Field NotesObservations and Reflections on Legislative Activities
By Delegate Michael A. McDermott
Week 5 Feb.4-Feb. 8, 2013
I drove over to Quiet Water Park to make a presentation to two outstanding Worcester County residents who were being awarded the 2012 Sportsmanship Award through the Maryland Dept. of Parks and Recreation. The state recognized Stephen Decatur Middle School student athlete Sarah Mitrecic and Coach Stan Parker for their commitment to sportsmanship and their pursuit of excellence.
Tuesday Morning Session:
HB-75 passed this morning allowing for a change in reporting deadlines for certain utility companies. We also adopted HS-0001 which was a rebuke of certain actions taken by Delegate William “Tony” McConkey during 2012 and to accept the report of the House Ethics Committee and the recommended actions. Delegate McConkey apologized to the House members for his conduct, but also offered some defense of his actions. I voted to censure the delegate and accept the report judging his actions as wholly inappropriate. (Full Report)
Tuesday Judiciary Committee Hearings:
HB-262, HB-267, HB-482, HB-483 all address synthetic cannabinoids and the distribution of faked controlled substances. The legislation seeks to outlaw all aspects of synthetic marijuana and provide the judiciary with the ability to take certain notice as the drug compounds are adjusted by the drug dealers to skirt the law. This particular drug is being sold as “bath salts” and “popery” mixes which are laced with a chemical compound designed to mimic the marijuana high.
HB-338 updates the limit on felony theft to requiring a value of over $1000.00 to bring the various laws governing theft and robbery in sync with one another.
HB-202 seeks to address the malicious destruction of property, specifically transit vehicles. I do not see the need for this bill when felony MDOP already exists.
HB-382 would require defendants to pay into the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. It would expand the requirement by allowing these fees to reflect the current practice of funds being received for PBJ cases.
HB-180 would provide an affirmative defense for caregivers of those individuals who acquire or provide marijuana for medical purposes to patients.
HB-183 would modify the composition of the state Correctional Training Commission. It would require the Commission membership to also consist of members from within the ranks of Correctional Officers. We heard from representatives of the corrections employees who feel the strong need to have a voice at the commission level. I suggested an ex-officio status for two committee members who would be appointed from within the ranks.
HB-254 would allow a local jail facility to detain individuals on Arrest documents when a District Court Commissioner is otherwise not available for a Preliminary Hearing. As written, this bill would only affect Allegany County. It is a good idea and I will be trying to see if other counties can be added to the bill.
HB-311 would require a parent or care giver to report a child as missing within 24-hours and 5-hours to notify authorities upon the death of a minor child once the condition becomes known. This was crafted to address some of the issues arising from the Casey Anthony case in Florida where a child’s disappearance went unreported.
HB-250 would require the victims in criminal cases being given priority in receiving compensation from a defendant before the state receives their penalties or fees. It puts victims first and gives priority for restitution.
HB-219 seeks to limit the use of “No-Knock” Search Warrants without prior notification being given to local authorities. The bill would require that the Sheriff of a jurisdiction would need to be notified prior to the execution of a “No-Knock” Warrant. These are warrants that are issued which do not require the police to “knock and announce” their presence prior to executing a warrant.
HB-377 seeks to codify the procedure for using GPS tracking technology in criminal investigations. This bill would require law enforcement to secure a court order in order to capture this information.
Wednesday Morning Session:
Several House of Delegates Awards were presented this morning. The Speaker’s Medallion was presented to John M. Colmers from John Hopkins. The Thomas Kennedy Award was presented to the late Delegates Howard P. Rawlings and Jean B. Cryor. The Caspor R. Taylor Jr. Founders Award was presented to Delegate Veronica L. Turner (Prince Georges Co.).
Wednesday 2nd Amendment Rally on the Mall:
Thousands turned out for a pro-gun rally on the mall conducted at noon. It tied in with the first hearing in the Senate of SB-281, the O’Malley-Brown Gun Bill. While thousands attended the rally, thousands more signed up to speak in the Senate. Just before we began speaking to the crowd, a beautiful American Bald Eagle circled overhead…not a familiar site in downtown Annapolis to be sure, but an incredible omen for those attending. I’m quite sure that for every thousand that attended, there were another 10,000 that wanted to be there to raise their collective voice against this bill.
Surely there are areas where we could work to make things better for gun owners and our communities, but much of the bill is cosmetic. Banning one type or class of firearm over another is not going to get the job done and is a fool’s errand. Portions of the bill address mental health issues, which we could focus on this year, but much of the bill misses the target. I spoke to the folks as did many other lawmakers and grass roots organizers and it was wonderful to see such a passionate response. I tell you, it made those senators take notice. If we, as citizens, responded more passionately about the other areas of life that come under attack by our elected officials, our Maryland would be a much better place to live and raise a family.
(Here are some clips from the rally)
Wednesday Judiciary Committee Hearings:
HB-129 would create a task force committee to study the implementation of a right to civil counsel in Maryland. The principal would be to create a mechanism for providing legal counsel for civil litigants so lower income citizens could have assistance in cases involving basic needs and services. This type of bill will be hamstrung by funding issues, but the concept should be studied.
HB-130 addresses the issue of awarding attorney fees and expenses by the courts. The advocates testified that many cases do not move forward since they are not monetary based and the attorney would have difficulty taking such a case due to the financial implications. This bill would allow a Maryland judge to allow for the awarding of attorney fees in such cases is deemed appropriate by the court. There is some degree of confusion as to what courts this might apply.
