Thursday, October 20, 2011
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
October 18th, 2011
We received HB-2 and HB-3 from the Rules Committee. These two bills address redistricting for the Boards of Education districts in Prince Georges and Montgomery Counties. We thought there might be an amendment offered out of the Prince George’s Delegation but it was not forthcoming.
The Senate was moving the governor’s redistricting plan today and spent quite awhile debating the bill. Ultimately it was decided largely along party lines with Senator Muse (D-Prince Georges) being the only cross over vote against the gerrymandered map.
The House reconvened at 5pm to take up the governor’s redistricting plan passed by the Senate. There are many amendments in the hopper which will be introduced tomorrow as we take up debate on all of the redistricting bills. The session only lasted a few minutes.
Tea Party Rally:
There were about 300 folks from around the state that showed up on Lawyer’s Mall for the House Tea Party Caucus Rally from 12-2pm. Speakers included Grover Norquist (American’s for Tax Reform), Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey, Charles Lollar (President American’s for Prosperity-MD), Senator Pipkin and myself along with a host of other leaders from various tax payer organizations. Del. Mike Smigiel (House Tea Party Caucus Chairman) was the MC and moved the program along. Many in the General Assembly heard the speakers and stopped to listen in on the clear, resonating message: No gerrymandering and No tax increases. There were plenty of homemade signs with messages for the governor.
Whether it was all of the angst expressed publicly in anticipation of tax legislation during this session, or the recent Gonzales polling which revealed a strong public aversion in Maryland to any tax increases, it seems the leadership got the message…for now.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
- By Delegate Mike McDermott
If “reasonable” is the term used by the Daily Times to describe a 300% toll increase for a bridge that is currently self sustaining, I do not want to know what theyconsider “unreasonable”.
The Bay Bridge has generated about one billion dollars in revenue since it has been open. It has been paid for time and again. The money that it generates should go towards maintenance and upkeep. This would seem “reasonable”.
The MTA does not argue that the Bay Bridge is self sustaining. Many would argue that it is far beyond self sustaining, particularly when viewed in agregate totals over the decades.
New MTA projects, which many deemed ill advised, such as the ICC (Inner County Connecter) and the I-95 expansions require vast sums of cash. It would seem “reasonable” to let the user pay for their construction and upkeep. It is noteworthy that the proposed MTA Toll fees do not include any increases for users of the ICC.
As we slip further in the ranking of states in which to conduct business (now at 46 out of 50) , does it seem “reasonable” to raise the cost of commerce by requiring a company now paying $18 to pay $60 to move their goods across the bay? The bills for some of our major companies will be raised by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As people struggle everyday with the job market, does it seem wise and “reasonable” to take away hundreds of dollars of discretionary spending out of the hands of those who must cross over on a daily basis? The estimated increased cost for a two income household living on the shore with a daily commute accross the bay is over $900.00.
The Times laments the days of Governor Tawes and the “gentle pursuasion” in Annapolis. In those days, most members of the General Assembly were folks who signed the front of a paycheck and they understood the need for a thriving business economy. In those days, they would never have agreed to a 50% tax increase or a 300% fee increase for they new the problems it would create and the competive edge that would be lost.
I doubt seriously that Governor Tawes would sign a bill giving illigal aliens the same benefits as American citizens, or that he would be the champion of a bill promoting cross dressers and transgenders.
In fact, the last time I was in the Governor’s Signing Room at the State House, I took a long look at the grand painting of our great governor from the Eastern Shore...and I believe it was tears that I saw.
Let us take back Maryland from such “reasonable” people.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Recently, the O’Malley administration and the MD Transportation Authority have decided that, after 35-years, we are due for a toll increase on the Bay Bridge. Their answer was not an incremental adjustment to be absorbed over time, but rather an immediate 100% increase. This is to be followed the next year by an additional 60% bounce taking the toll from the current $2.50 all the way to $8.00. This meets a good definition for “excessive”.
While this may have a negligible impact on vacationers making their annual trek to Ocean City, it appears little thought has been given to the impact on commerce this will have for the mid and upper shore areas.
Consider that when Virginia built their Bridge-Tunnel, the toll was set high and has remained so from the beginning. Clearly, Virginia did not build it for commuters and North Hampton County remained relatively quiet when compared with the Virginia Beach/Norfolk metro area. It was a clear choice, and many would say a “good one”.
