Observations and Reflections on Legislative Activities
By Delegate Mike McDermott
Week 6 February 13-17, 2012
Lincoln Day Speech, Monday Session
I was honored to be chosen by our leadership to give the Lincoln Day Address to the House of Delegates. There were several special guests in the House that night including my wife, Laura, and also the governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad. I spoke on the re-adoption of the principles of the Declaration of Independence as the motivation behind the Lincoln presidency. The speech lasted 12-minutes and I enjoyed the opportunity to share with my colleagues the time honored challenges of securing freedom for the coming generations, and for the world.
Judiciary Hearings Tuesday, Feb.14
HB-199 Would modify the current makeup of the Judicial panels conducting Sentencing Reviews by setting the panel number at three. We heard from several judges who have been working with the committee to update current law in order to streamline the review process.
HB-235 Would allow for records of non-violent crimes to be shielded after 10-years from public view yet remain available for criminal justice agencies (need to know). This may have merit but needs to be amended to insure that the 10-year time span begins following completed service of the original sentence. There was some opposition from Social Services, Nursing Board and various groups who need criminal history to protect their clients.
HB-237 Would require a court to provide people convicted with instructions on the process of expungment of records. It appears that this is already required by the law. There were other flaws pointed out by the State’s Attorney Association.
HB-398 Would expand the Wiretapping statute to include Theft Scheme as a crime to be included on the list of enumerated crimes allowing law enforcement to conduct this type of surveillance. This was requested by several states attorneys who have found it complicated to develop cases against major theft operations involving millions of dollars due to the limitations of the current statute.
HB-411 Would keep the Post Conviction Review by use of DNA evidence in place. It is due to sunset this year. This would allow the reviews to continue.This act has led to some innocent person to be released from prison based upon DNA review.
HB-251 Would allow Ocean City to conduct criminal background checks on taxi cab applicants. This is already allowed in many jurisdictions across the state. There was no opposition.
HB-349 This bill would extend the statute of limitations on misdemeanor Child Pornography charges. Law enforcement can run into time crunches trying to secure digital evidence in these cases. The addition of two years would make sense in these types of cases.
HB-351 Would include the crime of Burglary as a factor in determining if a sexual contact offense should be considered as being in the third degree. Currently, this type of contact within the context of a burglary would only be a fourth degree act.
HB-188 Seeks to create a law dealing with possession of synthetic cannabinoids. Worcester County recently took this action locally. This bill seeks to ban the synthetics statewide. Proponents stated that “K-2” or “Spice” is a gateway drug and can cause seizures and other reactions. One chief witness claimed that death has also been a result. The testimony indicated that the substances are already banned in 40-states. Many of the synthetics have already been listed as Schedule One drugs by the federal government making them illegal.
HB-338 Seeks pre trial release restrictions to eliminate Unsecured Bonds for any serious crimes. These are bonds where a person simply signs an assurance that they will appear for court or face forfeiture of a certain cash amount. Their only security is their signature.
Judiciary/HGO Joint Voting SessionTuesday
A joint voting session was conducted on Tuesday with the Judiciary and the Health and government Operations Committees meeting in the House Judiciary Meeting Room to address HB-438, the Same Sex marriage Bill. Several amendments were brought forward and debated. There was great reluctance to allow any changes to the bill on the part of the democrats. here are the amendments which were offered:
1-Would allow public school teachers the ability to opt out of teaching materials relating to sex education or non-traditional families if it were to be opposed to their values or religious teachings. This amendment was defeated following debate.
2. Would allow parents the opportunity to determine what portions of a sex education curriculum that their students will participate in at school. As opposed to opting out of the education, this would require parents to opt into the instruction. This amendment was defeated following debate.
3. Would prohibit a minor from marrying another individual of the same sex. It was fascinating to see all of the democrats agree that it would be alright for a 16 year old boy to marry a 48 year old man...incredible! Even this amendment, reasonable as it is, was defeated.
