industry. Delegate Smigiel said that when committee members receive a dozen or so emails about a bill, they start asking questions and pay attention. Emailing the committees is a very powerful and easy method of participating in and influencing the legislative process – once the bills are on the floor, it’s very hard to kill them.

Finally, it was confirmed that often, the rhetoric of most Republicans doesn’t match their actions – they vote for bills that increase the size and scope of government. Voting for bills that increase the size and scope of government, yet voting against the operating budget, is disingenuous. In Maryland, Republicans can vote their conscience – if the vote is to increase the size and scope of government, that is his or her conscience.

monoblogue: Having worked as part of the MDLW team and read a few of the bills, ones to which I was assigned, I know you tried to approach this from a pro-liberty perspective. How would you define your philosophy on this for my readers?

Myers: My perspective in this project is one of a Constitutionalist. We, the people, confer select powers to the government. We retain the rest. From the Maryland Declaration of Rights, Article 45: “This enumeration of Rights shall not be construed to impair or deny others retained by the People.”

I highly recommend the Institute on the Constitution – they teach courses on the U.S. and Maryland Constitutions and the proper role of the jury. The Maryland Constitution and the U.S. Constitution are not perfect documents, which is why both of them leave room for amendment.

monoblogue: And where did you get the idea to do such a study in Maryland? Was it based on something done in another state, or did you just decide to start this because you were fed up with the process?

Myers: Pure “fed up.” I got an email on October 1 about all of the new laws that were in effect that day and the idea was born. Originally, the idea was to recruit some volunteers to read legislation and alert those with mailing lists – when no one with a mailing list responded, the website was started.

I’ve long said that while most citizens are focused on one or two stories, few are watching what the other hand is doing. That is the focus of MLW – show the other bills that affect most Marylanders and extract our wealth, oppress our natural rights, or both. Tyranny does not typically march in wearing stormtrooper uniforms; tyranny creeps and creeps until it’s accepted as normal. We can’t fight some of the big stuff but we can fight much of the creeping tyranny – it’s the only way to reverse the tide.

monoblogue: I also noticed you did a triage of sorts on the bills, immediately eliminating the bond bills, for example. But what was the most egregiously bad bill to be introduced in this session? And what was the worst one which passed?

Myers: The easy answer is SB281 – begging government to exercise an inalienable, God-given right. However, more telling was HB1499, the Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2013. This act decreased transparency in candidate campaign finance reporting and enabled public campaign financing at the county level. This act was approved unanimously by the House of Delegates and only two Senators voted against it.

On the triage, that was born out of necessity – 1,500 bills were introduced in 2 weeks. There is no way I could ask people to read all of those in a short period of time, so I prioritized bills. This project was in its first year so I flew by the seat of my pants.

monoblogue: I also noticed you were a staple on local radio programs, such as Doug Gill’s WBAL show on Friday nights. Did you see the media as helpful to the cause?

Myers: Doug was exceptionally supportive and I’m so grateful for his time and the opportunity. As the Maryland Statehouse Examiner, Doug’s been fighting this fight for many years and he wanted to shed light on the legislation in Annapolis. By doing so, my website stats on Friday were better than those from most of the week. The aim of the project and my time on Doug’s show was to alert people to the legislation that might otherwise fly under the radar. Bills that increase regulations and fees on small businesses, bills that oppress liberties, and the few bills that reiterate our rights and interpose on unconstitutional federal legislation (e.g. anti-indefinite detention and anti-drone).

Through the session, it’s estimated that the website facilitated 15,000 – 22,000 emails to committee members about legislation. Many Assembly members complained about the volume of emails they received. I hope we were a good part of that.

monoblogue: Finally, now that the session is just about over, to where will you turn your activist energies during the next few months? And can we expect MD Legislative Watch 2.0, the sequel, next year?

Myers: I will continue the project. I and a few friends will meet, discuss lessons learned, how we can improve and automate things, and we’ll be back stronger next year. I’m undecided on my activist energies for the coming months but it is likely they will be directed at a more local level.

monoblogue: I appreciate the time, particularly since I gave you such short notice. Thanks, and I hope this keeps you in mind for new volunteers next year.

Myers: Michael, I appreciate your activism and very much appreciate your volunteer time on and promotion of the (MDLW) project. Your monoblogue Accountability Project is wonderful; at a minimum, this is something that all Marylanders should read before they vote.


Obviously my goal in doing the mAP was for voters to learn how their legislators represented them and soon I will start working on the 2013 version. But speaking of seat of the pants, I haven’t nailed down my guest for next week. Be assured I’m working on him.