Observations and Reflections on Legislative Activities
By Delegate Mike McDermott
- The session opened on Monday evening with a presentation by Delegate Shawn Tarrant reflecting on the life and legacy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The delegate offered some interesting insights reflecting on many struggles and triumphs by African-American Marylanders.
- On Tuesday, the committee heard from the Chief Judge Ben Clyburn of Maryland’s District Court system concerning the digitalization of court records. He first reviewed the success of implementing the E-Ticket system (computer generated traffic tickets) which is now utilized on over 50% of all tickets issued. Concerning the coming consolidations and changes, there were many questions regarding some of the operational details which they were not prepared to answer, but the dialogue was helpful. It was suggested that the working committee overseeing the changes for the district courts should include representation from the Judiciary Committee. This was resisted by the Chief Judge as a separation of powers issue. The problem is the District Court is spending money and making decisions about future expenses without input from legislators who will be the ones deciding on funding. Without legislative approval, a lot of tax dollars are at risk of being wasted by a committee preparing for change that may not be fully funded. It was a good example of a failure to partner by government entities which could create significant problems in the future.
- On Wednesday, I met with a representative of the License Beverage Holders to discuss their recommended changes to the wholesale operations of the Worcester County Liquor Control Board. They had made a presentation to the Worcester County Commissioners on Tuesday. I am waiting to hear back from the commissioners regarding their thoughts on the operations of the LCB before crafting any legislation.
- On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee received a report from the Chairman of the Parole Commission, David Blumburg, regarding their activities in the past year. Also present in the audience for the review were several wardens and other local correctional service staff from across Maryland. There was much debate over the effectiveness of the Parole Commission in meeting the needs of the local correctional facilities. In fact, at times, members of the Committee had to referee between those speaking to the Committee and those in the audience.
- Two discussion items stood out: first, it was reported to us that inmates receiving “Good Time” Credits had a higher recidivism rate that than those who served out more of their sentence. I found this interesting considering that we are rewarding inmates for behaving by letting them go early, only to have them offend again. I was not the only delegate thinking that perhaps we should consider eliminating these credits.
- The second issue was the cost of parole monitoring. This cost is suppose to be paid in full by the inmate during his parole/probation time. I was surprised to learn that the Commission Chairman provides a waiver of these fees whenever he is asked to do so; and, further, if the inmate does not pay the fees (Rule 10 of their parole/probation requirements), the Commission does not violate them nor does it require them to make the payments. I found this outrageous and I advised the Chairman that I expected him to fully collect all monies owed to the State of Maryland by any inmate being given the privilege of parole/probation. It is interesting to note that the Governor’s Budget for this year includes a 4 million dollar increase in the fees charged for Parole and Probation Supervision by the state. Sounds like the governor may want to have a sit down with his Parole Commission Chairman before he counts on any money from these guys!
- In my comments for this past week, I would be remiss if I did not mention an incident which occurred on the floor of the House during the Thursday morning session. One of our Baltimore County Delegates stood and gave a somber tribute to a Baltimore County Fireman, Mark Falkenhan, killed in the line of duty the previous day. The two were very good friends and it was a very heavy, emotional moment in the House. I had stood up to introduce my family and was recognized by the Speaker immediately after this somber moment. I felt compelled to ask the Speaker for permission to pray for the Firefighters family and our colleague who was in mourning. This request was denied based upon some bizarre sense of House protocols that made even less sense once they were explained. I then requested a simple moment of silence. This too was rejected. It seems in the peoples House, a prayer can be said to start the meeting, but we will not do so at any other time. Fortunately, several delegates came over after the session was adjourned and we prayed together for the Firefighters family and our colleague. I received many comments from veteran and freshman delegates alike later in the day indicating that they thought I had done the right thing and they thought it quite strange that my request was not allowed.
I understand protocol, and I respect the Speaker, but I think this unwritten rule is not in the best interest of the House or the people of Maryland. If anything, we need more prayer on the floor of the people’s House.