Sunday, April 10, 2011

Legislative Updates By Delegate Mike McDermott

  • Field Notes
  • Observations and Reflections on Legislative Activities
  • By Delegate Mike McDermott
March 4th-April 9th, 2011
  • The debate and voting on Second Reader Amendments for the Capital Budget, HB-71, was largely partisan with a few exceptions on the Democrat side of the aisle. This is the nearly billion dollar bill addressing a myriad of statewide projects from the tens of millions to the tens of thousands. The budget office with the Department of Legislative Services had recommended a reduction of overall spending down to $825 million, but this bill comes in at $925 million. The following amendments were offered on the floor following debate:
  1. HB 71: (Delegate McDermott) {613721/1 Rejected (42-92): Would have reduced the overall Capital Budget by 5%
  2. Floor Amendment (Delegate Boteler) {253627/1 Rejected (43-95): Would have reduced the overall Capital Budget by 3%
  3. Floor Amendment (Delegate George) {143321/1 Rejected (45-93): Would have reduced the overall Capital Budget by a mere 1%
  4. Floor Amendment (Delegate Smigiel) {803720/1 Rejected (41-97): Would have stripped the $15 million in local bond bills from the Capital Budget in recognition of the Tea Party Caucus and Republican Caucus position taken at the beginning of session relative to spending.
  • The House debated HB-173, the Invest Maryland Bill, which seeks to create a $100 million dollar fund overseen by the Governor and his appointed committee. The fund is to be used as “venture capital” to invest in companies that would find private investors reluctant to take the risk. There was a lot of debate over the need to create such a fund. Some have referred to it as “the Governor’s slush fund” as it will allow him to “pick the winners” and move money to various companies and projects that he favors or those that are deemed “politically correct”. One must ask the question…if the private sector is not willing to put their capital at risk, why should the taxpayer take that risk? This is what happens in government…many willing to spend and risk OPM (Other People’s Money). After all, if you lose the money and the venture fails, where are those who will complain?
  • On Tuesday afternoon, the Judiciary Committee heard the following Senate bills which had no matching bill in the House:
  1. SB-50: Would allow the use of Victim’s Compensation Funds for the temporary lodging of victims of domestic violence.
  2. SB-51: Would not allow for convicted felons to receive any compensation as a “victim” under the Victim’s Compensation Fund. We heard testimony that seemed to indicate that there would soon be audit revelations reflecting poorly on the process by which some individuals have been compensated.
  3. SB-138: Would allow certain records to be introduced at trial for motor vehicle accident damage repair estimates. This would eliminate the need that a body shop estimator is required to come to court and testify as to their opinion or how they arrived at the estimate.
  4. SB-142: Would require an insurance firm to provide last known address of a customer who is a defendant in a civil case if the information has not otherwise been provided.
  5. SB-200: Requires the reporting of Juvenile Recidivism rates from state facilities that serve the Juvenile Justice System. This data has not been collected and there is no way to properly evaluate certain program areas as to their effectiveness.
  6. SB-515: Sets the Federal Poverty Guidelines as the bar for determining eligibility of the services of the Public Defender. This would automatically provide a determination that someone qualified for the use of a Public Defender.
The committee voted “Favorable” on the following bills:
SB-599 (Requires pre litigation discovery of certain insurance coverage); SB-803 (The Senate version of the House bill increasing the use of ignition interlock systems in Maryland).
  • On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted “Favorable” on the following bills:
SB-308 (Medical Marijuana); SB-139 (Changes grounds for an Absolute Divorce/reduces time of separation); SB-200 (Requires the Dept. of Juvenile Services to issue a report on the current recidivism rate in state run facilities); SB-374 (A technical change to the law governing Grand Jury Investigations in Baltimore City); SB-696 (A bill addressing technical changes to Estate and Trustee property law); SB-787 (Would require Juvenile Justice to provide similar programs for female detainees as they provide for males); SB-803 (This bill is now amended to resemble HB-1012 and addresses the new mandates for ignition interlock programs dealing with drunk drivers).
  • On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted “Favorable” on the following bills:
SB-196 (Increases the Statute of Limitations on 4th Degree Sex Offenses when the victim is a juvenile); SB-281 (Would require Prince George County Orphans Court Judges to be members of the MD bar); SB-327 (The Human Trafficking Protection Act); SB-515 (Changes the income eligibility requirements to qualify for a Public Defender); SB-747 (Creates a provision to address cruelty toward a pet in domestic violence cases).
  • Friday, while many Senate bills moved through the House, the big debate was on HB-470 which provides in-state tuition rates for illegal aliens. This will cost the state tens of millions of dollars and will make it more difficult for American citizens from neighboring states to attend our colleges and universities. It was interesting that none of the supporters disagreed with the cost associated with providing these reduced rates. We heard many argue in favor of the bill while using legal immigrants as their back drop. It truly was an outrage when one considers the time and effort a legal immigrant to our country must invest to become a resident alien, let alone a US citizen.