On the Maryland side, quite the opposite has been the case. A toll which amounts to $1.25 one way would surely encourage commerce and development on the Eastern Shore. It would insure a rapid expansion of the metro area by creating a readily available suburb for those willing to simply drive a few extra miles and pay a small toll for the privilege of living on the Eastern Shore. The rest of the shore would benefit from increased commercial traffic and day trips would become common. Maryland’s Eastern Shore would never be the same.
By maintaining a low toll, Maryland made the choice to potentially subsidize repairs to the bridge, as needed, beyond the revenue stream provided to insure the successful industrial, commercial, and residential development of the shore. Our prosperity has resulted in multiplied tax revenues for state coffers from that development far beyond that which would have been realized from any increased toll.
Now, after nearly four decades, we are going to raise the toll by nearly 300%. It looks like the proverbial “bait and switch” for the Eastern Shore. Queen Anne’s and Kent Counties will take it on the chin while the rest of us get bruised. At a time of economic pain and uncertainty, this tax increase should be on the back burner.
The time is now to weigh in with the Maryland Transportation Authority and the Governor’s Office as the “proposal” will become a reality very soon.
As it stands, we will pay for that toll in every loaf of bread, in every lost day tripper, and in just one more hurdle to tourism and commerce. For those commuters who sought a refuge on the shore, your discretionary income just took a big hit and many in Annapolis are choosing to look the other way.
Monday, March 7, 2011
By Delegate Mike McDermott
February 28st-March 4th, 2011
• Monday afternoon a joint hearing of the Judiciary and HGO (Health and Government Operations) Committees on the Medical Marijuana bill. As proposed, the bill would allow for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in Maryland and would establish a permitting and growing process by the government. It would also establish strict rules governing the prescription process by the medical community. The hearing was beneficial and many questions were asked, but some of the issues remain very complex. There is great concern that Maryland would become like California and also about how the permitting process would actually function for growing marijuana for medical purposes. At the hearing, I presented by amendment to the bill which would provide that use of marijuana for medical purposes could only be done through vaporization, ingestion, pill form, injection, or by any doctor approved medical device. This would restrict marijuana from being smoked and would insure that it is utilized through best medical practices. The bill has a long way to go, but it is on the way.
• Tuesday morning during session, it was announced that the Judiciary Committee would meet immediately after the close of business for a vote on SB-116, the Gay Marriage Bill. Well, we all showed up…except for two missing democrats…and we waited to vote. It became clear after about 15-minutes that the missing delegates had gotten the Wisconsin flu and had flown the coop. Of course, we demanded to vote on the bill but were told by the Chairman that he wanted to wait until the other two delegates could be present. Clearly, he knew he did not have th votes he needed to pass the bill out of committee. We waited an hour to vote that day, but it never happened.
• On Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee conducted hearings on the following bills:
1. HB-408: This bill seeks to address a gap in identity fraud where criminals use false names to create fictitious identities. This has become a new form of identity theft being utilized to defraud businesses of millions.
2. HB-484: This bill seeks to correct an omission from compliance with the Federal mandates of Jessica’s Law by creating a Sex Offender Registry for Juvenile Offenders. This is required for Maryland to come into compliance and not place federal funds received from the Department of Justice at risk. It is not required that the Juvenile Registry be available to the public, but it would be accessible by the Criminal Justice system and the registrants would be required to comply with registration monitoring the same as adult offenders. There was a lot of discussion on this issue and some on the committee struggle with treating juveniles in the same way we deal with adults. There may be a compromise that will work for all members, but we will have to see how this one works out.
3. HB-507: This bill seeks to require law enforcement agencies to report on any deployment or use of an Electronic Control Device, commonly called a tazor or stun gun. This legislation is part of an attempt by some to thwart the use of these devices in Maryland by placing burdensome restrictions on their availability and use by law enforcement and civilians. This bill would treat these weapons differently than any other weapon utilized by law enforcement, and I do not see it coming out of the committee with a favorable ruling.
4. HB-568: This bill seeks to ban the use of any proceeds from drug trafficking from being utilized by a defendant to secure legal representation. The law already prohibits the use of ill gotten gain from being used to compensate to knowingly be received by an attorney for compensation, but it currently exempts money from drug sales. Go figure! This law would make it a crime to do so and was met with opposition by some on the committee who took exception to the notion that this practice was ongoing in Maryland. As the committee is composed of be many trial lawyers, I doubt this one finds its way to the House floor for a vote.
5. HB-588: This bill seeks to ban the use of portable scanning devices by criminals who use them to gather credit card information when they are simply in close proximity to a potential victim. We saw a display of how criminals use these devices to simply retrieve credit card information by simply standing near an unknowing victim. This is a relatively new method and it was hoped by the sponsors that the committee would allow law enforcement to be proactive with this law. The committee appeared to like the law, but the Chairman was skeptical at this point.
