“Is this America?” the father of school-aged children asked as he was forcefully removed from a was forcefully removed from a Baltimore County School District meeting during the question-and-answer portion of the forum.
The parent, Robert Small, concerned about the school district’s plan to use Common Core standards in its curriculum, dared to verbally question school board officials after being told they would only take written questions from the parents, the Baltimore Sun reported this week
“However, Small began speaking out against the district’s use of Common Core, prompting a security guard, who was also a police officer, to approach him and order him to leave,” the Sun reported. “’Let’s go!’ he said sternly.”
“When Small didn’t immediately comply, the officer began pulling his arm and pushing him towards the exit. Some audience members gasped at the cop’s use of force.
“’Don’t stand for this,’ the father said as he was dragged out. ‘You are sitting here like cattle! Is this America?’”
Elected officials everywhere do this
Elected officials are increasingly closing off the public, all across America. And this is evident on every level of government — even during the legislative committee process.
The California State Legislature requires the public be allowed to speak during the committee process when bills are being heard.
“When testifying before the committee, first state your name and the organization that you represent or indicate that you are a concerned citizen and state where you live,” the Senate rules say. “The members of the committee will be interested to hear what you have to say and usually do not grill individual citizens who testify in the same way that they do lobbyists. Keep your testimony short and to the point.”
But more and more, Democratic legislators in Sacramento deny citizens the right to speak. Instead they tell visitors to the Capitol to give their name and affiliation only, and do not allow testimony.
I frequently witness members of the public being denied the opportunity to speak at legislative committee hearings. Often people have traveled hundreds of miles just to address their Legislature and elected representatives. More and more they are denied the opportunity to even give a statement.
Several times during this most recent legislative session, committee chairmen/chairwomen lied about another committee needing the hearing room, and forced members of the public to only give their names instead of allowing even a short statement.
When members of the public are invited to speak before committees, testimony is often limited to two minutes, while the same committees allow favored special interest groups to ramble on, well beyond two minutes.
In August 2012, I witnessed a particularly egregious violation on the Bagley-Keene Act when Sen. Pres pro Tem Darrell Steinberg cut off access to the Capitol cable television program which was recording an important Senate hearing about four of the November 2012 ballot initiatives.
The California Channel, the cable television channel that broadcasts all Senate and Assembly floor sessions, and most legislative committee hearings, was apparently interrupted on orders from Steinberg. Just before the hearing was scheduled to start, a Senate staffer ordered the hearing access to be cut off. I wrote about it: “Steinberg offers weak apology over hearing blackout.”
The California Channel, the Capitol’s cable access television, recently cut off access to their video archive prior to 2009. In most cases, this is the only video archive of very important legislative hearings. I’ve made several inquiries to the California Channel asking for access to older videos, but have never received a response.
California’s Open Meeting Act
In 1967, the California Legislature passed the Open Meeting Act, called the Bagely-Keene Act, which requires all “state” boards and commissions to publicly notice their meetings, prepare agendas, accept public testimony and conduct their meetings in public unless specifically authorized to meet in closed session.
The California Attorney General’s office explains the Act:
“When the Legislature enacted the Bagley-Keene Act, it imposed still another value judgment on the governmental process. In effect, the Legislature said that when a body sits down to develop its consensus, there needs to be a seat at the table reserved for the public. (§ 11120.) By reserving this place for the public, the Legislature has provided the public with the ability to monitor and participate in the decision-making process. If the body were permitted to meet in secret, the public’s role in the decision-making process would be negated.”
“Therefore, absent a specific reason to keep the public out of the meeting, the public should be allowed to monitor and participate in the decision- making process.”
Parent arrested and charged
The State of Maryland also has an Open Meeting Act. But after being physically removed from the meeting by a cop, Mr. Small was charged with second-degree assault of a police officer, which carries a fine of $2,500 and up to 10 years in prison, and disturbing a school operation, which carries a fine of $2,500 and up to six months, the Baltimore Sun reported.
When the people are kept out of the legislative process, or prevented form participating in the school governing process, it is deliberate — especially under one-party rule, as is occurring in California under the Democratic supermajority.
Thomas Jefferson said, “When the people fear the government it is called tyranny. When the government fears the people there is liberty.”
And when the government has to listen to the people, there is liberty, freedom and a healthy Republic.
“Look, I am being manhandled and shut down because I asked inconvenient questions,” Small said. “Why won’t they allow an open forum where there can be a debate? We are told to sit there and be lectured to about how great common core is.”