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Steve's 2014 End of Session Report

2014-04-11

Delegate Steve Lafferty’s Report on the 2014 Session

Of the

Maryland General Assembly

 

The Maryland General Assembly has just concluded the 2014 legislative session. It has been an honor to have served the 42nd District as your Delegate for the past eight years. During the final days, we heard from many of my 43 colleagues who will not be returning since they have chosen to retire or run for other elective offices. It certainly set a more solemn tone as the Session came to an end on Sine Die.

It was another busy year with a number of significant bills being passed.  I want to highlight some of the bills that we passed to foster public safety, assist working people and to make Maryland an even better place in which to live, work and play. To see the bills that we considered, you can visit the General Assembly web site at www.mgaleg.maryland.gov. 

An Increase in the State Minimum Wage


Maryland’s current minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. This translates to $15,080 for a person who works a full time 40 hour week. It is extremely difficult for a single person to live on this income let alone if there are others in the household.

This issue was extensively debated in both the House and Senate. Numerous amendments were introduced to extend this wage increase to more people and more rapidly as well to exempt more employers and individuals. The compromise agreement will phase in increases over four years:

  • From $7.25 to $8 on January 1, 2015
  • To $8.25 in July 2015
  • To $8.75 in July 2016
  • To $9.25 in July 2017
  • To $10.10 in July 2018

Additionally, the minimum wage for workers who receive tips will remain at $3.63 per hour; an employer may pay an employee who is 19 years old or younger, 85% of the minimum wage for her/his first six months as a “training wage”; and, there will be a 3.5% pay increase for those community service workers who work with developmentally disabled individuals. There are also a number of exemptions for small businesses.

I voted for the bill but would have preferred the House version that brought the wage to $10.10 per hour by 2016.

Baltimore County School Board

Following many years of debate and effort, the General Assembly approved HB 1453, which creates a hybrid – partially elected and partially appointed- school board in Baltimore County beginning in 2018. The County’s School Board is currently appointed by the Governor. I was the lead sponsor of this effort in the House but, after amendments, the entire County delegations supported it.

The bill provides for seven elected members (one from each Council district) and four appointed members. The appointees will be interviewed by a new School Board Nominating Commission. The Commission will make recommendations to the Governor who will then make the appointment. These different ideas came together from separate bills that Del. Adrienne Jones and I introduced.

This change has been a long time in coming. It demonstrates that, in the legislature, persistence can pay off. I want to thank the many parents, education advocates, community members and legislators who worked with me to create a new school board. I also thank County Executive Kamenetz for his agreement to support this approach.


Significant Changes in Maryland’s Marijuana Laws

Medical Marijuana

Last year, the General Assembly took large steps to provide medical marijuana through medical research institutions that could establish programs to dispense this drug. No institution took up the opportunity. This year, SB 923 and HB 881 moved us forward. SB 923 passed, enabling the Medical Marijuana Commission to register specially licensed physicians. These physicians will be able to prescribe medical marijuana if is/her patient is experiencing serious pain that the marijuana could relieve. The Commission can also license up to fifteen marijuana growers and license and regulate distributors. The Commission was also expanded to include experts in horticulture and agriculture.

Decriminalizing Possession of Small Amounts

The legislature passed SB 364 which decriminalizes the possession of a small amount of marijuana. We joined 17 other states in doing so. This law does not legalize nor encourage the use of marijuana. It changes the penalty that a person can receive for possession from a criminal one to a civil penalty.  This will reduce the burden on the court system, eliminate criminal convictions for simple possession of a small amount and providing screening and treatment for those who may have a problem.

This law makes the possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana subject to  a civil penalty and is no longer a criminal one. These penalties are:

  •  $100 fine for the first offense
  •  $250 fine for the second offense
  •  $500 fine and mandatory appearance in court for the third offense
  •  For a person under 21, the fine is levied and he/she is required to appear in court and be referred for a substance abuse assessment


Domestic Violence

Three bills, HB 306, 307 and 309 were passed to address domestic violence and better protect victims of domestic abuse in Maryland. I supported all of these bills because I believe that we need to find more ways to reduce abuse and to protect all people, particularly women, from abuse.

HB 307 is particularly important since it changes the standard of proof required to obtain a ‘peace order’ so that a person only needs to show a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ (proof by about 51%) in order to get a protective order. Maryland has been the only state with a higher standard of proof. HB 309 adds second degree assault to the list of crimes for which a victim can seek a permanent protective order. Second degree assault is the most common charge in domestic violence cases. An offender can be sentenced to jail for at least five years.

Addressing Discrimination Against Transgender Individuals

The legislature passed SB 212 which prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals in public accommodations, housing and employment. This bill adds gender identity as a protected class of individuals to Maryland’s anti-discrimination laws. I voted for this civil rights bill.

SB 212 extends protections to transgender individuals who have been denied employment, housing opportunities and the basic right to public accommodations, including restaurants and other places that sell food, a hotel or motel or public facilities. Religious organizations and private facilities are exempted.