6. HB-594: This is my bill which would require a certain category of Top Tier Sex Offenders to be monitored by GPS technology by law enforcement. The hearing went well, and the only hold up is in the cost of implementation. I am working with Parole and Probation to see if something can be worked out within the current law to accommodate the provisions of this bill. The only opposition was from, of course, two registered sex offenders. Of course, they painted themselves as “victims” and did not feel this approach was needed.
7. HB-663: This is a simple bill which would make it a crime to commit a crime of violence in the presence of a minor. This would be an add on charge, but it would address the egregious way some of our children are traumatized by adults.
8. HB-682: This bill seeks to require bail bonding companies to pay the full bonds of defendants that fail to appear for trial on a sooner rather than later time table. Many of the bondsmen came to testify about how this type of legislation would injure their business and attempted to show how they currently comply and the system, in their opinion, is not broken. After listening to testimony, it is clear that this is a very competitive business where bondsmen are undercutting each other on a regular basis to garner customers. There was concern expressed for companies which only require a person to pay 1% of the bond as a fee.
9. HB-781: This bill would extend the prohibitions on the drug Salvia so it could not be sold or marketed in Maryland for adults. It is already illegal for juveniles. It would not make possession a crime, but it would eliminate distribution within the state. As Salvia is not on the federal DEA list, I am not sure if this one will be leaving the committee with a favorable ruling.
10. HB-845: This bill seeks the banning of the drug Mephedrone. This is another synthetic drug being utilized form frequently in the state, but it has not been placed on the federal DEA list. The committee tries to work with the federal banning list as this allows for a seamless application of the law. The federal government also conducts intense studies and testing to determine if a substance should be on the controlled substance list. I believe there will be a “wait and see” approach on Medthedrone.
• On Wednesday, we had been working behind the scenes in reaching out to any democrats on the committee who may be having a change of heart about the Gay Marriage Bill. We talked about Civil Marriage amendment issues and the like with the focus on preserving the definition of marriage as it is today. We seemed to gain some ground and it looked like we had two votes coming over, but the pressure was being well placed from the Democratic side of the aisle. I saw the Speaker of the House come into our Committee Room on more than one occasion that day, and he was not happy. There were numerous visits by the highest ranking members of the House as they caucused with the hold out democrats who desired to “vote their conscience” on the matter. Sadly for them, their “conscience” had little to do with the desire of the leadership…it was just getting in the way. There would be no vote today either.
I have to give a tip of the hat to Delegate Mike Smigiel and Delegate Don Dwyer. They both led the opposition effort in the Judiciary Committee and it was their actions that helped delay the vote and kept the liberals off their game.
• On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing on the following bills:
1. HB-574: This bill would provide for punitive damages against a certain category of “high risk drunk drivers”. Those favoring the bill believe it would allow for monetary punishment of these drivers on a civil basis beyond the damages caused. While this seemed like a good idea, it was quite clear following testimony that this would undoubtedly result in higher insurance premiums for all Marylanders were it enacted.
2. HB-729: This bill seeks to preserve the rights of Marylanders who may sign onto a Class Action Agreement without full knowledge of their actions. It would tend to make these types of agreements unenforceable in many instances.
3. HB-765: This bill seeks to require the State of Maryland to claim the surplus funds established and held by the Attorney Grievance Commission and use them for general government purposes when those funds exceed a certain level. The account is currently at over 10 million dollars, but is apparently being addressed by the commission.
4. HB-797: This bill would require proper investigations be conducted on judges and other officers of the court when a complaint is filed and found to have merit. Following testimony, it was clear that there is general reluctance for these type of cases to move forward as a general rule. We heard some egregious testimony of alleged improprieties by more than one victim concerning officers of the court.
5. HB-921: This would require insurance carriers to divulge the amount of coverage liability a plaintiff in a court case may have during prelitigation hearings. There was disagreement on the impact of this type of disclosure as to whether it would help or hurt the process.
6. HB-1120: This bill would allow for civil claims to be filed against those who sell or furnish alcohol to individuals who wind up damaging property or injuring another party as a result of their intoxication. It seems the bill would take away from individual responsibility and place more on restaurant and bar owners who may be unwitting victims themselves of a previously intoxicated patron. This is a bill which would drive up the cost of doing business in Maryland through the need for greater insurance premiums.
