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Monday, February 04, 2013

Field Notes 2-4-13

Observations and Reflections on Legislative Activities

By Delegate Michael A. McDermott
Week 4 Jan. 28-Feb. 1, 2013

Tuesday Judiciary Committee Hearings:
HB-116 would allow for what is commonly referred to as “one-way” wire taps for crimes involving vulnerable adults. Current law allows for use of this type of recording for a multitude of crimes from Murder to Obstruction of Justice. This bill would add crimes against vulnerable adults to the list. We heard from several folks about the need for this mechanism to assist in these crimes, particularly many that cannot even speak for themselves.

HB-156 would increase the fee of removing a shopping cart from a store premise from $25 to $100. The penalty has been in place since the 1950’s and it is believed that the increased penalty would help keep people from removing the carts for fear of prosecution. This crime is already covered by the current Theft statute which carries a more significant penalty of up to $500. I suggested that Montgomery County create a local civil penalty to encourage enforcement that could target their particular problem with these cart thefts.

HB-154 would provide that someone who is sentenced in a District Court case who is convicted and sentenced who is entitled a second (new) trial before the Circuit Court would be allowed to have their sentence stayed pending the outcome of their appeal to the Circuit Court. It would act to release people from incarceration (who have already been convicted) while their case is on appeal. According to testimony, it is unclear if anyone is having difficulty receiving an Appeal Bond while they wait for their Circuit Court trial and this may not even be a problem.

HB-152 seeks to limit the double jeopardy which can occur when a case is tried before a Federal Court which could also have jurisdiction in a State Court. It basically makes the government choose the jurisdiction in which it wants to pursue a case against an individual.

Special Committee on Gun Legislation: Today the committee received an overview of the O’Malley-Brown Gun Bill. We went over the major components of the legislation asking questions along the way for clarification. I have broken the bill down and, although it is not an exhaustive review, it provides a good overview. It can be viewed at this link: Gun Bill Overview.

Wednesday Session-State of the State Speech
Today, all the pomp and circumstance of a joint session in the House of Delegates where we listen to Governor O’Malley tell us how he sees the condition of our state. The governor began by referencing the Ravens, and, had he stopped there, it would have been the most uniting speech of his career. It went downhill from there. The governor is a big government guy and he believes it all the way. He pointed to a list of accomplished areas such as education where Maryland receives “number one” ratings from certain select sources. Essentially, if a state government is willing to outspend us as a percentage of their assigned state funding on education, they can dethrone us. This is also true for our willingness to spend money we do not have to provide various services across the board for anyone who asks. For instance, we are certainly not “number one” in the outcome of the education we provide, but let’s not look at those statistics. I do not blame the governor for drawing attention to areas where the state has been awarded a blue ribbon by some magazine or association, but our failure to be intellectually honest about how we achieve the ranking only hurts our future by focussing on the wrong measure of success: outcome!

Here are some of the governor’s concluding remarks. Where he refers to “a random shuffling of the deck”, he must have been alluding to this speech and our direction as a state. ..

“ I leave you with these thoughts:
Life is an ever evolving story of change and choice –letting go of things and ways that were, in order to reach for that which we have yet to achieve.

It is not some random shuffling of the deck, or a tossing of cards. Life is an intentional process, and it calls for the goodness of our own intentions.

We, here in Maryland, are called to work at the center of this intentional movement. For every decision we make, there is a future foretold.

Jobs and opportunity; public safety, public education, public transportation, the health of our people and the health of our planet. These are our concerns; and they are also the world’s concerns.”-Governor Martin O’Malley

Go here to read the entire speech

Wednesday Judiciary Hearings:
HB-163 would eliminate the Office of Orphans Court Judge from Anne Arrundel County and replace them with the Circuit Court. It was supported by the Anne Arrundel Delegation but was opposed strongly by many judges of the Orphans Court across Maryland. Based upon what I heard and observed, this bill is going nowhere.

HB-150 would require that a person who is involved in a motor vehicle accident where a fatality or serious injury occurs cannot refuse to submit to a test of breath or blood to determine alcohol concentration. This bill seeks to increase the number of drivers tested and an overall strengthening of DWI enforcement in Maryland in accident cases. There was only token resistance offered by the Office of the Public Defender.

HB-78 is the “Pit Bull” legislation which seeks to mitigate the court case which made all owners of Pitt Bull dogs liable for any attacks, damage, or bites inflicted by the dog. This bill would provide that an owner can provide evidence to show that they had no reason to believe the dog in question was previously aggressive (a rebuttable presumption). Effectively, this bill will widen the liability incurred by dog owners in general as opposed to being breed specific. The impression from the co sponsors of the legislation is that the bill is a compromise and does not reflect the will of the House of Delegates in a bill which was passed last year by the House. The hearing was long with many people testifying on the bill.

Thursday Afternoon Judiciary-Budget Briefing
We received our annual budget fiscal briefing by Director Warren Deschenaux of the Office of Policy Analysis from the Dept. of Legislative Services. Overall spending increases over 6%. There are hundreds of millions in new spending and some restoration funding. The budget includes a 3% COLA for State employees as well as Merit raises. Our debt service currently stands at $100 million, but more state spending involves trading current dollars for bonds (debt). This will increase our debt service in coming years to over half a billion dollars which will have a significant impact on future budgets. It is the proverbial kicking of the can down the road. The next two administrations will be addressing the folly of the current administrations spending policies.

There is a new $25 million fund for School Security (this will not go far across an entire state). The budget throws a one time bone to municipal governments by giving them a slight increase for local transportation issues. This is nowhere near the 90% amount the governor took from local government funding several years ago. Ironically, the governor does not call for increasing any funding for the counties in this regard. Some of these breakdowns can be found on page 5 at the above link.

Special Committee on Gun Legislation: Today the committee heard from Dr. Daniel Webster (John Hopkins) and Secretary Joshua Sarfstein (MD Dept. of Health) regarding studies on gun violence and firearms registration components instituted by various jurisdictions. The relevance of the information was questionable as there was no comparison/contrast with what Maryland is currently doing in this regard. Some information that would have been helpful was simply missing from the presentation.

Press Conference on Gun Bill: There was a Senate-House Press Conference on the O’Malley-Brown Gun Bill. Sadly, while Republicans are standing up to the assault on the 2nd Amendment, so far the Democrats have been mostly silent with any opposition. Only Senator John Astle and Delegate Kevin Kelly have spoken up against the bill.

Friday Morning Eastern Shore Delegation Meeting:
The Delegation met with Secretary Joshua Sharfstein of the MD Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene. We also met with representatives of various Hospice organizations from the Eastern Shore who reported on their activities. We received an update from the folks representing the Healthy Families Programs and agreed to write a letter to support a funding increase. Minutes from the meeting are available at this link: Delegation Minutes 2-1-13.

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