Sunday, March 4, 2012

Legislative Updates By Mike McDermott

Mar. 3rd, 2012

Field Notes
Observations and Reflections on Legislative Activities
By Delegate Michael A. McDermott

Week 8 February 27-March 2, 2012

House Voting Session Tuesday Morning

The following link will allow you to view this information: Third Reader Bills
Judiciary Hearings Conducted Tuesday
Today we dealt with many bills concerning bail bonds.
HB-492 seeks to insure that there is no deviation from the posting of “cash bonds” with other securities. HB-517 would not allow a property which had outstanding repair orders or building citations to be used as surety on a property bond. HB-573 would prohibit employees of the courts or correctional personnel from soliciting on behalf of a bonding agent or company. HB-742 would create certain qualifications and licensing for bonding agents. It would also require any payment agreements to be documented and provided to the person securing the services.

We also heard several bills dealing with corrections and jails.
HB-528 is a perennial bill which seeks to limit the time a person can serve in a local correctional facility to 12 months instead of the current 18. Many Wardens across the state complain that they went along with the change to 18-months years ago when they were provided state funding to supplement their budgets. This situation has now become an unfunded mandate. Based on the fiscal note of $39 million, I am quite sure this is going nowhere, though it should serve as a warning to any who negotiate with the state. HB-500 seeks a small fee reimbursement from inmates who receive dental and medical care while incarcerated. This is a Frederic County Delegation Bill. Great idea, but the liberals will not hear of it. HB-509 would require an inmate submit to any applicable testing for HIV if a correctional officer feels they may have been exposed to pathogens during an altercation. As expected, the inmate sympathizers were there to defend the “rights” of criminals with little concern for those who must keep society safe from them. HB-513 would allow for local correction facilities to confine prisoners being held for an Initial Appearance before a judicial official. This is a very practical bill as temporary custody orders are no longer being issued for this purpose. HB-587 would make it a felony to smuggle a cellular phone into a prison on a second offense. We were told that this is a rampant problem and how the state prisons have confiscated hundreds of phones, yet it seems that few are ever charged under the current misdemeanor statute. HB-1147 seeks to provide a Telephone Assistance Fund for indigent inmates out of some of the proceeds from the telephone fees collected from collect calls at the facilities. This is a good hearted idea that may have many implementation problems. HB-624 would require a judge to issue a brochure on Expungement procedures for a person who may qualify while they are in open court.

Special Plate to Honor/Support Maryland Veterans
I testified today with Del. Smigiel (R-Cecil) on
HB-541 in front of the Environmental Matters Committee. This bill would authorize the MVA to provide a license plate honoring our Veterans with all of the proceeds for the special registration going to a fund for wounded Maryland Vets and their families. The plate features a beautiful eagle in the background covering the whole plate with a banner clutched below which reads, “Maryland Supports Veterans”. We were joined at the table with a couple of veterans and the bill seemed to meet with support on the committee. Sadly, by the end of the week, it appeared that the Committee Chairman was going to have the bill voted as “unfavorable”. It seems she would not want us to “compete” with the Bay plate or the Agriculture plate. It is ridiculous, of course. If you would like to see this move forward, please contact the Chairman, Maggie McIntosh at 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3990 (toll free) or e-mail:

House Voting Session Wednesday Morning
The following link will allow you to view this information:
Third Reader Bills
Judiciary Hearings Conducted WednesdayHB-507 would limit the number of expert witnesses in a Circuit Court trial to two on any one subject matter as is the case during arbitration during malpractice litigation. The attorneys in the committee feasted until they were stuffed. I think it is going nowhere fast. HB-703 sought to require a defendant to reimburse the state for the cost of an interpreter if the defendant fails to appear for trial. It was shown the high cost of providing this service and how the tax payer is footing the bill on all cases, including a no show. It makes sense and I would like to see it implemented. HB-704 would require a Process Server to provide a description of the person on whom the court paper is served. This is another common sense bill and would appear to be supported by the committee. HB-1042 would allow for certain communications between a union representative and a union member to be considered confidential. Criminal conduct was not covered as protected communications, but there were many questions about allowing an Attorney-Client privilege to exist for an untrained union representative or shop steward.

Judiciary Committee Voting Session Wednesday
The following bills received a favorable report from the committee and moved to the House for Second Reader:
HB-20 places penalties for failing to report a child less than 13 years of age as being “missing” within certain time periods. HB-34 addressed court criminal procedures concerning a discharge from commitment of a person previously found not criminally responsible. HB-337 allows for additional information to be provided to an attorney or another seeking the enforcement of a monetary judgment in a civil case. HB-400 would allow for a variance in the computation of Child Support payments with a multi-family adjustment. HB-579 provides an exemption from required training for law enforcement officers purchasing regulated firearms. HB-618 which will create a task force to study the issue of regulated firearms and the sale of those firearms to persons with a back ground of mental illness. HB-883 allows a judge to specify a certain distance a person must avoid contact with a petitioner under a Protective Order.