7. HB-1126: This bill seeks to make provisions for jurors in Baltimore City to receive some type of parking compensation. I guess the delegate thinks the rest of Marylanders should pay for Baltimore City jurors to park their cars. Well, why not? Don’t we pay for everything else over there? There is also a companion bill to this one, HB-1136 which seeks to increase the amount of money paid by Baltimore City for those performing their civic duty. It would further require all employers to provide paid leave time for those serving on jury duty in Baltimore City. My thought is, if Baltimore City wants these things, let them pay the bill. The state is broke.
8. HB-1129: This bill would define Contributory Negligence in Maryland. There is great concern by the business community and those practicing law in Maryland that certain recent inquiries and actions taken by Chief Judge Bell of the State District Court seem to indicate his desire to see the age old definition altered. There were many arguing and pleading for the General Assembly to take action rather than wait for the Judicial Branch of the government to legislate from the bench. I am not sure if we will get a chance to vote this one out, but I sure hope we do.
• On Thursday, when we showed up for our committee session, again several delegates were missing in action. It became abundantly clear that these freshmen democrats were holding firm, but one of them was beginning to cave to pressure. It became clear, as the day wore on, that we would not be voting on SB-116 today either.
• On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee held the following hearings:
1. HB-162: This bill would create a criminal penalty for Child Neglect whereas, till now, this has only been applied civilly by the Department of Social Services as a means of action. This bill was presented by Lt. Governor Brown and his task force. It was generally well received, but was too broad and left a lot of things to be worked out before it could be passed. As a result, a subcommittee was created by the Chairman to study the bill and recommend changes to the full committee. I was honored to be selected as a member of the subcommittee and we will meet next week to address the issues in the bill with the Lt. Governor.
2. HB -407: This bill seeks to create a specific charge of cruelty to animals during an incident of domestic violence. While this may be a problem area, it was thought that there was ample law in place to address this issue.
3. HB-510: This bill seeks to enhance the penalties ascribed to the charges involving stalking and other forms of harassment. We heard from two victims who provided compelling testimony on the need to get tough. I will be offering an amendment to this bill which would provide that District Court Commissioners could not release a person on bond who is charged with violating the provisions of a Peace or Ex-Parte Order.
4. HB-582: This bill seeks to broaden the definition of harassment to include electronic communications and applications. This would include social media sites, emails, text messages and the like. This bill was well received.
5. HB-667: This bill would provide that a Final Peace Order could be up to one year as opposed to the current limit of 6-months.
6. HB-819: This bill would include “strangulation and suffocation” under the current criminal definition of a “serious physical injury”. We received testimony which indicated that this type of injury often is underreported and not obvious to investigators, although it can be a very serious medical issue for the victim.
7. HB-859: This bill would broaden the use of out of court statements made by a victim of child abuse. It would allow caseworkers and counselors to testify as to hearsay evidence of a victim. During discussion, it was agreed that the language of the bill needed to be tightened up and amended before it would pass out of committee.
8. HB-872: This bill would require GPS tracking of Respondents under the decree of a Final Protection Order. This bill met with stiff opposition as the government would be tracking individuals who are not charged with a criminal act. I do not believe this one is coming out of committee. It was interesting to me that the ACLU showed up to protest the GPS tracking of Sex Offenders, but were a no show in this instance.
9. HB-968: This bill has been named, “Justice’s Law” by the sponsor in honor of the child who was murdered and charged under the Child Abuse statutes. Under the law, the defendant could only receive a maximum sentence of 30-years. This bill seeks to provide the judge the ability to sentence a defendant up to Life in prison if convicted. This bill makes a lot of sense and certainly would find application in the courts when it comes to sentencing bad guys.
10. HB-1018: This bill seeks to provide an applicable distance in a Protective Order issued by a court whereby a Respondent could not come within a designated distance of the Petitioner. After hearing testimony, this seemed to be more of a problem with court interpretation of the current law rather than a loop hole being exploited.
11. HB-1019: This bill seeks to create and define “reasonable corporal punishment” in Maryland. It was interesting to me as this bill was being proffered by advocates who believe this type of parental punishment should be banned in Maryland. Parents need to keep their radar up on bills such as these that seek to take away or limit their ability to correct their children in the way they deem appropriate. Abuse should never be tolerated, but these folks would eliminate spanking altogether if you gave them the chance.
• On Friday morning, the Eastern Shore Delegation met with several folks from the shore including representatives from the Salisbury Zoo. They provided us with information packets on updates and the pending expansion of their facilities as well as their ongoing capital campaign. They are seeking a bond grant of $200,000.00 (state debt) for an Animal Health Clinic and a new Visitor/Environmental Center. Zoo Director Joel Hamilton did a nice job presenting their progress and expressing their need for support. Del. Conway and Del. Cane have already forwarded a bond bill to address the request for funding.
