Feb. 12th, 2012
Observations and Reflections on Legislative Activities
Week 5 February 10, 2012
Judiciary Bill Hearings, Wednesday:HB-252: Veteran Courts
We reviewed a bill which would create a task force on military service members and veterans having access to a special “Veteran’s” court which would be very similar to the Drug Courts now in existence which offer alternatives and diversions for those who submit to be subjected to the special actions taken by these courts. The idea has merit in that veterans often experience problems resulting from issues which are specific to their jobs and exposure during combat service. Drug Courts have proven successful when used in Maryland and this may also have merit. This bill merely seeks to study the issue.HB-337 Courtroom Discovery
This bill would provide greater discovery of information for a creditor seeking to collect on a judgment previously rendered by the court. Some of the information often needed to contact for the purposes of collecting a judgment is currently not available through trial discovery.
Judiciary Voting Session, Thursday
The following bills were voted on favorably by the committee and sent to the House:HB-92 Domestic violence shielding from public web siteHB-111 Specifies a time period on a rental car return where one cannot be charged with theft of a motor vehicle for failure to return the vehicle.HB-115 Would increase from $500 to $1000 the amount on a theft charge whereby a law enforcement officer may perform a warrantless arrest of the individual.HB-117 Would simply change the reporting deadline for an annual report of the State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy.HB-187 This bill would allow for the expungement of certain records for deceased persons when the charges were pending and had not gone to trial or otherwise been adjudicated.
Judiciary Hearings, Thursday
“Caylee’s Law” HB-18/20/122: We heard testimony on several bills which seek to address cases where a child may not be reported missing by the parents, guardians, or caretakers in a timely manner. These are in response to the case involving the disappearance and homicide of Caylee Anthony in Florida. These bills would place time constraints and requirements for various incidents involving missing juveniles and make it a crime to fail to report such a disappearance. Most aspects of these bills are covered by existing law, but it may be wise to address some aspects of reporting which are not covered.
Dog BillsHB-278 seeks to require owners of dogs which have been classified as “Dangerous” to be registered as “at-risk” owners by a local government authority. It would also require them to pay a registration fee. It seems the focus of the bill is to place responsibility on the owners rather than to focus on the dog. It would place other restrictions on folks who are classified as “at-risk” owners by the state.HB-336 Would allow the court require someone convicted of Animal Abuse to be required to pay for the treatment of the animal that was abused. You would think this would already be in the law, but it is not on the books. I think this should be corrected as we heard testimony which reflected great cost associated with the care of these abused animals being absorbed by the state and private individuals.
HB-294/397/400 There were several bills addressing various aspects of Child Support. One attempts to address a fix for a formula on determining the amount of support which must be paid when multiple children are involved. One would provide for support payments for child care when the guardian of the child receiving support must return to school in order to advance or gain employment. Perhaps the most significant of the bills is 397 which would expand the act of criminal non-support and make it easier to go after dead beat parents who refuse to pay their child support when they have the means to do so.
Introduction of Bills in House:
I filed the following bills this week which were on First Reader in the House:HB-984 Enhanced penalties for DWI on Controlled Dangerous Substances HB-999 Creating penalties for failure to report Child AbuseHB-1032 Providing protections for farmers and others involved in Agro-Tourism industry.
Eastern Shore Delegation Meeting:
The agenda was light for the meeting. We met with Linda Prochaska, a Special Assistant to Senator Barbara Mikulski’s office on the Eastern Shore. She reviewed some of the areas of assistance that the senator’s office provides in concert with our local legislative services on the shore.
Secretary Joshua M. Sharfstein of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene came before the delegation and spoke in general about some of the activities of his agency. He was asked about telemedicine (a greater use of conferencing with doctors and other specialists electronically) on the shore and explained how this issue was moving forward successfully. He also addressed the issues of funding in the budget as it relates to prevention services. He disagreed that funding was shifted in the governor’s budget, but I have spoken with various family services which are taking a significant hit.
We heard from the Healthy Families Eastern Shore group (Dir. Shelly Edwards, Dir. Mike Clark, and Dir. Dawn Shur) who are dealing with budget issues which will put many program areas at risk this year that have proven successful. As is often the case with the budget axe, prevention is often the first striking point while treatment is the last.
Combined Hearing of Judiciary and Health/Government Operations Committees:
HB-474/728 Maryland Marriage Protection Act (Defense of Marriage)
HB-438 Civil Marriage Protection Act (Same Sex Marriage)
HB-1239 Straw Ballot on Definition of Marriage
A joint committee hearing was held on the above bills. Hundreds appeared to testify for and against these bills. I will say I was struck by the notion that the burden to change the law falls upon those who do not accept the definition of marriage in Maryland as being between one man and one woman. The burden in the legislature seems to be upon those who simply want the definition to stay the way it has been since Maryland came into existence. Testimony began with Governor O’Malley as the lead off speaker in support of the same sex marriage bill. I did ask the Governor why we simply did not put this issue before all of the voters as a referendum on the ballot…particularly when we thought enough about gambling to put that on the ballot for the people to decide. The governor was reluctant to do so as he seems afraid of what the people may say if given the chance.