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Thinking outside the vote box: Local wins and losses in Annapolis

April 23, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
By Chad Trovinger, Graphic Artist

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Gauging lawmakers' success in Annapolis isn't as easy as looking at how many of their bills passed.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, and Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, each said they filed certain bills this year just to stimulate debate.

Some local bills technically were defeated in committee, but the proposals they contained were adopted through another bill or an agreement that didn't require legislation.

Being a watchdog is important, too, as former Sen. Alex X. Mooney once said: "I protect and represent my constituents. There's just as much value when I defeat a bad bill that would take away their right as when I pass a bill."

So, how did members of the Washington County delegation fare in the 2011 General Assembly session?

Some highlights:

Sen. Christopher B. Shank and Del. Michael J. Hough successfully shepherded through a plan for a quicker, fairer system of punishing parole violators.

The legislature approved Young's bill to allow online voter registration.

Del. John P. Donoghue won a two-year deadline extension for the Doleman Black Heritage Museum to get $25,000 in matching money for a state grant. (The Agnita M. Stine Schreiber Foundation is donating the $25,000 for the museum to use as a match).

But Shank's bill proposing a maximum life sentence for people who fatally abuse a child failed for the fourth straight year.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr. tabled plans to pursue nonpartisan elections for certain county offices and to force certain businesses selling alcohol to close earlier.

As delegation chair, though, Myers watched over a modest agenda that breezed through to final passage.

Myers

Myers, a Republican, said Washington County fared well because funding for the downtown library expansion and a new state police barrack were protected. "We were able to just keep things going," he said.

Of the six individual bills he filed this year, one was approved — clarifying that a campground that provides electricity isn't a "public service company."

A pair of his bills would have made elections for certain county positions in Maryland, including sheriff, nonpartisan. The idea ran into resistance, so Myers expects to try again next year, making it only apply to Washington County.

He also might try to fine-tune a bill limiting the closing time for off-sale liquor licenses, commonly held by places known as "package stores." He had proposed moving it from 2 a.m. to 11 p.m.

He said he was disappointed his bill to change codes governing building trades was defeated 12-9 in committee; a few delegates who he thought supported him went the other way.

Donoghue

Besides the Doleman extension, Donoghue, a Democrat, also saw the General Assembly pass his bills changing the definition of abuse in a state institution and the definition of the practice of physical therapy.

His attempt to win $200,000 for Antietam Fire Company to move to a new home was denied, but he was told from the House speaker's office that there's a good chance the money can come from another source.

On behalf of Meritus Health, Donoghue pushed a bill to get Medicaid reimbursement for the John R. Marsh Cancer Center. The center had tried several times to get permission for reimbursement, starting in 2005.

The problem was that the cancer center, after moving to Robinwood Medical Center, was no longer seen as part of the hospital. But, according to Donoghue, with a new hospital next to the center, the state decided that the center once again qualified. He withdrew his bill when it became unnecessary.

Serafini

Serafini filed seven bills this year — all related to the state retirement and pension system.

They represented work he'd done for the House Republican Caucus on the issue, leading a study group and drafting proposals.

He suggested a variety of restructuring ideas that he said could help the state come closer to meeting its unfunded liabilities and making the system sounder. But six bills of his were defeated and one didn't come up for a vote.

Still, it was a valuable exercise, Serafini said; the only way to get a state cost analysis of the proposals was to turn them into bills.

One plan will be sent to a commission studying the pension system for further consideration, he said.

Shank

The majority of Shank's bills that passed this year were cross-filed versions of Washington County delegation legislation.

The successful parole reform bill also was his, as were an expansion of a Law Enforcement Officers' Bill of Rights and the change to the Washington County Board of Elections, elevating alternates to full members.

His attempts to create a plan to reduce recidivism among former inmates fell short. Neither the child-abuse bill, known as Justice's Law, nor a proposed new felony for people who supply drugs that kill a minor came up for a vote, which can happen when a committee chairman doesn't like a bill or if the votes aren't there to pass it.

Shank, a Republican, said he felt he also did well this session in other ways, meeting his goal of building relationships in his first year in the Senate. In committee, he helped amend some bills, such as one on the statute of limitation on certain sex offenses and one on the lifetime supervision of juvenile sex offenders.

"That's where I always found I can be most effective, is in committee," he said. "When you're one of 11, you can have more of a voice."

Parrott

As a freshman delegate, Neil C. Parrott, a Republican, filed one bill and one resolution that were his own.

His bill proposing to make abandoning a refrigerator a civil offense, with a higher fine, instead of a crime, failed. He has said it was meant to be an example of an outdated law that needed to be changed.

His resolution calling for Maryland to enforce immigration law also was defeated.

"My big goal was to learn the process," he said. Part of the lesson was the power of the committee process and the importance of finding allies.

Since the session ended this month, Parrott has put himself in the spotlight by leading a petition drive to overturn, by referendum, a bill granting in-state college tuition to illegal immigrants.

Edwards

If the number and percentage of bills passed means anything, Sen. George C. Edwards, a Republican, might have had the most victories in the delegation.

Among the eight measures of his that were approved: higher fines for damaging surveying stakes; a slight change in the regulations for service stations' fuel signs; an exemption for customers of a small rural electric cooperative; and income-tax credits of up to $1,500 for teachers at correctional facilities for adults and juveniles.

That doesn't include bills of his that passed, but only affect another part of his district — such as one creating a sweetener for selling the Rocky Gap Lodge and Resort in Allegany County.

He failed to get an exemption from sprinkler requirements for manufactured homes, but got an extension for milk-hauling permits — although it ended up in another approved bill.

Edwards' proposal to set a limit on how much state education aid counties (namely, Garrett and Allegany) can lose made it into the state budget.

No county will lose more than 6 1/2 percent of aid from the previous year, rather than the 7 percent he proposed.

Hough

Hough, a Republican, said he considered his parole reform bill that passed a good start for the state to save money on incarceration costs.

"I was very fortunate to get something through in my first year," he said, crediting Shank for making inroads in the Senate. Hough said some lawmakers might go an entire four-year term without having a bill pass.

He wasn't as fortunate with his bills seeking a Council on Efficient Government and requiring a "small-business impact" analysis for all bills. Both were defeated in committee.

Hough also pursued a bill to force the governor to proclaim Feb. 6 as Ronald Reagan Day, following a movement started by the nonprofit group Americans for Tax Reform. Shank had the same bill in the Senate.

Their Reagan bills died because of the legislature's reluctance this year to declare any honorary days or months. Earlier in the session, however, Gov. Martin O'Malley quietly issued a "Tribute to Ronald Reagan" proclamation, making the bills moot.

Young

Young's push for online voting drew the most opposition in a final vote of any successful bill in the delegation; it passed the House 91-45. A second bill of his also was approved, letting Maryland share election registration information with other states to get more accurate records.

His pitch for more early-voting centers got stuck in committee.

Although his bills to limit nitrogen and phosphorus pollution were voted down, the principles were rolled into another bill, he said.

Young also filed a bill to prohibit the Maryland Environmental Trust from acquiring certain easements planned for development and one to raise bridge and tunnel tolls. "I put those two bills in to grab attention (to the issues), knowing that both wouldn't pass," he said.

At 70 years old, Young was considered a freshman, like other newcomers. But, with his lengthy state government experience in Annapolis, he said the label is a misnomer. "I've been down there in one way or another for 40 years," he said.

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