Also making a presentation were folks from the Teackle Mansion in Somerset County. They are also engaged in a major renovation project and are attempting to secure some funding from the state through a bond bill. They recently completed work involving the replacement of their HVAC system and are now working on the interior restoration.
The more lively discussion we had at the meeting came from the various representatives from several Local Management Boards across the shore. We heard specifically from Caroline County’s board as well as Dorchester County. These boards assist local government in distributing funds for various programs providing services to children in our communities. Over the past two years, the administrative funding for these programs has been greatly reduced by the state and they have struggled to maintain personnel so as to adequately manage their programs. The boards were complaining that they have funding which they should be able to access to help cover these administrative costs while times are bad in the economy and their funding sources are so depleted. Rosemary King, the Executive Director with the Governor’s Office for Children was also in attendance and spoke to the delegation about the expressed concerns. She clearly sent a message that the available funds must be used for programs and not address administrative costs. She felt strongly that they had gone the extra mile in the past two fiscal years to allow the various boards to adjust their spending and personnel needs to meet the new normal and she was disinclined to make any further provisions for future requests. The exchange was back and forth with ideas being offered and it appears we will continue to negotiate with her office on ways to assist the LMB’s as they continue to provide these much needed services to our folks back home.
• Friday, the drama surrounding the committee vote on Gay Marriage came to a head. The bottom line is, the democratic leadership was able to stiff arm the votes they needed in the committee to get it to the floor, so they quickly scheduled the vote Friday afternoon. There was a spirited debate from both sides, but I believe the compelling arguments were with those in opposition to the passage of SB-116. There were so many television cameras in the committee room, you could see little else. Clearly we were a divided committee. The Republicans on the committee were joined by three (3) Democrats in opposition, while those in favor were all Democrats. The final vote was cast by the Chairman to pass the bill on to the House floor.
I watched and participated all week long as our committee members worked to sway votes. I can tell you that if those votes were cast by secret ballot, there would have been several more “no” votes cast on Friday and it would have been defeated. On the floor when the entire House votes next week, I believe one or more of our committee members who voted for the bill will vote against it for Third Reader. I also do not believe the supporters of SB-116 have the needed votes for passage at the present time. The floor debate will, no doubt, be long and arduous. In the end, it would have always been better to let the voters decide at the polls in 2012; and, if the vote is favorable in the House, I’m quite sure the bill will be petitioned to referendum in Maryland.
I have to say after this week, the meetings were long and exhausting and the Eastern Shore never looked so good as when I crossed that bridge late Friday afternoon.
Monday, February 21, 2011
By Delegate Mike McDermott
Feb. 14th-18th, 2011
• Monday afternoon I attended Governor O’Malley’s Press Conference on an interestingly titled bill called the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2011. Sounds great, doesn’t it? In Annapolis, there is no doubt an entire army of people burning the midnight oil to see who can create the most disingenuous title for threatening legislation. The title for this bill should be “No Crapper Left Behind” Act of 2011. Although I issued an immediate press release to keep you informed this week, here is the bottom line of this bill: The measure would prohibit the use of individual septic systems for major subdivisions outside of planned water and sewer service areas. It also restricts the subdivision of agricultural lands. Specifically it:
1. Defines a “major subdivision” as 5 or more lots;
2. Requires any “major subdivision” located outside of a planned area to utilize a “shared” waste disposal system;
3. Requires the use of advanced technology systems for individual development;
4. Would prohibit local government from authorizing any major development outside of areas served by water and sewer infrastructure after July 1st this year; and
5. It would restrict any further subdivisions or modifications of existing subdivisions once a property has been subdivided into a residential minor subdivision.
PLEASE STAY ENGAGED ON THIS BILL.
• On Monday evening, prior to session, the TEA (taxed enough already) Party Caucus met and discussed upcoming visits scheduled by AFP groups and other concerned citizens. A Legislative Action Committee was formed to focus on specific legislation the caucus would support during the session. It was also agreed that members would need to sign a pledge of fiscal restraint to be considered part of the caucus.
• My Chess playing ended Monday night when I was defeated by Del. Gilchrest. It was a great game that came down to only a couple of pieces on the board. He will play for the championship soon.
• Tuesday was Maryland Farm Bureau Day in Annapolis. I had the pleasure of meeting with several of our local farmers from Worcester, Wicomico, and Somerset Counties. We talked a lot about the governor’s septic proposals and what that would mean to the value of farm land and potential development issues.