4. Would allow the effective date to be pushed back by several months to allow for a public referendum to be mounted. There was much debate on the process and whether the rights of the people would be protected should the Attorney General not certify the petition process.There is a lot of concern that shenanigans would follow this process and the people would have their Constitutional rights abridged. This amendment was also defeated on a very close vote.
5. Would protect the definition of marriage and create Civil Unions for same sex couples.It would give all the rights of married individuals to same sex couples, but it would not redefine marriage as being between a man and a woman. I consider this amendment a great compromise that bridges the gap. This was also defeated by the democrats.
Following the amendments, there were closing statements on HB-438 itself. Having made the final arguments, and lamenting that the people were not being allowed to vote for themselves. Several delegates raised concerns on many aspects of the bill, but in the end, both committees voted largely along party lines with a few democrats voting against the bill. The bill was passed onto the floor by a vote of 25-18.
Judiciary Hearings Wednesday
HB-265 Would create a task force to study the implementation of a civil right to counsel in Maryland. This request was being put forward by members of the judiciary and civil rights advocates. While this is just a study request, no doubt the implementation of expanded rights to counsel would come with a huge price tag for Marylanders.
HB-557 Would provide certain protections to the estates of deceased persons whose names (famous personalities) may be used unscrupulously by persons for profit. This bill would provide protections that would not dissuade famous people from feeling like they needed to leave Maryland in order to protect their estate interests after they died. There was some debate over trade mark issues already in play and available. HB-353 Would require employers to make allowances for workers who must serve on jury duty from being required to work on the same day they have jury duty. It particularly seeks to protect employees who must work a night shift. Testimony would indicate that this is not a major problem, but we did here from an employee who had trouble with an employer when she was summoned for jury duty and was required to serve.
HB-318 Would alter the eligibility threshold for “small” estates. This allows for a streamlined process for estates of limited amounts. This bill would raise the threshold amounts to $50,000 and $100,000 respectively when dealing with these estates. The amounts have not been adjusted for many years and this would raise the amounts to a level commensurate with inflation and values. This makes sense and would help folks dealing with these small estates.
HB-527 Addresses amounts in bankruptcy cases which would add $2000.00 in exemptions of firearms which can be shielded from normal bankruptcy proceedings. This would help protect heritage firearms from being sold off as part of a bankruptcy settlement.
HB-524 This bill would allow sheriff’s deputies who are members of the bar in Maryland to practice law in Maryland.
Judiciary Hearings Conducted Thursday
HB-598 Would allow for Arrest Warrants to be issued for Juveniles. Currently, juveniles are often picked up by police and then Juvenile Justice is contacted. This bill would allow for a Juvenile Court Judge to issue a warrant for the arrest of a juvenile who is wanted by police.There was some question as to whether or not this right of the judiciary already exists.
HB-496 Would place criminal penalties against professionals who fail to report child abuse in accordance with proper procedures. The requirement is already in the law, but up till now, there is no fine or sentence attached to this statute. This bill is one of many that have been filed this year (including one of my own) and the primary difference may be found in the fines and sentencing applications.
HB-614 Would require the Department of Juvenile Services to provide address and other pertinent contact information to the victims of certain criminal acts so they can better protect themselves and their safety compromised.This bill would allow the release of juvenile information as to where a perpetrator lives, works, goes to school, etc.
HB-484 Would require a person found guilty of Animal Cruelty to pay the costs associated with the care and medical treatment of the animal. There are a few of these bills being circulated this year.
HB-420 Would continue a pilot program ongoing in Washington County which requires certain individuals to be monitored by GPS Tracking devices.
Friday was a blur of activity culminating in a historic vote on Gay marriage. The machinations to bring this vote about, the creation of “magic” Legislative Days which allowed this to occur, and the back room dealings I will attempt to address in a follow up response to this weeks release. The final vote count was close as the democrats, with the help of two flipped republicans, put up the minimum “71” votes needed to pass HB-438. Much more to follow on this bill.
The Same Sex marriage bill now moves on to the Senate whee it is expected to pass with few obstacles.