Observations and Reflections on Legislative Activities
By Delegate Mike McDermott
Feb. 7th-11th, 2011
• Monday evening just prior to the session was a meeting of the Tea Party Caucus. At that meeting, Del. Mike Smegiel (R-Cecil Co.) was voted Chairman and Del. Curt Anderson (D-Baltimore City) was voted Vice Chairman. It was agreed that the caucus would have the singular focus of fiscal restraint and holding the line on taxes.
• Following the quorum call, I faced off with another chess opponent in the Senate lounge. I continue to advance in the Chess Challenge with two rounds to go.
• Tuesday morning I dropped my first bill in the “hopper”. It is HB-594 and it calls for the top tier Child Sex Offenders to be monitored by GPS tracking technology. This bill is a true game changer on how we monitor the worst of the worst.
• A couple of bills I sponsored had hearings on Tuesday: HB-103 on Farm Vehicle Weight (Environmental Matters); HB-288 Voter Proof of Identity (Ways and Means). The hearings went well, and now they will wait and see if they get a scheduled vote in the committees.
• Tuesday the Judiciary Committee held 7 bill hearings:
1. HB-132: Would allow the Secretary of Public Safety and Correctional Services to appoint someone as “acting” Secretary in the event the Secretary was somehow not available.
2. HB-138: Would increase the penalty for the use of a cell phone by inmates in correctional facilities from a misdemeanor to a felony. It was a hard sell to the committee. Many asked about the cell phone jamming technology being made available.
3. HB-140: Would classify a particular compound as a “high explosive” and subject to permitting for sale and possession. This is the compound used by many for reactive practice targets on firing ranges. Several Fire Chiefs and State Fire Marshal’s spoke in support of the legislation as a potential homeland security threat. The compound is not linked to any nefarious issues or actions, this is seen by them as preemptive.
4. HB-149: Would require inmates at the Frederick County Adult Detention Center to pay certain fees to the county as a means of covering some of the cost of their incarceration. This included things such as medical/dental care. While some concern was raised about indigent inmates, the Warden indicated that many of these fees would be considered uncollectable and written off by the county.
5. HB-178: Would allow defendants in certain court cases to offer a “Conditional Guilty” plea preserving a right of appeal from Final Judgments. This involved several technical issues of the law and was batted around by the defense attorneys and a prosecutor who offered testimony against the need for the bill.
6. HB-189: Would place 10 synthetic cannabinoids (drugs which mimic the effects of marijuana) on the Maryland list of Controlled Dangerous Substances. There was some anecdotal evidence offered about instances where there has been abuse, but there were no documented cases offered. It was also pointed out that the DEA is preparing to place 5 of the 10 synthetics on a temporary list of controlled substances which would ban them in Maryland so long as they are banned federally. The committee members seem disposed to allow the federal government to perform due diligence in this arena and wait on their procedures.
7. HB-192: Would ban the sale of “novelty lighters” in the state. These are lighters which are packaged to resemble a caricature or appear like a child’s toy. The State Fire Marshal has expressed concern that these lighters are too attractive to children and could lead to serious situations. While no instances were offered regarding previous harm, this is seen as preemptive. This may be getting into a “nanny state” issue and it has not passed after previous attempts.
• Today there was a real stir among the Baltimore City Delegation as a couple of their members severely rebuked their Chairman, Del. Curt Anderson, for being a member of the Tea Party Caucus. They clearly told Anderson that he could not be a part of the caucus and be a leader in the Democrat Party. I suppose that holding the line on spending is simply not a value the Baltimore City Delegation shares. Del. Anderson reluctantly resigned from the Tea Party Caucus saying it was the only way he could retain his Chairmanship. This has created quite a stir in the House and caused rifts within the Democratic Caucus. From the looks of it, Del. Anderson quit the wrong Caucus.
• On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee conducted hearings of the following bills:
1. HB-134: Would allow the Department of Social Services to retain records of investigative action for a five year period even if the complaint is not sustained. Currently, the department expunges records at 120-days. There was a lot of concern raised on this bill. While testimony was offered by the agency that retaining records could serve to help folks wrongfully accused in future court actions, it was generally thought that the retention of these types of records could serve to prejudice a case worker in future cases even though the record was false or not sustained. I do not think this one is going anywhere.