• Tuesday HB 266 received a hearing in Judiciary. This is a bill I sponsored which would strengthen the laws dealing with Human Trafficking. This continues to be a problem around the country and Maryland is no exception. There is also come companion legislation that would provide support for juveniles who are being trafficked (primarily underage girls) in the sex trade industry. These bills have a lot of support in the committee.
We also heard HB- which would remove the Governor’s final say in parole cases dealing with “Life Sentence” inmates and turn it over to the Parole Board. I do not like this idea, and I’m sure the governor will not like it either. Governor O’Malley believes that “life means life” and has refused to consider paroling any inmate serving a life sentence while he has been governor. Of course, we heard from many about their “rehabilitated” loved ones who are behind bars and how they deserve another chance after 20 plus years. The bottom line: the 20 plus years behind bars is 20 years more than their victims ever had a chance to see. I think that’s how the governor sees it as well. This hearing went long into the night.
• On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee heard the following bills:
1. HB-247 is a technical modification of a bill enacted last year dealing specifically with the Maryland General and Limited Power of Attorney Act. This bill seeks to address an area of the act which failed to include certain financial documents and transactions.
2. HB-336 seeks to create a task force addressing Military Service Members, Veterans, and the Courts. This type of program has been used successfully in other states to help our veterans by recognizing that they may be addressing a unique set of circumstances in life as a result of their service to our country. The task force would provide feedback and recommendations for future consideration in support of our military service members.
3. HB-340 deals with certifications and reports submitted by qualified experts in health care malpractice claims. It would create a timeline for challenging the credentials of an expert who is submitting documents or testifying in a case before the courts.
4. HB-475 would provide for the Carroll County Industrial Development Authority (a non-profit board) to fall under the Local Government Tort Claims Act. This would provide tort protection as is extended to many Para government operations. There is always much discussion on these types of requests as several committee members do not like limiting the liability of organizations without significant reasons to do so.
5. HB-483 is another technical law bill which would allow an attorney the ability to limit the paperwork needed to file for recovery of a previous judgment. It would further aid plaintiffs who are attempting to discover if a person has the means to pay on a previous judgment granted by the court.
• Thursday morning I was honored to give the Opening Prayer for the Session. I referenced the Continental Congress and quoted Benjamin Franklin as a preface to my prayer. It was well received. If you would like to hear the prayer and other action taken on the floor, a direct link is available on my website at delegatemcdermott.com
• On Thursday at noon, the House Republican Caucus held a Press Conference to address the O’Malley administrations rush to implement Obamacare in Maryland. My notes on this are contained in a previous information release. Essentially, we need to slow down the process of implementation and several legal cases have already declared Obamacare to be Unconstitutional. Therefore, why should we invest tax dollars in a program that will most likely be declared null and void? We also revealed several bills we are supporting to help insure Marylanders have access to high quality, affordable health care services when needed.
• On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee heard the following bills:
1. HB-255 and HB-256 address issues relating to adopted individuals being able to search records for sibling information. This bill is intended to allow the Department of Social Services to allow access to their own departmental records of adoption records so family members may be contacted if it is their expressed desire.
2. HB-294 seeks to add additional penalties when a firearm or source of ignition is used to inflict pain and suffering on a domestic animal. This hearing drew a large crowd based upon the recent act committed in Anne Arundel involving the shooting of a dog at a park. There was questioning regarding a felony charge which would seem to answer the question of creating a “harsher penalty” and whether or not this law really needs to be adopted. I did find it interesting in this case that there was significant media coverage and lots of people. However, the way we treat female juveniles in correctional facilities was the next bill and the press and cameras were nowhere to be found. Dogs verses kids…dogs seem to win every time. I found this very troubling.
3. HB-304 seeks to allow for the termination of alimony payments in cases where the ex-spouse is cohabitating with another in a romantic situation. It was brought out that these types of issues can be brought to the courts attention and modifications of terms can be made by a judge. This bill was a little to general and many of the attorneys poked enough holes to make it look like Swiss cheese before we were through.
4. HB-349 represents a corrective bill to modify a broad change made last year in Peace Orders and Protective Orders relative to the shielding of certain records. It is a technical adjustment to the current law.
5. HB-426 for me was the most interesting bill discussed today. Essentially it would place juveniles who are classified as gang members under the jurisdiction of the adult courts. I liked the idea of treating the gang bangers as adults for court purposes. This would allow more significant sentencing for crimes committed by extremely street wise 16 and 17 year olds. Many of whom are creating mayhem on our city streets and even reaching into our rural communities. Of course, the ACLU was on hand to defend the indefensible.
