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Steve's News from Annapolis

2014-02-10

 

The legislative session is now into its second month. Nearly 1400 bills were introduced in the House before the ‘’guarantee’’ deadline which is the last date in which a bill hearing can be guaranteed. Another 990 have been filed in the Senate, as well. My committee, Environmental Matters, has seen an increase in the bills we hear on issues of the environment, housing and transportation.

Creation of A Hybrid School Board

I am the lead sponsor of HB 384. HB 384 would  create a Baltimore County School Board with a combination of 7 elected members (one from each Council district) and 4 members appointed by the Governor. I have advocated for this change to provide for more accountability and to enable greater accessibility to board members.

The County’s Senate delegation voted in favor of the bill by a 7-1 vote; it is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee. Our House delegation will consider the bill this Friday, February 14, 2014. A hearing is set before the House Ways and Means Committee on February 19.  The bill seems to have added momentum this year so I remain optimistic.

Marijuana Legislation

Legislation to permit medical marijuana, to reduce criminal penalties for possession and the potential legalization of marijuana has emerged as significant issues this session. Although we passed legislation to permit marijuana to be dispensed for medical purposes, it was tied to academic medical institutions. To date, none have expressed any interest, so new bills have been proposed to enable doctors to prescribe it for use.

The Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act, HB 880/SB 658 provides a regulatory structure for the legal use, production and distribution of marijuana in Maryland. Two other states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized its use, as well. Since this is the first year for such expansive legislation and legislative leaders are divided on the issue, I know there will be extensive discussion and debate. While I am not sure that this bill is the right way to proceed, we must find a way to dramatically reduce the arrests and the time consumed by police to address marijuana use and sales.

The Senate bill hearing will be held in Judicial Proceedings on February 25; no date has been set for a hearing in the House committee.

Liability for Dog Bites

The issue of liability when a person’s dog bites another person has been a very contentious issue over the past two years. In 2012, the Court of Appeals ruled in Tracey v. Solesky, that a pit bull is an inherently dangerous animal and, therefore, the owner and owner of the property where the dog resided knew or should have known it could attack. As a result, they were liable for the injuries to the young boy who was seriously injured by the dog bite.

This ruling led to debates about whether other breeds should also be considered dangerous, the obligations of owners and the impact on insurance coverage for such injuries.

HB 73/SB 247 intends to resolve these issues. The bill provides that when a dog owner is sued for due to injury or death caused by his/her dog, it raises a rebuttable presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog had a vicious or dangerous propensity. It also establishes that the common law of liability relating to dog attacks on humans that existed before April 1, 2012 is maintained without regard to the breed of the dog.

Since the bill is prospective only, it would not alter the claim or rights that the Soleskys have due to the injuries their son received. While both the House and Senate committees have heard the bills, no votes have been taken yet.

Retroactive Health Care Coverage Passes

Governor O’Malley signed legislation that enables people who were shut out from signing up on the Maryland health exchange to be retroactively covered to January 1, 2014. Fourteen hundred (1400) people were identified as being eligible for insurance coverage as a result of the system’s failure. This law will help families obtain insurance for their health care needs. I was proud to vote for the bill so that more Maryland families can have health insurance. During the debate, it was very disappointing that none of the opponents who spoke even mentioned the benefit to Marylanders and what it could mean if no health insurance coverage were available.

Bicycle Safety Legislation

The legislature has recognized that bicyclists have the right to ‘’share the road’’ with motorists. However, our laws have not kept up with the reality that more people are cycling and want to cycle in their communities or as a way to commute. My bill, HB 241, would have acknowledged the reality of sharing the road. It would have allowed motorists to cross the center line – when safe to do so- in order to pass a bicyclist on a road when the bike rider is adhering to the rules of the road. Although there was great support from many bike advocates, and the Howard County police department, the bill failed in committee. I will bring the bill back next year.

Strategies to Improve the Business Climate in Maryland

House Speaker Mike Busch created a Business Climate Work Group last session to identify ways to help and support business development in Maryland. Following a year of  hard work, the Speaker and Senate President Mike Miller announced a joint agenda based on the Work Group’s recommendations, including:

  •          A private sector commission to review economic development support and the business climate
  •          Programs to improve customer service by state agencies
  •          A new cyber seed investment fund
  •          Recoupling the state Estate Tax with the federal tax
  •          Leveraging public and private sector capital for higher education research endowments, and
  •          Support and skill development for entrepreneurs in cyber and other innovation economy sectors

Bringing together public and private sector resources will be key to more business development. In addition, the state needs to reexamine its own programs, initiatives and regulations to ensure that business development can be encouraged while protecting the environment and welfare of workers and the work place.

Please feel free to contact me about these or any other issues that are of concern or interest to you. I can be reached at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us or 410-841-3487.

Best wishes,

Steve


Contact Steve

Contact Delegate Lafferty
By Phone: 410-841-3487
By Email: stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us

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By Phone: 410-377-4521
By Email: lafferty@delegatelafferty.com

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