2013 session of Maryland General Assembly productive for Washington County

April 21, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU |
By Chad Trovinger/Graphic Artist

Washington County’s state legislators said that the 2013 session of the Maryland General Assembly was a productive one for the county, with many delegation bills being approved.

The county also got a $1.55 million share of a wealth-based grant called the disparity grant for fiscal year 2014.

Getting the grant money was one of the top priorities for the delegation during the session, which ended earlier this month.

The disparity grant money comes to the county through the budget process, with delegation members trying various strategies to ensure money for the county.

State Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington and Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, were able to get money for some repair and renovation projects in the county.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, and state Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, sponsored successful legislation that would give some correctional officers credit for accumulated sick leave at retirement.

Del. Neil C. Parrott, R-Washington, and Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, were the primary sponsors of one bill each that were approved by both legislative chambers.

As in 2012, about a quarter of the bills — including duplicate versions of bills in the House and the Senate, but excluding bills dealing only with other counties — submitted by the local delegation passed.

The county delegation filed nine bills and five of them passed. One was withdrawn and there was no action on three of them, according to the General Assembly’s website.

Bills that passed easily included a $60 million bond authorization bill to fund the county’s Capital Improvement Plan through fiscal year 2018 and a bill that would let the county enter into PILOT agreements with technology-related companies to let them make payments in lieu of personal property taxes.

Another successful piece of legislation from the delegation would let the county appoint municipal law enforcement officers as special sheriff’s deputies in some circumstances for more effective enforcement.

A House committee took no action on a delegation bill that would let a county board of education begin its fall high school sports practice season up to two weeks earlier than the date set by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association.

A delegation bill that would alter electioneering boundaries to 50 feet from the entrance and exit of a polling station from the current 100 feet was withdrawn after opposition from the Washington County Board of Elections.

But delegation members stressed that counting the number of bills that passed or failed is a less than ideal way of measuring the success or failure of a legislator.

“When a legislator is able to point out serious flaws with a bad bill and it is killed, some would say that is better than passing a bill. Many point to the work in taking care of particular problems for constituents as the most important work of an elected official,” Serafini said in an email. “There are many factors to consider but whether one passes bills or not in my opinion does very little to reflect the overall performance of the elected official.”

Shank said that sometimes, bills are put in to start a discussion around an issue.

“A count ... it is not the best way to measure how effective a legislator is ...” he said.

Donoghue mentioned a lot of behind-the-scenes “legwork” that a legislator has to do.

“I’m not quite sure it is easy to give a grade on the total picture,” he said.

Del. John P. Donoghue

Donoghue introduced bond bills during the session asking for $85,000 for renovations and repairs to the Antietam Fire Company’s new fire station in the North End of Hagerstown and $300,000 to demolish the former Municipal Electric Light Plant in Hagerstown.

His bill requesting money for the fire station was fully funded, but the request for the MELP plant demolition money was unsuccessful.

Donoghue also worked to secure $100,000 in planning money for a downtown Hagerstown redevelopment study through the governor’s supplemental budget.

A bill that he introduced to let motor clubs engage in financing premiums did not progress in the House.

Sen. George C. Edwards

A bond bill requested by Edwards to renovate and repair Lock 44, Lockhouse 44 and the Western Maryland Railroad lift bridge in Williamsport to improve Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park was partially funded for $100,000.

The requested amount was $175,000. A similar request in 2012 by Edwards for $320,000 to fund improvements at the C&O Canal in Williamsport was funded for $175,000.

Another successful measure introduced by Edwards would require those negotiating with a property owner to acquire rights to oil and gas on the property to register with the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and get a registration certificate from the department.

This year, Edwards reintroduced two bills that would start a mass transit fund in jurisdictions that have mass transit, but both of those bills did not make any progress in a Senate committee.

Del. Michael J. Hough

Two bills that Hough, R-Frederick/Washington, sponsored along with Shank passed during the session.

One would require the Department of Juvenile Services to report to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee by Dec. 1, 2014, on the results of a policy of “graduated responses” designed to make children in its jurisdiction accountable for their actions.

The other bill, that Shank introduced in the Senate, would make it a crime to interfere with mandated reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect.

State law requires teachers, social workers, counselors, caseworkers, and parole or probation officers to notify appropriate agencies if they suspect such abuse or neglect.

The measure makes interfering with such mandatory reporting a crime punishable by a maximum prison term of five years and/or a $10,000 fine.

A Hough-sponsored measure that would change standards for involuntary admissions for those with mental-health disorders to some mental-health facilities or a veterans’ hospital did not clear a House committee. Hough said he would introduce the bill again next year.