The following bills received an unfavorable report and have met their fate:
HB-294, HB-397, HB-462, HB-485, HB-856, HB-968, HB-1010, HB-1057, HB-1100,HB-1104, HB-1113, HB-1114, HB-1179.
House Voting Session Thursday Morning
The following link will allow you to view this information:
Third Reader Bills
HB-119 was finally passed on to Third reader following a few amendments. The bill will allow many misdemeanor crimes to be charged via citation following processing by police. It will potentially save tens of millions of dollars and thousands of hours of downtime experienced by police waiting on District Court Commissioners to see prisoners on misdemeanor offenses. It is the companion bill to HB-261/112 which I crafted (and it became a work of the committee) to address the Public Defender issues of requiring representation at the Initial Appearance before the Court Commissioner.

Judiciary Hearings Conducted Thursday
We heard a variety of bills today with standing room only. Out of the box was
HB-539 which seeks to make the impersonation of a police officer a felony. The supporters brought many examples of an increase in this crime and the breakdown of public trust which results from these acts. HB-545 seeks to create a separate offense to cover the thefts from motor vehicles of property inside the vehicle or accessories attached to the vehicle. Currently, people can be charged with multiple charges in these cases and it is difficult to track repeat offenders. This bill would combine multiple offenses under one new crime called Theft from Motor Vehicle. HB-1012 seeks to create a task force to study business development programs for ex-offenders. This would include working with business and economic development folks to see if there is a way to craft programs that would assist ex-offenders as they attempt to become productive citizens. I am skeptical of programs that tend to place the government in competition with existing private sector businesses.

We received testimony on three bills which arose from the Prisoner Re-entry Task Force chaired by
Del. Waldstreicher over the past two years. The first was HB-652 which seeks to allow for the shielding of criminal records following a period of time where the person has demonstrated that they have successfully completed probation and a certain period of time has expired. It appears that some amendments have been offered which would enumerate and exempt certain crimes from being shielded from public viewing on public Case Search sites currently available online. The bill has many who testified who professed how difficult it was for them to find any job when it was revealed that they had a criminal record. The shielding would not be hidden from the public safety sector, but under certain conditions, it would be hidden from public viewing. HB-651 would allow for the suspension of Child Support payments whenever an indigent person is incarcerated for 18 months or more. Some on the committee understood suspending payments, but did not think the inmate should escape the payments once they were gainfully employed again.

We also reviewed
HB-460 which seeks to require a law enforcement officer to acquire a Search Warrant prior to accessing information or tracking of a mobile communications device (phones, computers, etc.). This is being offered in response to recent court rulings regarding GPS tracking devices. It would seem reasonable to me to have a review conducted and over sight provided by a State’s Attorney, but the sponsor did not agree.

O’Malley-Brown Same Sex Marriage Bill
There was a bill signing on the stairway of the State House Rotunda where Governor O’Malley put his pen to HB-438 signing Gay Marriage into law in Maryland. The law will take effect in January, 2013 and a drive to petition the bill to referendum is in full swing by opponents. Folks interested in participating in the petition drive can go to where they can sign up and will be able to download a petition. The process will work just like last year’s successful drive to petition In-State Tuition for Illegal Aliens to referendum. If successful, both issues would appear on the ballot in November for the voters to decide for themselves.

Eastern Shore Delegation Meeting Friday Morning
We met with several business representatives of the paving/road construction industries on  Delmarva. Their message was simple: they have had to lay off anywhere from one-third to one-half of their workforce due to cuts by the state and local governments. They were advocating for tax increases to fuel to restore funding for road construction. I told them that before we increase the tax we need to secure the trust funds to which the money is directed. Transfers in recent budgets are to blame for the current lack of funds.

We also heard from all 9 Eastern Shore Counties who were well represented as well as a representative from the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO). They provided a presentation on their current fiscal outlooks as it relates to absorbing teacher pension costs and the view was grim. As the governor has formed his budget around certain fund transfers, pension shifts to the counties, as well as a plethora of taxes and fees, I doubt that this can be stopped though it might be slowed down. My advice to them is to prepare for the absolute worst and have no faith in a decent return of tax dollars to the shore. It is not going to happen. They also expressed great displeasure with HB-1412 (detailed below). I also met for several minutes with Commissioners Church, Boggs, and Lockfaw from Worcester County as well as Councilman Bartkovich of Wicomico to hear their concerns. Wicomico Executive Rich Pollitt was also at the Delegation meeting along with Worcester CAO Gerry Mason.

BOLO (Be on the look out) for this BillHB-1412 has been proposed by Del. Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) and Del. Conway (D-Wicomico). This bill would allow counties who operate under a Revenue/Tax Cap to violate the cap in order to comply with Education Maintenance of Effort provisions in a budget year. Currently, 7 counties in Maryland have such caps in place with Wicomico being one of them. Further, if the County Council elected not to violate their cap and meet the Maintenance of Effort amounts for the Board of Education, the bill empowers the State Comptroller to seize any Income Tax money the county is due and pay it directly to the local board of education to make up for the money not included in their budget. This bill clearly replaces a stick and carrot approach for a bit and a bridle with spurs. This bill is moving through the Ways and Means Committee and needs to be watched carefully. It could move out for a vote by early next week.

Don’t Be Fooled...
The Gas Tax is still alive and well. Some said it was dead last week, but that is not true. There was talk of raising the State Property and Income Tax instead...but they are all active, alive, and pathetically well in Maryland. Keep a close eye out for these and other distractions. The next one will be the Transgender Bill which had a hearing this week in the Senate. The General Assembly is being distracted by the social arm of the O’Malley-Brown agenda which has bogged us down for 8 weeks. With little time left, the shell game of money movement will begin in earnest.

No comments: