The past two weeks reflect the intensity of this legislative session. Long bill hearings, subcommittee meetings and votes, added debate on the floor, and the jockeying for support of bills. I appreciate the constituents who come by to educate me and advocate for their concerns about dental health care, stormwater management, education, gun registration, foreclosures and many other issues. These contacts are invaluable for me to understand the range of issues we must address.
During this time, I was honored to attend the investiture of the Reverend Monsignor, Rich Bozzelli, who is the pastor at Corpus Christi (and Betsy’s boss) and to attend the Eagle Scout honoring of two great young men. Their leadership, at such a young age, is very impressive.
Posting of Social Security Numbers on the Internet
In 2005, the state prohibited individuals and businesses from putting social security numbers on the web. However, that did not apply to the state. Currently one can find social security numbers in some records that the state maintains! When I learned of this, I filed HB 1042 to prevent the state from posting social security and driver’s license numbers on any of its internet sites.
The bill hearing went well. Committee members were understandably shocked to learn about these postings. As a result, we have had a number of meetings to make the bill better and more readily implementable so that people can request that this information be removed and that future postings are prohibited. I am optimistic that we can further protect citizens from identity theft with this measure.
Sexual Offender Legislation
The House strenuously debated seven important pieces of legislation that will toughen laws for sexual offenders. We must close loopholes and strengthen the laws to better ensure our children and all others are protected from sexual predators.
I am pleased to report that we have unanimously passed these bills. One, HB 473, requires lifetime supervision for serious and repeat sex offenders after they complete their original sentence. HB 289 eliminates diminution credits (“good time served”) for an offender convicted of first or second degree rape and first and second degree sex offenses against a child under 16. HB 599 eliminates credits for third degree sex offenders whose victims are under 16. The other bills bring Maryland into compliance with federal law and alter judicial proceedings to better monitor and supervise sexual offenders.
While it appears that the conflict over the proposed storm water regulations has been resolved, HB 1125 will be heard this week. It will incorporate an agreement reached by various stakeholders. The strengthened regulations and standards remain in place but local governments are given wider latitude to grant waivers and the compliance time has been extended. I am not thrilled about extending the period for complying with the 2007 Act but the tough economic times have forced us all to be more open to extending deadlines. We do not want to see good projects die but we also need to see adherence to the stronger regulations. The compromise and bill do this.
Our committee voted unfavorably on HB 351 to require an additional fee on plastic bags you get at the store. While this bill is intended to alter behavior so we can reduce these environmentally destructive bags, there was little support for a fee this year. My own bill, HB 1418, would require stores with greater than 7,000 square feet to have plastic bag recycling. This bill will be heard this week.
In a great step forward, the House passed legislation to further reduce the damaging impact phosphorous in fertilizers has on the Bay. Our committee voted to create a Conservation Corps and not to expand power dredging for oysters. We will soon vote on a bill to eliminate arsenic in chicken feed.
Other bills of Note
Last year’s ban on sending text messages was only a partial step. The House has now voted to prohibit the reading of text messages while driving. We have rejected a broader ban on “distracted driving” and will take a “hands free” cell phone bill soon.
Foreclosures are still a huge problem in Maryland. Our committee has been working hard on a foreclosure mediation bill. I have proposed that mandatory housing counseling be added to be more pro-active. I have another housing counseling bill that requires all lenders to give borrowers notice of pre-purchase counseling. This is a small step but greater education is certainly needed before people make such a decision. This year, since I gained the support of the bankers, the bill stands an excellent chance of passing.
Finally, the House passed the Safe Schools Act to break down barriers and increase information sharing between the juvenile justice system and schools. The underlying goal is to help prevent the growing gang interest and activity among young people. Since schools and juvenile services are prevented from sharing certain information with each other it has been very difficult to intervene when needed. We need all the tools possible to help our young people.
There is still a lot to do in the three weeks before the Session ends. Feel free to contact me with your comments about any legislation. I can be contacted at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us.