The sign outside the House Economic Matters Committee says reporters must get permission to film or tape committee proceedings.
But an attorney assigned to the Maryland General Assembly said the "poorly worded" sign, which was not outside the other five House committee meeting rooms, reflects a legal limitation and is not an attempt to circumvent the state Open Meetings Act.
"It's legal but poorly worded," said Dan Friedman, a lawyer in the Maryland Attorney General's office who is assigned as counsel to the Maryland House and Senate.
State law requires that committees hold open public meetings and allow the public to photograph, record or video the proceedings as long as the methods are unobtrusive. The state Open Meetings Act does not distinguish between the public and the news media and grants reporters no special privileges.
Friedman said members of the press, particularly photographers and television cameras, are given access to areas of the hearing room that are off limits to the general public. The sign was meant to make that process more orderly and allow committee staff the opportunity to plan for such coverage.
"This is a reasonable time, place, and manner restriction and not an illegal prior restraint," Friedman said.
I pointed out that the sign could have a chilling effect on the public who might wish to record or photograph a meeting they attend.
In 2006, Deborah Belcher was ordered by a Maryland State Police trooper to stop recording the voting session of the House Judiciary Committee as it took up the issue of a constitutional amendment that would have limited the definition of marriage to men and women. Belcher is the sister of Del. Don Dwyer.
The Open Meetings Compliance Board later found that the committee had the right to have a policy regarding the recording of meetings, but that preventing Belcher from videotaping the hearing violated the state Open Meetings Act.
It appears this issue will have a faster resolution.
Friedman said late Thursday afternoon that the poorly worded sign would be replaced in the next day or two with a more accurately worded one.