Unfortunately, the opponents argued that this would provide an opportunity for criminal behavior, focusing on whether people would invade bathrooms and attack others. They made the victims of discrimination into criminals. The bill does not sanction nor provide more opportunities for criminal behavior by predators or those who want to prey on women or young girls.  These criminal acts will be treated as crimes and prosecuted.


Employers cannot refuse to hire individuals because they are transgender; a restaurant cannot deny entry or service to one who is transgender; and, a property owner may not refuse to rent or sell to someone who is transgender. The remedy is for persons who believe they are subject to discrimination to file a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission which will then investigate to determine if there is a violation.


Improvements in Speed Camera Programs

State law currently allows speed cameras on highway work zones and, if approved by the county, in “school zones” that are within a half mile of public schools. However, there have been a number of serious flaws in the implementation of the law. The House overwhelmingly approved a bill that will clarify the law. Key provisions of the Speed Systems Reform Act of 2014 will:

  •  Require that a citation must be reviewed and affirmed by a duly authorized law enforcement officer
  •  Clarify the definition of a “school zone”
  •  Ensure that the sign that designates a school zone is close to a sign that indicates there is a speed camera before a speed monitoring camera is activated
  •  Alter the standards and requirements for new locations for speed cameras
  •  Eliminate the “bounty” system which tied the payments to the vendor to the number of citations issued
  •   Require a local government to designate a person to serve as a public liaison and a program administrator
  •  Change the standards and requirements for daily self-tests and annual calibrations
  •  Establish a detailed reporting requirement by the local government

 

These, cumulatively, are substantial changes that should, hopefully, eliminate erroneous citations and many of the operational problems seen in this program.

 Deficiency Judgments

Under Maryland law, if a family goes into foreclosure or is “underwater” when they sell their house, there is, undoubtedly, a deficiency between the amount borrowed from a lender and the amount which may be recovered. Currently, a lender has up to 12 years to seek recovery of that deficiency. This extraordinarily long time potentially subjects people to legal action long after they have tried to get their financial house in order and reestablish their lives. This is totally unacceptable.

As a result, my bill, HB 274, and its companion, SB 708, sought to reduce the time for such legal action. I am very pleased that the House and Senate agreed to reduce this time to 3 years and to set a time, going forward, when existing deficiencies must be sought. This is a more reasonable time and should be a huge benefit to many people who have had to struggle with foreclosure.

 Environmental Legislation

Pesticide Registration Fee

It is clear that Marylanders support efforts to obtain more information and data on pesticide usage. As a result of legislation in 2013, I co-chaired a workgroup to examine how this could be done. One of the workgroup’s major recommendations was to increase the pesticide registration fee so that funds could be generated to gather more information and data on the extent and location of pesticide application.

 My bill, HB 621, increases the registration fee for each pesticide product by $10 and directs these funds be used for data gathering and analysis. Farmers, environmentalists and the Department of Agriculture all supported it.  I am very pleased that this bill passed by an overwhelming margin so that additional funds will be available to gather more data.

Recycling at Special Events

SB 781 will require that the organizer of a special event with over 200 people being held on public property must provide for recycling. The organizer must provide receptacles that are clearly marked and arrange for the pickup of these materials. This is another important way to better ensure the expansion of recycling and reduce the amount of materials that go into the waste stream.

Liability for Dog Bites

Following the horrific mauling of a young Towson boy by a pit bull, the Courts ruled in 2012 that pit bulls are inherently dangerous and that an owner would be strictly liable when a pit bull dog bites a person.  Property owners could also be liable for the damages caused by the pit bull.

Efforts to change this ruling finally were resolved this year with the passage of HB 73/SB 247. Under the new law, if an owner is sued due to injuries caused by their dog – regardless of breed- there is a presumption that the owner knew or should have known that the dog is dangerous. The owner can present evidence to refute, or rebut, this.  Dog owners can be found strictly liable if this dog inflicts injuries while running at large.

Capital Funding for Projects in the Towson Area


The Towson area received some specific capital funding this year. These came due to the support and cooperation of District 42 Senator Jim Brochin.

  •  Towson High School Scoreboard: the State will provide $55,000 as a match to the Towson Sports boosters for the construction of a new scoreboard that will bring a modern and more informative board to the school.
  •  Lutherville Volunteer Fire Department: $70,000 is being provided for the volunteer company’s continued expansion to better serve the community.
  •  University of Maryland St. Joseph Hospital: the State is providing a matching grant of $750,000 for the renovation of the semi-private west wing on the 7th floor of the hospital.
  •  Towson University: $5.7 million has been allocated for the design of a new science facility on campus

The end of the legislative session also means that our Annapolis Office will be on a reduced schedule. We will, generally, be open Monday through Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. You may contact us at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us or at 410-841-3487.  I want to thank my terrific Legislative Aide, Marsha Tracey and my Session Intern, Grace Parrish, who is a senior in Environmental Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park, for their hard work and support. I also want to take the opportunity to thank my wife, Betsy, for her ever-present support and thoughtfulness.

And, thank you for providing me with the honor and opportunity to have served as your Delegate. I look forward to continuing to do so.

Best wishes,

Steve