6. HB-511 seeks to address perceived inequalities between opportunities and programs available to male juveniles verses those currently available to female juveniles. This would mandate equality of program opportunities much like Title 9 does for sports programs. The only problem is the cost. Juvenile females only make up about 10% of our inmate population. Due to the need to keep male and female inmates separated, the cost of providing duplicate programs would be severe. We were assured by the Department of Juvenile Justice that they are concerned and want to correct many issues that seem to be out of joint with the department at the present time. There was grave concern voiced by the committee as to the recidivism rate for juvenile offenders being higher that for adult inmates. This must be tackled and programs that don’t work need to be abandoned in search of better models.
• On Friday, we took our first votes in Judiciary. If a bill received at least 12 votes, it was listed as “favorable” and sent to the full House for a Second Reading. If a bill did not receive 12 votes of support, it was listed as “unfavorable” and is considered dead in the committee this year. There are also bills that are held by the Chairman which cannot be voted on unless he brings the bill up for a vote. Many bills, even with strong committee support, will wind up staying “in the drawer” by the decision of the Chairman and never see the light of day. I believe all bills deserve an up or down vote in the committee, but this prerogative lies with the Chairman of each committee.
Here is a list of the bills that received a “Favorable” vote from the Judiciary Committee today:
Here is a list of the bills that received an “Unfavorable” vote from the Judiciary Committee today:
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
By Delegate Mike McDermott
Feb. 14th, 2011
Today, the Eastern Shore and all the rest of Maryland received a Valentine’s Day surprise delivered by Governor O’Malley and two metropolitan legislators in the form of a coming moratorium on the use of septic systems. Citing the need to make further progress on the Bay, the Governor said now was the time to get serious on the way we develop and deal with sewage treatment. The sweeping legislation being offered by Del. Lafferty and Senator Pinsky would not allow any significant development of land to occur outside of areas serviced by wastewater treatment plants. In his remarks, the governor did not shy away from the notion that this has all the potential of reducing the value of land in many areas around the state, and, in particular, the Eastern Shore.
The irony of this must not be lost in the shuffle. Here we have a Baltimore Delegate introducing legislation that will have incredible impact on rural counties. He also highlighted Worcester County as being a poster child for this type of legislation. Now while I love hearing the lower shore being touted as an example for the rest of the state, it would have been nice if the delegate had taken the time to speak with those of us on the shore who represent areas that have already taken the lead in conservation, resource, and septic management. We call that “buy in”, and it is sorely lacking from the governor’s proposal.
Planning is a key element governing growth and it should always be performed as close to the people as is possible. The reason that Worcester County has been so successful is the very reason the governor’s plan will be problematic. The county took several years to garner input from all interested citizens in Worcester County. It also involved direct feedback from every local government entity prior to being implemented. This collaborative effort brought farmers, developers, civic leaders, environmentalists, and the business community together for the overall good of the whole county. In the end, the plan reflected the goals and desires of our folks moving forward.
Good planning is best performed at the local level. Infusing more centralized power into the MD Dept. of Planning is not the answer when it comes to encouraging smart growth initiatives. In fact, several counties on the shore are already utilizing best growth practices when it comes to this issue. The same cannot be said for much of the western shore, including many metro areas such as Prince Georges County.
Following the press conference, I spoke directly with the Secretary of Planning, Richard Hall, and told him of my concerns. I further conveyed that, like many programs coming to us from the administration, there is no buy in at the legislative level with those who will inherently find themselves in opposition from the get go. This is not leadership and it is not based on the sound principles of taking time to get legislation correct before attempting passage.
I encourage all who share my concerns to stay vigilant and aware as these bills begin to make their way through the House and Senate.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
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.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
By Delegate Mike McDermott
Week of Jan. 31st through Feb. 4th, 2011
- Monday following session I participated in an annual Chess Tournament between the House and the Senate. I beat my opponent and advanced to the next round. I cherished it for a few moments…it may be my only “victory” in the legislature this year.
- Tuesday the Judiciary Committee heard testimony on HB-35 which seeks to define “income” as it relates to Child Support payments. Those testifying wanted to see the state use the base amount of a person’s income used for determining Child Support payments as opposed to the counting of overtime into the mix as well. The same was said of second jobs. It seems many will take on second jobs to make up for payments in arrears and they do not want the secondary employment income seen as their “base income”. There were good points made, but I do not know if this bill will see a vote in committee.