2. HB-136: Would allow Temporary Protective Orders to be entered electronically by the courts. While this is a no brainer, these types of changes often require legislative change.
3. HB-169: Would create a “dangerous dog” definition statewide and provide for penalties if such a dog was involved in an incident or other attack. The committee quickly identified this as primarily a local issue where each county or municipal government already has laws in place to address these types of issues and events. It was suggested that these concerns would be better addressed at the local level and not through a statewide mandate.
4. HB-227: Would allow judges, as part of a sentence for Animal Cruelty, to prevent a convicted person from owning or otherwise possessing an animal (pet). There was concern expressed about the ability of the court to place a condition like this after any probation period expired (which is up to 5-years). It was suggested that this could be a proper sentence, but it would need to be a stand-alone law and not administered as a condition of one’s sentence.
• I attended my first hearing for HB-39 in the Ways and Means Committee. This bill will provide for Non-Profit Slots in Worcester County (they are allowed in all other counties on the shore). Del. Conway and I introduced the legislation and the committee also heard testimony from Jim Flag with the Ocean City Elks Lodge along with Sarge Garlitz with the American Legion. The committee asked a few questions and my discussions with some of the senior members indicated smooth sailing for this bill. From there, it will be up to the Senate and their first hearing on it is slated for next week.
• On Thursday afternoon, the entire Eastern Shore Delegation had the opportunity to meet with Governor O’Malley in the State House in the Governor’s Conference Room. It is a great historic room in which to meet. On one wall is a full portrait of Governor Tawes sitting in a chair. It was nice to think that a governor could come from the Eastern Shore, or at least did at one time.
The meeting was very cordial, and the governor was candid in response to the questions posed. He had a couple of staffers present to assist with any technical answers and to insure follow up was achieved. The primary focus was on the economy and quickly moved to the poultry industry. It seems that Acting Secretary Sommers with the Dept. of the Environment, and Secretary Hatch with Agriculture, have made many significant changes to get the ball rolling so chicken house construction will not be hindered as it has been in the past few years. Senator Colburn, and many of the delegates indicated how pleased they were with the new secretary and how responsive he has been to problem solving for agricultural concerns and development. This is good news for our farmers and it shows how often a change of leadership can make a difference.
The governor was excited to talk about all of the progress that has been made on the shore for Broadband technology, for which we are all very pleased; but there was a lot of discussion on his declared war on septic systems on the shore. The delegation believed his statements in his State of the State Address were very problematic for the shore. Sen. Pipkin told him plainly that he was putting billions of dollars in property value at risk by creating a moratorium on new septic systems for development. We believe that the current upgrades and new technology for septic systems will eliminate the issues of nitrogen leakage that the governor wants to address without eliminating growth potential and eroding property rights on the shore. Whether or not we made any inroads with the governor on this issue remains to be seen, but he knows we will be vigilant in protecting the rights of folks on the shore.
We discussed road funding for the shore specifically Rt. 404 and Rt. 113. We realize there is no money for these roadways to be completed in a timely manner. I have been floating the idea of creating a one way toll at the Delaware line for Rt. 404 and Rt. 113 as a means of allowing these projects to move forward immediately. The dedicated toll funding would insure the projects continued until completion and not be delayed. Minus this type of funding, these roads will remain congested and unsafe for our citizens. The governor seemed agreeable and we will be having this discussion over the coming months to determine if it is feasible.
• There was concern over the recent GPS tracking of some commercial fishing vessels on the Bay by Natural Resource Police. This has been a contentious issue during the past two weeks. While protecting the fisheries is important, the idea that “big brother” is watching everything was disconcerting to some at the table. The governor explained that radar would soon be up monitoring the Bay for surface vessels which would provide all the detection necessary to monitor the fisheries, namely the oyster beds. He agreed to review the actions taken by law enforcement with Secretary Griffin.
The governor seems willing to strike a balance when it comes to applying his environmental agenda to the Eastern Shore, but we have some philosophical differences on what government should be doing verses the private sector. I could see that he is perplexed by some of the resistance his policies have received. There may be some room to move forward in areas of conservation on which we could all agree. In particular is the area of wind turbines, and these discussions will continue.
• On Friday morning, hundreds of bills received their “First Reading” on the floor of the House. The deadline for introducing legislation without going through the Rules Committee was Thursday night. While there was quite a bit introduced, it does not appear to be the same volume in play last year.