Leaves reflect the autumn color palette in the Catoctin Mountains, a brisk fall breeze sends people scurrying along Market Street in downtown Frederick, and General Assembly members start thinking about making hotel arrangements in Annapolis.
The 2009 General Assembly Session begins January 14 at 10 A. M. Hundreds of staffers, and legions of lobbyists and advocates, and 188 legislators will descend on State Circle to begin the 90-day free-for-all.
This year looks to be different from previous years. This year, it's all about the “NO.” No money, no pork, no hope.
Turn your clock back one year. The General Assembly was called back to Annapolis to help Gov. Martin O'Malley fix the structural deficit. Things were so bad that without a systemic and permanent solution, we were facing huge cuts in critical service areas.
The balance sheet and revenue projections stared into a $1.2 billion gulf between revenue and expense. Brave legislators were called on to put differences aside to save Maryland from a terrible fate.
You'll remember the mess that was the Special Session. Taxes hiked and then dropped and backroom conversations that targeted one group, only to be reversed hours later. Landscapers were spared, but then computer services were stiffed.
To hear it told back then, the Special Session – and the historic tax increases it produced – was the product of brave legislators, standing firm with their governor, against the tide of economic woe sweeping other parts of the country. Were it not for the majority party in the House and Senate, Maryland residents would be in real trouble!
Now turn that clock ahead to present time. The expected revenue increases in income, property and sales taxes haven't just not materialized, they've disappeared! Those brave legislators that used the rhetoric of hope to sell the tax increases are now forced to admit that the strategy was flawed.
Bottom line: you got fooled on tax increases, and now you'll suffer from higher taxes and a bad economy. Sucker!
So, with our thoughts turned toward how we avoid any more helpful intervention from Annapolis, it's time to talk about the county commissioners’ legislative wish list. This year's crop of potential bills reminds one of a Halloween prank. Remember the flaming brown paper bag? More appropriately, do you remember the bag's contents? That should put you in the proper frame of mind to talk about this legislative package.
To start this little hit parade, seven of the 19 proposals are what are commonly called statewide bills. Those are legislative proposals that are either not unique to Frederick County or set a statewide precedent. As the commissioners have been told many times, it makes almost no sense to present these statewide bills in the county legislative delegation.
The only reason we even have a county delegation is so we can benefit from the concept of local courtesy. The concept of local courtesy is only extended (and not even always) when the bill only impacts our county. Otherwise, it follows the same torturous path that every other bill does.
This will not come as news to our commissioners. They have been told that, or something very similar, each of the last six years. Is it stubbornness, stupidity, or the desire to send a message that these kinds of bills keep showing up? In a weak form of defense, this flaming brown bag of bill requests is still preliminary. The commissioners won't vote on the final package for another week or two.
It really doesn't matter, though. The bills aren't going anywhere unless an individual legislator wants to pursue it anyway. Here's a list of the statewide bills:
– The commissioners want us to make it illegal to invest money in companies that do business in Iran and Sudan. Their own county employee pension committee told them this was almost impossible to do.
– The commissioners would have us repeal the Maryland Tax Increment Financing Act. Even if our commissioners didn't want to use TIF authority, just about every county does. Those other counties (and those legislators) are committed to keeping this structure in place; this bill is a total waste of time. Again!
– Maryland Civil Rights Amendment to the Declaration of Rights (DoR) of the state’s Constitution. This bill would amend our State Declaration of Rights to outlaw the collection and use of data that might be discriminatory. This amendment to the DoR is DOA!
– Joint Resolution for the Maryland General Assembly to call for a U.S. Constitutional Convention to force the Congress to deal with illegal immigration. Not satisfied with the protests outside of Winchester Hall, the commissioners would shift the focus of the Casa de Maryland vs. Help Save Maryland debate to Annapolis. That way, instead of nothing getting done in Frederick, noting can get done in Annapolis. A classically dumb idea.
– Proposed standards for land application of sludge containing endocrine disrupters. Okay, this one requires a little background.
See, it's like this. You have many uses for your toilet. There are two well-known uses, and a number of other, less normal ways, to use a toilet. One of the lesser known uses is as a dumping site for unused pharmaceuticals. It's when the typical uses and this new, less universal use combine that we have the problem this bill seeks to solve.
When the solids in our waste process leave our sewer plants, we call that product sludge. Farmers have authorization to spread that sludge on farm fields, under specific conditions, as fertilizer. When that sludge also happens to contain undigested and unfiltered pharmaceuticals, we potentially disrupt the endocrines of the animals that make up our food supply.
Our commissioners would ask the state Department of the Environment to change the make-up of the sludge that is allowed to be spread as fertilizer to reduce the potential for endocrine disruption. Got all that? Don't know if this will fly in Annapolis or not, but talking about it in this level of detail is sure kinda creepy!
– Proposed amendment to the Older Americans Act – No profiling on the basis of race or ethnicity. Another classic time-waster. One commissioner hates that certain federal and state grants require that specific information be obtained, like race and ethnicity. Regardless of how much that one commissioner hates this process, it isn't going to change, and this one is as dead as the stinkin' muskrat under Grandpa’s front porch (or the sludge on the farm field).
– Requirement that pharmacies accept unused medicines for proper disposal. It must really be easy to dream up good ideas on the 3rd floor of Winchester Hall, especially when you have zero obligations to actually try to get those same good ideas passed in Annapolis. This is a fine example of that theory.
Five people sit around a table in Frederick and decide that pharmacies should be forced to accept controlled, dangerous substances that patients no longer want or need. No discussion about the size of the pharmacy, whether the drugs being returned were actually dispensed from that pharmacy; no distinguishing between chain store pharmacies and Mom-n-Pop drug stores; no thought given to hospital-dispensed meds; and no discussion about safety and security. Here's an example of why local officials should focus on local issues. If they're so interested in changing state policy, they should run for state office. Oh, wait, more than half of them probably will be!
Next time, we'll analyze the rest of the contents of the flaming brown bag of legislative requests!