- On Tuesday, the Judiciary Committee also received a briefing by MVA on the state’s Ignition Interlock System Program. This is a mandatory program which requires certain driver’s convicted of DWI offenses to have a device installed on their personal vehicle which requires the driver submit a breath sample before the vehicle will operate. Initial kinks seem to have been worked out of the system based on the questions asked by Committee members regarding past concerns. There was some discussion on the use of pictures taken by some of the machines which show clearly who is providing the breath sample at the time of delivery. It was thought this may be helpful insuring the breath sample is provided by the proper person. This was an interesting discussion as the committee will see at least two other bills regarding these devices and the potential for their expanded use in Maryland.
- I attended a reception hosted by the Cable Telecommunications Association early Tuesday evening and met with local Comcast representatives. On display was their latest technology offering of 3-D television viewing. The folks there were all sharing their concerns over further government regulations, mandates, and fees on their industry.
- Wednesday morning started off meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Maryland Egg Council. This industry is pretty significant in Maryland and shared similar concerns that all poultry growers and farmers have of the current regulations being prescribed by the MDE and the EPA over their industry. We keep banging that gong, but so far we are meeting a deaf ear.
- Wednesday afternoon I met with Del. Conway, Sen. Mathias, and all 7 of the Worcester County Commissioners to discuss the LCB. We had a very open and candid discussion which lasted a little over an hour. It was agreed that the Commissioners would take a few days to address some of our concerns and then contact us for further action. It was very productive and moved the ball down the field of finding a satisfactory solution to the shared concerns around the table.
- Late Wednesday afternoon, a special meeting of the Republican Caucus was held. Following a great discussion, it was unanimously agreed that the caucus would issue a statement in support of Maryland’s definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. I felt this was an important decision as several bills in the House and Senate are moving forward which seek to redefine marriage in Maryland. No doubt, this will be a fight in committee and on the floor of both chambers.
- Thursday morning I attended a briefing on the various pension systems, their insolvency, and their potential impact on future budgets. This was the third briefing I have attended in the early morning hours being conducted by Republican law makers. I have found them very informative. Bottom line: our systems are in a great deal of trouble and are not sustainable. They are broke and need fixing. We have heard the reports from a bi-partisan committee, and they are ugly. The ruling party has neglected to fund these liabilities for the past 10-years. This, coupled with the Stock Market crash, has led to a crisis that must be solved.
- Thursday both houses convened in the House of Delegates at 11:30 AM to receive the Governor’s State of the State Address. Much as been said regarding the governor’s intended direction, and I have issued my own response to his speech. I will say that these events are full of ceremony and recognitions which take a long time. The House floor is full to overflowing with folks waiting to hear the speech. While I deeply enjoyed the history of the event and being a part of it, I was very disturbed by some of the things contained in the Governor’s speech…as were many on both sides of the isle. I continued to hear those sentiments echoed throughout Annapolis until I left for home on Friday afternoon.
- Friday morning was the weekly meeting of the Eastern Shore Delegation. It is always nice to see folks from home in Annapolis. We heard from the folks with the DPI on the state of the poultry industry. Director Bill Satterfield spoke about how the industry has gone through 5 years of relatively flat growth and how we need to average roughly 100-new poultry houses constructed on the Delmarva annually if we are to remain viable and growing. They voiced concerns over attempts to ban the antibiotic roxarsone (a feed supplement for birds which contains small amounts of arsenic). Some questions were raised over any potential impact of these trace levels of arsenic on the environment, and, in particular, the bay. DPI assured us the use was well within guidelines established by the USDA and the effects were negligible on the environment. The Delegation was also thanked for their support on legislative efforts to protect the poultry industry.
We also heard from Secretary John Griffin of the Department of Natural Resources. There was clearly some tension in the room as the Secretary was questioned about the status of Oyster Sanctuaries and recent enforcement efforts impacting local fishermen. It seems Natural Resources Police are utilizing GPS tracking devices to monitor the whereabouts of some fishing boats on the bay for possible violations. This led to some very testy remarks between Sen. Rich Colburn and Sec. Griffin. Clearly, there is general angst between the professional watermen and the DNR. The elected officials were just delivering the message.
We also heard from folks with Bramble Construction Contractors. They came in to voice support for a hike in the fuel tax to restore funding to the Transportation Trust Fund. It was clear that the Delegation believes that the Trust Fund is adequately supplied through current taxes if the governor and the ruling party would stop raiding hundreds of millions of dollars to support the General Fund. I did not see anyone at the table who though another 10 cents per gallon at the pump was a good idea.