Defeated but undaunted: Legislators leave losing legislation for next year

ANNAPOLIS — Frederick County state lawmakers have begun to let go of bills they once hoped would pass, as the days left in the 2019 legislative session count down.

 

There are 33 days left in the 90-day legislative session, which makes any unfavorable vote in a House or Senate committee an almost insurmountable barrier to overcome. For some, that means shifting the fight to next year.

Sen. Ron Young (D-Frederick) said he plans to come in 2020 with four bills that have already been voted down. He was surprised, however, by the outcome of one, which would have allowed fraternal organizations to lease and operate lottery machines to benefit veteran programs.

 

“You would think that would fly through,” Young said on Wednesday.

 

Multiple veterans submitted testimony in favor of the bill, and the Veterans Caucus also submitted a letter of support.

There were 38 co-sponsors on the bill, including 10 members of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which reviewed the bill. However, eight of the co-sponsors ultimately moved against the bill when it reached a vote in the committee on Tuesday.

 

Young said he was unsure what happened, but speculated there may have been concerns about expanding the locations where gambling could take place. Currently, tax-exempt veteran organizations are the only ones eligible for a license to operate the instant ticket lottery machines in the bill.

 

The Maryland Lottery and Gaming Control Agency submitted an informational letter — without taking a position on the bill — to outline possible issues. The bill, as written, was potentially too broad in the number of fraternal organizations and vendors that would be eligible to participate, and should be tailored more narrowly, the agency wrote.

 

The amount of money the organizations would earn from hosting machines and cashing winnings was also potentially unequal, the gambling control agency wrote. While veterans organizations received half of the net proceeds, the fraternal organizations might make nearly double that.

 

Young said he planned to look more closely into what happened.

 

“I’ll probably give it one more try, when I have a chance to talk and see what the problem was this year,” Young said.

 

Retirement income

 

Young was less surprised to see the Budget and Tax Committee again reject his proposal to offer an income tax break for retirees in Maryland.

 

“I knew that wouldn’t [pass]. I put it in every year as a reminder,” Young said.

 

Young’s bill would have provided income tax relief for retirees making under $100,000 a year. It would phase in a maximum subtraction from the tax bill, starting at $33,000 in 2019 and working up to $75,000 after 2022.

 

The benefit of allowing for these cuts, Young said, was it helps Maryland retirees afford to stay in their homes and communities and give back volunteer hours in their spare time, or spend their money on retail.

 

“Up front, it’s a costly bill,” Young said. “I think in the long run ... eventually, it actually [pays] for itself.”

 

Registries fall short

 

The reasons for voting down other bills, however, were less clear.

 

The House Judiciary Committee voted Monday unfavorably on bills submitted by Del. Karen Lewis Young (D-Frederick) and Del. Michael Jackson (D-Prince George’s) that would have created mandatory statewide registries of convicted animal abusers.

 

Lewis Young’s bill would have required Maryland residents who have pleaded guilty to, or are convicted of, animal abuse to register their name, address, crime and photo with a county sheriff’s office annually to be shared on a public database for 15 years. Her bill was voted down 16-5.

 

Similarly, Jackson’s bill proposed a registry with two tiers. The first tier for people convicted of a misdemeanor, who must register for five years, and a second tier for those convicted of a felony, who must register for 10 years, or life, if convicted of a second offense. His bill was voted down 14-7.

 

“I really don’t know what happened. No one notified me,” Lewis Young said by email on Wednesday.

 

The question of whether the state should be creating registries at all, and if those registries should follow a person after their punishment is served, are broader questions being asked in the General Assembly this year, said Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick & Carroll).

 

Cox is a lawyer and sits on the Judiciary Committee. He voted against both bills.

 

“I continue to have concerns with registries of any kind. I think sex offender registries are a good thing, but I have constitutional concerns about expanding those registries,” Cox said on Wednesday.

 

Requiring a person to register after serving their sentence, or parole, could be construed as “cruel and unusual punishment,” Cox said.

 

The registries debate is likely to extend beyond animal abuse and into violent crimes as well this session.

 

The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear HB 1023 sponsored by House Minority Leader Nicholaus Kipke on March 13, which would require people convicted of violent crimes, such as abduction, murder, manslaughter, murder or rape, to register information and a photo with the state.

 

“I’m against wide-scale registries,” said Cox, who declined to co-sponsor the minority leader’s bill.

 

Nothing to dissect

 

A bill that would have given students a choice on whether to dissect an animal or participate in a computer alternative was also given a thumbs-down.

 

Lewis Young was the lead sponsor on the bill, which was unanimously voted unfavorable in the House Ways and Means Committee at the start of February.

 

“I believe the Committee thought that my bill was dictating curriculum. However, it only required what several counties do already [including Frederick], which is to develop a policy to inform students that they have a choice to select computer simulated modelling, which is both more cost-effective and more accurate,” Lewis Young said by email on Wednesday.

 

Young withdrew his version of the bill in the Senate shortly thereafter.

 

Notice by newspaper

 

Lawmakers narrowly decided in favor to keep legal public notices in newspapers this session.

 

This was a blow to Young, who was the sponsor of the bill, which would allow county and municipal governments to move legal notices from a newspaper to a government website.

 

Moving notices to the internet has been of interest to Young for a number of years, after serving as the president of the Maryland Municipal League and mayor of the city of Frederick. A lot of money is funneled from the government into print to pay for legal notices, he said.

 

“Call it what you want, the newspapers want income and the towns are a source of income,” Young said.

 

The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee narrowly blocked the bill in a 6-5 vote. Young was the sole Democratic member of the committee to vote for the bill, while the other six voted against it.

 

Young said he could ask for a second vote, but he doesn’t plan to this late in session.

 

The Frederick News-Post’s publisher, Geordie Wilson, testified in opposition to the bill.

 

Growing agritourism

 

In an ironic twist of fate, a bill deferred by the Frederick County delegation has gone on to pass in six other counties.

The county delegation did not advance a bill that would have allowed up to 200 people to occupy a farm building for an agritourism event without meeting certain building codes at the request of County Executive Jan Gardner.

 

“The county has not — and will not — exempt an applicant from building code requirements for public gatherings in barns,” Gardner wrote in a strongly worded letter to the Frederick County delegation at the start of session.

 

However, the bill was introduced in the Anne Arundel County delegation as well and picked up interest from five other counties by the time it reached the state Senate floor. Senators unanimously approved the bill for Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Kent, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s counties on Monday.

 

Eric Aellen, of Linganore Winecellars in Mount Airy, was one of the people to recommend Frederick County add a provision to allow up to 200 people in an existing farm structure for agritourism events. This was, in part, due to the high cost of adding sprinklers and other equipment to meet codes, which the winery has experienced with its new buildings, he said.

 

Allen fully supported having adequate exists and fire extinguishers, but the upfront costs of farming — in planting and equipment — makes it hard to also find $100,000 for a sprinkler system in order to host events and diversify a business, he said.

 

“My theory behind it was if all the surrounding counties eventually put it in, why disadvantage Frederick County’s agrotourism industry?” Aellen said.

 

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