Annapolis Notes - March 14

March 13, 2011

Pets: more than just property?

An attempt to elevate dogs’ legal status was smacked on the nose with a newspaper.

In Maryland, pets are considered joint marital property in divorce cases. Judges may rule that a pet, like other disputed property, be sold and the proceeds divided.

A July 2010 story in The Daily Record about a divorcing Calvert County couple highlighted this issue. A circuit judge decided, on his own, to let the couple split custody of their Lhasa apso, Lucky.

The situation inspired Del. Benjamin F. Kramer, D-Montgomery, to file a bill letting judges grant visitation rights or joint custody of pets in divorce cases.

“People feel very strongly about their pets,” Kramer said.

The House Judiciary Committee felt strongly that it was a bad bill and defeated it 17-4 this month.

Two Washington County delegates on the committee — Republicans Neil C. Parrott and Michael J. Hough — voted against the bill.

Parrott said Thursday that he was concerned pet-custody issues could consume court time like child-custody cases. If there were a guarantee that the judge’s initial finding would end the dispute, “I would probably be OK with that,” he said.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, backed Kramer’s cause and cross-filed the bill in the Senate, but withdrew it after the Judiciary Committee vote.

Antietam funding request heard

A hearing on possible state money for Antietam Fire Co. was held Saturday.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, has requested $200,000 to help the fire company move from Summit Avenue to Hagerstown’s North End.

Last week, Republican delegates LeRoy E. Myers Jr. and Andrew A. Serafini wrote a letter urging a House budget subcommittee to reject Donoghue’s bill.

The battle has focused on whether the fire company already sought funding from another source (it didn’t) and if the state should fund requests like this one in tough financial times.

Signs of that battle didn’t surface at Saturday’s hearing, which was limited to a few minutes, as part of a calendar of dozens of similar funding requests.

The subcommittee will recommend which projects should get funding in the next fiscal year.

A birthday present: a bill

Late in the General Assembly session, new bills must get special approval to proceed — 94 votes in the House.

Lawmakers routinely oblige, but the sponsor still must explain why the bill is late.

On Wednesday, Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, asked for permission for a late bill on the state pension system, even though the delay wasn’t his fault.

“This I gave to (bill) drafting over four weeks ago. It’s a fairly complicated bill, so it took this long,” Serafini told his House colleagues.

“And, today is my birthday by the way, so I’d appreciate a green (for “yes”) vote,” he added, getting applause and perhaps a little compassion.

“So, we won’t need to announce that later,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said, referring to lawmakers often wishing each other happy birthday on the floor.

Serafini’s bill advanced on the day he turned 49.

— Andrew Schotz,

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