With Spring coming soon, we know that the Maryland General Assembly is in its final five weeks. During the last two, however, we have seen the budget, job creation and criminal penalties for sex offenders take the headlines.
Sex Offender Legislation
While Maryland has various laws to punish, monitor and track sex offenders, stricter laws and punishments are being proposed. Testimony was heard for more than seven hours on over 30 bills. Included were bills to extend the most severe penalties for sex offenses to children under 15 instead of age 13; strengthening registration requirements and restrictions; community notification standards; requiring greater disclosure when Social Services knows an offender is living in a child’s home; and, expanded monitoring. None of these have passed out of committee, yet, to come to the floor for a vote by the House.
The good news is that Maryland, once again, is one of only seven states that continues to have a AAA bond rating, saving us money when funding bonds.
Both the House and Senate continue to work through Governor O’Malley’s proposed budget, looking at essential needs, trying to protect education funding while reducing spending and further shrinking state government. At the end of February, both the House Republican Caucus and two Republican Senators presented their recommendations for cuts. The Senators’ proposal would reduce funds to Baltimore County by over $44 million, including cutting the retirement funds for teachers, community college employees and librarians by 50% while requiring employee contributions to increase. At the same time they would increase our highway funds by 500%.
House Republicans recommended numerous cuts, including across the board cuts to state agencies, eliminating positions, reducing public education funding by $686 million and higher education by $78 million and eliminating all funds for stem cell research and Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund.
The direct shipment of wine continues to be a heavily debated issue. I have been urged by many, many constituents to support it. I am a co-sponsor of the bill this year. The bill has been heard in Economic Matters but I do not believe it will pass this year since it would directly change the way alcohol is shipped into Maryland. There is also a legitimate concern about minors getting the wine. At the same time, the Maryland Winery Modernization Act, HB 921, has a great chance to pass. It would change the requirements of the Limited Winery License and allow wineries to regularly serve food and sell wine outside of the winery.
The Open Government Act, of which I am a co-sponsor, proposed that Committee votes be made available on-line, people be able to sign up to testify on line, and the Board of Public Works publish its agenda and meetings. Due to the leadership of the House Speaker, Committee votes are available on-line without legislation. I want to explain my votes on three items that the Environmental Matters Committee recently took up. HB 140 requires minors to wear protective headgear while riding bikes, mopeds and scooters. While I voted yes to add this protection, it was defeated in Committee. HB 438 was intended to protect children under age 8 from being exposed to second hand cigarette smoke while passengers in motor vehicles. I supported this bill although it did not pass. I believe that children should be protected against the dangers of second hand smoke. Lastly, although the Department of Natural Resources supported the repeal on a ban on using “devil divers” for oystering, I voted against further expanding power dredging. This bill has passed Committee and the House.
My Upcoming Legislation
Four of my bills will be heard in the next weeks. One, HB 1042, will require Maryland government to stop the posting of social security numbers and, to the extent they do, drivers’ licenses. It is appalling that one’s social security number may turn up on-line but that is the case. This bill is overdue as a protection against identity theft. HB 1399 will require that all residential mortgage lenders provide information about and recommend that borrowers get housing counseling or education before completing their transaction. The foreclosure crisis and current financial environment compels us to be sure people are well informed before making such important decisions.
I am also proposing that the Baltimore County Board of Education be elected because this would provide greater accountability. HB 1072 would require that the eleven members –one from each Council district and four at large- be chosen in a non-partisan election. I admit I have some concerns but expect that we can work through them. Finally, I have a bill that requires the state Department of Transportation to carefully review large residential and commercial developments that could impact other counties. We need to acknowledge that traffic issues don’t stop at the county line.
The residents and communities in Timonium lost a great friend and advocate with the recent death of Lou Miller from a massive heart attack. Lou was a meticulous and committed advocate for Timonium who fought to protect neighborhoods from encroachment and prevent unwarranted growth. His presence and dedication will be missed by all of us.
As always, I welcome your comments about these bills or any others that we will be considering. I can be reached at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us.