We heard that the discussion should not be about immigration, but “about education”. It should have been a debate about the rule of law and the cost of these benefits. By way of example, Montgomery County (that bastion of liberalism) has illegally offered these benefits at their community college for the past three years at a cost of millions in taxpayer dollars. It is a Federal offense to do what Montgomery County is doing in Maryland (and it is currently being litigated). There were amendments offered which would have limited the fiscal impact on our budget and to allow counties to opt out of providing this benefit at community colleges. All of these were resisted by the ruling party. This bill was amended on the floor and must be sent to the Senate before it can be finalized. The vote was close at 74-66.
  • On Saturday, we faced another full day of bills moving back and forth between the House and Senate. The Senate pulled a fast one on the Medical Marijuana bill, SB-308, which had been amended to simply be a study. The senate amended the bill to include an “Affirmative Defense” for those who are caught in possession of 1-ounce or less of marijuana so they can avoid prosecution if they can provide evidence that they were using marijuana for medicinal reasons. I tried to amend this in Committee when it came back over to place the “affirmative defense” issue in the study as well, but this was rejected on a divided vote. This would have been a better approach as the study is set to provide many answers for the 2012 session, but many in the General Assembly seem intent on putting the cart before the horse. (Later during the late Saturday session, the bill was passed by the House on a vote of 82-54 after several amendments failed).

We took a break for the printing office to get cranked up and the arms to be twisted in the Democratic Caucus before coming back into session after 5pm. The dreaded tax on alcohol has been forced to the floor out of Ways and Means and we will be debating fiercely the merits of raising a tax by 50% on the consumers of Maryland. Alcohol is currently taxed at 6% above the 6% Retail Sales Tax already imposed. They want to raise the 6% to 9% immediately.

The Fiscal Note attached to this bill shows job losses in the industry if it is passed and a loss of revenues from diminished sales in the state. This is typical of any tax passed. In fact, if you want less of something, just tax it. The secondary issue of this tax is where the new found money will go. The budget was approved by the House without the additional revenue and there is no need to pass this tax in order to balance the budget; but this will not stop them from forcing through a tax in order to garner more spoil for Baltimore City, Prince Georges County, and Montgomery Counties. The hands are outstretched and there is a line outside the Speaker’s door a mile long.

To say this is disgusting is putting it mildly. This tax was being pushed for during session by the developmentally disabled and Mental Health lobby. They wanted the money to be directly assigned to filling the gaping holes in the Mental Health community created over the past few budget cycles by transfers, etc. I passed these folks and heard them in the Lawyer’s Mall shouting loudly, “Dime a drink, with a link” as they demanded an increased alcohol tax. So now it appears they will get a tax with little, if any, relief.

I’m sure we will be here till late tonight (Saturday). Take a deep breath Eastern Shore; Monday (Sine Die) will not be pretty fiscally or socially.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

On this last day of the 2011 MD General Assembly session all I can say is Good Luck Del McDermott. You are in for a long night.