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It all started with an email from a state legislator.
“I got an email from one of my delegates listing a bunch of new laws taking effect, and it made me mad.”
Elizabeth Myers wasn’t going to stand by and do nothing. To help citizens voice their opinions on legislation in her home state of Maryland, she started Maryland Legislative Watch, which is entering its second legislative session.
“I started off doing some research on the legislature,” Elizabeth said. “My ultimate goal is for people to see what is going on under the radar and do something about it.”
She believes more people need to take an active role in monitoring their government.
“It can be effective if enough people do it,” she told me. “All I really ask is for people to go to the website, and on each post is a little picture of an email icon. After they read the bill, they can click on it and email the committee members and let them know how they feel.”
Jackie Moreau, the Managing Editor of Watchdog Wire, was impressed.
“When I first met Elizabeth Myers, I asked her about who was behind Maryland Legislative Watch,” Jackie said. “I was shocked when she told me that it was the work of her and a bunch of passionate volunteers. She was very upfront when she explained ‘It’s not an organization, it’s just a website.'”
Elizabeth joined Watchdog Wire in April of 2013. Her first story was about Republicans in the state legislature and whether their rhetoric matched reality.
Since then, she’s written on a whole host of state and local issues. If Elizabeth sees something that isn’t quite right, she’s probably going to write about it. That made her the perfect recruit for Watchdog Wire, according to our Maryland editor, Mark Newgent.
“Elizabeth is wonderful to work with, and she has demonstrated a keen eye for issues beyond tracking legislation, like keeping an eye on the state’s troubled speed camera vendors,” he said.
“You want to know how a legislator voted on bill, you can go to her site and find it pretty quickly,” Mark said. “That is a valuable tool for watchdogs. There are a lot of folks in Annapolis who aren’t happy about Maryland Legislative Watch–and that’s a good thing.”
New Laws Mean New Stories
It was an email about new laws that inspired Elizabeth to start her own legislative watchdog cause. That passion also spawned two stories (one from June and one more recent from September) explaining some of the more troubling laws taking effect.
“The one that disturbed me the most is the Charles County code inspectors,” Elizabeth said. “The commissioners of Charles County may now abate a violation to the building code.”
So what does that mean for the average citizen?
“If you are dealing with a code inspector and they find a violation, these people can now abate a violation of the code,” she explained. “That means the municipal code will hire someone to fix the violation and bill you.”
County SWATs at FOIA Request
When Elizabeth first heard about the costs of SWAT raids going on in her community, she decided to investigate. She filed a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request with her local government, Anne Arundel County.
The county denied much of her request, but still charged her $20.
“The bulk of my request was info that already had to submit to an agency,” she explained. “They charged 20 bucks for a letter.”
That letter explained why they would not be processing her full request and gave her unhelpful answers to her initial request.
“My husband had to physically go pick it up,” Elizabeth said. “He didn’t get a welcoming feeling. The fact that he paid $20 for one page of somewhat answered questions was, of course, not giving us the feeling of protecting and serving.”
If you are considering an open records request or FOIA, Elizabeth has some advice.
“If you have a problem with a FOIA, try whoever is head of the municipal corporation. You might be pleasantly surprised.”
Speed Cameras, the Faceless Accuser
Most recently, Elizabeth wrote about speed cameras in Maryland. This may be an issue in your community, because many municipalities are using them to bring in revenue.
The contractors who run the cameras are paid on a per-ticket basis, which Elizabeth says opens the system up to abuse.
“Since camera constrictors are paid by the ticket, why should they be honest about their calibration?” she asked. “There is too much temptation there to be lax.”
In her report, Elizabeth examined the problems facing one of those contractors. But the biggest problem of all is for citizens who face tickets that can be difficult to challenge.
“With speed cameras, you can’t face your accuser,” Elizabeth said.
That puts speed cameras directly up against our founding principles.
“The purpose of civil government is to protect our liberty,” she said. “We need to get back to basics where people understand you have your rights, and the purpose of civil government is to protect those.”
And she has advice for citizens who want to make a difference, whatever the issue may be:
“Do what floats your boat. Do something that makes you feel like you are making a difference or could make a difference. Just do what appeals to you.”
Maryland’s legislative session is happening now. Use Maryland Legislative Watch as a resource in your reporting.
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