Another bill that Hough introduced requiring that any legislation on tax increases or a new tax be passed by a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the General Assembly did not make it out of committee.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr.

A bill sponsored by Myers that would make it easier to rent motorcycles in the state passed. It was the only successful measure out of four bills that he introduced during the session.

A delegation bill that Myers asked for giving more authority to the county Building Code Board of Appeals was withdrawn because it did not have the support of the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

Other bills that Myers introduced included one that would create a tax credit against the state income tax for the cost of purchasing and installing some kinds of renewable energy systems and another bill requiring the filing of death certificates electronically. Those bills did not pass.

Del. Neil C. Parrott

A bill introduced by Parrott and state Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, that passed would prevent a polling place being located in a private building unless the owner agreed to allow campaigning and signs on the premises up to a specified boundary, among other stipulations.

According to a description of the bill, campaign signs must be allowed on the premises of a public or private building beginning 7 p.m. on the day before early voting starts and the day before elections until 8 a.m. the day after the early voting period ends and the day after Election Day.

Parrott said the bill was an attempt to have uniform electioneering laws in the state.

A bipartisan effort by Parrott and Del. Aruna Miller, D-Montgomery, that would give flexibility to the State Highway Administration to increase the maximum speed limit on interstates and state expressways from 65 mph to 70 mph, and raise the maximum speed on the Inter-County Connector — a toll road connecting Interstate 270 in Montgomery County to Interstate 95 in Prince George’s County — to 70 mph did not succeed.

Another bill introduced by Parrott to prohibit abortions at 20 weeks gestation or later, except in circumstances such as medical emergencies, did not get out of committee. Parrott said the bill was important because it started a conversation about the issue.

A bill introduced by Parrott and cross-filed by Shank that would ensure that a county’s sheriff or the chief of a county’s primary law enforcement agency is notified before a warrant is served in their jurisdiction by a police officer from another agency was voted down in committee.

Del. Andrew A. Serafini

A Serafini bill, cross-filed by Shank in the Senate, that passed with ease would let state employees who formerly were part of the Correctional Officers’ Retirement System, but were transferred to another retirement system because of a promotion within the same organization, get credit for accumulated sick leave at retirement.

Another Serafini bill that passed would let insurance producers fulfill continuing-education requirements through online or correspondence courses approved by the insurance commissioner. The bill also prevents the commissioner from not approving such a course only based on the “methodology or technology” used to deliver it.

As in 2012, Serafini introduced a bill that would give people a break on income tax on forgiven credit-card debt. But the bill got stuck in the Senate after it cleared the House.

Serafini also introduced some bills that he called “conversation starters.”

One of them would lead to a flat state income tax of 4.51 percent on federal gross adjusted income for all state residents. Another would reduce the corporate income tax rate in the state from 8.25 percent to 4 percent. Both bills did not make it out of a House committee.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank

Several bills introduced by Shank passed during the General Assembly session, including one that would codify a law preventing a person who intentionally kills a person from benefiting from the death.

“A person who feloniously and intentionally kills, conspires to kill, or procures the killing of a decedent is disqualified from inheriting, taking, enjoying, receiving, or otherwise benefiting from the death, probate estate, or nonprobate property of the decedent,” said a description of the bill by the state’s Department of Legislative Services.

Other successful bills included one that would let the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services set aside 20 percent of the earnings by an inmate in the Private Sector/Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program so that crime victims could be compensated.

A bill Shank introduced seeking to expand the scope of a protective order to better protect some victims of domestic violence cleared the Senate, but did not make it past a House committee.

Shank said that it sometimes takes a few years of effort for a bill to pass, and the legislation dealing with the protective order was an example.

Another bill that Shank cross-filed with Serafini to study the feasibility of requiring high school students to complete an online course or a course that blended online learning with more traditional teaching to graduate was voted down by a Senate committee.

But Shank said the Maryland Advisory Council for Virtual Learning might be able to achieve the objective of the bill without a piece of legislation.

Sen. Ronald N. Young

A bill that asks for the purchase of American-made goods for public-work contracts passed the House on the last day of the session.

The bill was similar to a bill that Young introduced in the General Assembly in 2012.

And although a bill that Young introduced to ban synthetic marijuana, or “spice,” did not pass, a bill introduced by state Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore County, that would achieve the same objective passed the Senate and the House.

Young said he was disappointed that a measure that would let local governments publish legal notices on their websites instead of newspapers stalled again.

He said another of his bills that would establish a program to provide low-interest loans to energy-efficient homes did not pass, but would be “worked out” through discussions with the Department of Housing and Community Development, which would back banks making such loans.

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