HB-186 would create a Law Enforcement Training and Technology Fund by assessing a $5.00 fee on court costs for traffic violations. The money collected would be distributed to the counties through the Governor’s Office of Crime Control. This fund exists within the governor’s budget, but has never been funded.
Bill Hearing on HB-106 (Repeal SB-236):
This afternoon I had my hearing on the repeal of last year’s Sustainable Growth-Septic Bill, HB-106. What a great turnout from the shore and the rest of Maryland. The testimony took a couple of hours and I heard from some of the folks on the committee who supported the governor’s bill last year that may be having a change of heart after listening to the folks today. While we had many come up for the 2nd Amendment rally on the mall today, a significant number came to testify to repeal a bill that is a jobs killer and a taking of land rights and value with no compensation to the owner. It truly represents a great land grab by the governor and I was proud to stand with Delegate Fisher (R-St. Mary’s) and make a passionate plea for them to move forward with a full repeal of this legislation. I want to thank all those who took the time to travel from all over this great state to speak out on this very important subject.(Click here to see testimony-start time was 3:19 pm)
Bill Hearing on HB-188 (Generator Tax Credit):
My hearing on HB-188 was conducted before the Ways and Means Committee this afternoon. The bill allows for a tax credit of up to $7000.00 for gas stations who install emergency power generation equipment. The credit would be provided against their State Corporate Income Tax liability. I showed a prepared video of the problems encountered following Hurricane Sandy. The members asked several thoughtful questions and I believe the bill may have a chance at moving forward.
(Click here to see testimony-start time is 3:09pm)
Thursday Morning Session:
We had a good debate this morning over HB-89 which would create a surcharge tax on natural gas consumers in Maryland of up to $2.00 per month. It was said that this would “protect” consumers by putting a cap on the amount that can be charged for replacement projects on underground pipe. It was argued that these fees area already factored into utility rates by the Public Service Commission and they have the ability to include these increases in the rates at anytime they feel it is warranted. Originally, I liked the idea of a cap being in place and supported the concept. In the end, there were too many unanswered questions and potential outcomes that moved me to be unfavorable on the bill.
Thursday Special Committee on SB-281 (Gun Bill):
We heard from the State Superintendent of Public Schools and her staff regarding school safety. As one might expect, their position and approach tended to be very academic. They do not like the idea of introducing any firearms into the security equation as an option. They do not like the idea of electronic control devices either. In fact, they did not even like the idea of off-duty or retired police having the ability to carry firearms on their campuses. They want to spend the money on locking doors and training people how to respond. This is alright, but we know that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Their failure to embrace this notion is disturbing.
Thursday Judiciary Hearings:
HB-257 seeks a change to the makeup of the local St. Mary’s Adult Protective Services Board. Currently the law requires a psychologist be one of the members and the board has had trouble keeping this particular position filled.
HB-277 would change the manner of hearings conducted before the judiciary in cases involving children in need of assistance. It would add a new review hearing to be conducted within 6-months of a child being brought into the system. This would be a minor extension of the hearing schedule already being conducted.
HB-278 would require the notification at least 10-days prior to any hearing involving a child be made to a foster parent, caregiver, or pre-adoptive parent. This is in response to a federal mandate requiring these actions to bring Maryland into compliance with federal law. It is requested by the Maryland Judiciary.
HB-200 would make strangulation a First Degree Assault as opposed to a Second Degree Assault. There was testimony that this issue needs to be addressed to deal with domestic violence assaults. Since Second Degree Assault already carries a 10-year penalty, the committee seemed reluctant to increase the penalty for any degree of strangulation or choking as the full penalty is rarely being applied.
HB-178 is a bill that would strengthen the Dangerous Dog Law. It covers issues surrounding registration with Animal Control and dog owner liability when it comes to protecting the public from dog bites and attacks. The committee is attempting to address the Dangerous Dog Law in light of recent court decisions which make Pit Bulls, by definition, a “dangerous breed”. I believe a bill one bill will come out of the committee to address this issue.
HB-618 would place a strict liability standard on all dogs which are considered to be “running at large”. This is the bill which was favored by the Judiciary Committee during one of the Special Sessions in 2012.
Judiciary Voting Session:
The following bills were approved by the committee:
Friday Eastern Shore Delegation Meeting:
We heard from Sec. of Agriculture Buddy Hance today and generally it was discouraging. Former Ag Secretaries always found a kindred spirit in the Eastern Shore Delegation, but that is not true for Sec. Hance. While previous Ag Secretaries often fought against the Governor’s proposals tried to minimize the damage for the farming communities, Sec. Hance seems to accept the environmental push down of fees and over regulation as unavoidable and offers rarely a whimper of objection. Much of this was pointed out by Sen. Pipkin. Sen. Mathias defended the governor and the administration. I’m quite sure our previous Ag Secretaries from the shore would have already resigned in protest of the administration’s actions. The fact that Sec. Hance feet remain fixed speaks volumes.
We also heard from the Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) representatives who painted a very bleak picture of their industries status in Maryland. New House construction is not even close to meeting a sustainability number for the industry. Folks are still reporting 1-2 year wait times and delays for permit approvals. We heard from the banking side of industry which highlighted the damage to borrowing power done by last year’s Septic Bill (SB-236). When you contrast our decline with our neighboring states progress, it appears very unlikely that we can recover. The industry is expanding in Delaware at the same rate it is contracting in Maryland.
The Mayor’s Association was in town for meetings and we had Mayor Gee Williams from Berlin and Mayor Bruce Morrison along with his wife Laura in attendance at the meeting. I also had the privilege of being shadowed by Jack Fager who came with his mom Michelle from Ocean City to see Maryland government in action.