General Assembly Journal 2009 – Volume 12-Part 2
Last week, we started a review of the fallout from the just completed General Assembly session. Let's pick up where we left off.
The Environment: It seems that we've been passing the "most important measure to clean up the Bay" for each of the last four sessions. Once again this year, we dealt with similar hyperbole.
The Smart Growth Green and Growing Act is a good example. This started out as a bill to begin to create some meaningful and measurable standards for determining how counties were implementing local development standards. Gov. Martin O'Malley and his Planning and Environment Department secretaries felt that by working together, they could create those new measurements in a cooperative manner.
Unfortunately, the environmental activists didn't share that opinion. The governor's bill got hijacked and shanghaied! A little political hanky-panky in committee and the bill that came out included strict measurements and penalties, and was opposed by the Maryland Association of Counties. After some aggressive floor work in the House and Senate, including my own motion to special order the bill, the language was modified back to the version originally sought by the administration and supported by the counties.
More on the Environment: Another bill restricting greenhouse gas emissions passed. Also, a very restrictive bill that will require all septic system owners who live in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area to upgrade or replace their septic systems to a version with beefed up nitrogen removal.
Speed Cameras: A bill to enable county and local government to create local speed camera ordinances passed both chambers. Already functioning in Montgomery County, these systems would be authorized only in school zones and work areas. The bill sets out several conditions; including limits on the amount of revenue kept by the locality, signage required wherever cameras are employed, and the distances allowable for camera placement. Many people complain about not being able to confront their accuser and the slow creep toward Big Brother.
University tuition: The state budget includes enough money to allow a fourth consecutive year of frozen tuition rates within the state university system. The difference between this year and past tuition freezes is the fact that the university system regents get to decide whether to honor the freeze or not.
Police Surveillance: Law enforcement officers will now have to establish and document the basis under which they would conduct undercover surveillance of political activists. The head of an agency will have to document credible evidence of criminal plans before sending in an undercover operative.
Pornography on campus: Following the premiere of a pornographic film at the University of Maryland College Park campus, the Conference Committee on the State Budget inserted (yeah, I know) language in law that requires the development of policies on future screenings of these films at our public institutions of higher learning.
Medevac: A major investment in time and study this session, the final disposition on our state medical helicopter transport mission was settled. Members of the Senate, namely Sen. John Astle (D., Anne Arundel) and Sen. E. J. Pipken (R., Eastern Shore), were pushing for the privatization of the system. House Speaker Michael Busch took a different approach, assembling a team to look at all options and possibilities. In the end, the budget includes capital funding to purchase three new helicopters. The Maryland State Police Aviation Command will make the purchase, fly the choppers, and continue to provide this world-class service.
Prince George’s County Schools: A bill passed late in the session to restrict the Prince George’s County Public Schools from spending any money on a 10-year, $36 million dollar headquarters building. Sound familiar? The PG school board signed a lease, but legislators felt left out of the discussion and decided to tie their hands. There wasn't enough time to get this done, but the Frederick Delegation might take a nod from this little exercise!
Early Voting with a Paper Trail: The voters of Maryland approved early voting in a referendum vote during the last election (surely you remember?). A bill to actually implement this early voting scheme passed, along with a companion bill requiring the use of voting machines/technologies that produce a paper output. This has to be done in time for the 2010 elections.
Taxpayer funding for a Soccer Stadium: After a long session of arguments from Prince George’s County legislators about the need to build a professional soccer stadium to house the DC United, the General Assembly ultimately decided not to proceed with authorizing the Maryland Stadium Authority to sell revenue bonds to pay for it. Maybe the millions dumped into keeping Prince George’s hospital solvent made them feel guilty about asking for too much?
Worker Classification: In keeping with the theme of payback for union official's political support, a bill passed that fines and penalizes employers who intentionally misclassify employees as independent contractors. This impacts construction, landscapers, and package delivery companies. That means you will be paying more for all of those services moving forward.
In summary, it was a terrible year. A lack of resources resulted in reductions in crucial services, restricted choices in solving long-term problems, and a general malaise resulting from people who just love to say YES learning how to say NO.