If you missed it two weeks ago, my intention is to spend time on Sunday evening reviewing local Delegate Mike McDermott’s weekly field notes. I find them a fascinating look into the workings of the Maryland General Assembly.
I skipped last week, but this edition of the General Assembly session seems to be settling into a familiar routine: a few bill introductions and hearings, with Mike sitting in on the Judiciary Committee hearings. Tonight I’ll do a review of week 2 based on Mike’s observations and tomorrow afternoon I’ll catch up with week 3.
To begin week 2, Mike commented on the celebration of Martin Luther King Day and remarks from former football player and Delegate Jay Walker, but concluded by reminding readers that MLK was a Republican and the civil rights movement seems to have both forgotten this and the fact Republicans helped get civil rights legislation passed despite the efforts of southern Democrats.
On Tuesday of that week, Mike helped to pass the very first bill to make it through the whole legislative process this year. SB46, which changed Somerset County’s legislative districts, passed as an emergency bill with the only dissenting vote cast by Anne Arundel County Delegate Don Dwyer.
But there’s an interesting sidelight to this particular bill. SB46, sponsored by Democrat Senator Jim Mathias of Worcester County, was passed through the legislative process. The crossfiled bill in the House, HB50, was sponsored by Republican Delegate Charles Otto of Somerset County but didn’t proceed past first reading. So who do you think will get credit and who will be cast as not doing his job?
The remaining time that Tuesday was spent reviewing bills on elder abuse, increasing penalties for malicious destruction of property by graffiti, and the release of mental patients found not criminally responsible. Obviously this can make you an expert on a lot of mundane, picayune items. But the Judiciary Committee only hears its portion of the bills before the entire General Assembly so one has to assume Mike does a lot of talking with fellow Republicans on other committees to hear their take on other bills which will be voted on later this session.
On Wednesday Mike spent the day in a hearing on out-of-court settlements, which brings me to the point above. It’s not clear whether this is germane to a bill already in the hopper or one being considered.
Thursday brought the Israeli Ambassador to the United States before the General Assembly as well as hearings on bills mandating the members of the Baltimore County Orphans’ Court be members of the Maryland Bar, abolishing some of the immunity enjoyed by members of the General Assembly, and expanding the harassment statute to add in items like text messaging and social media.
I suspect the Baltimore County bill is a trial balloon by the Maryland Bar Association to eliminate the possible competition for Orphans Court judge around the state. It’s the only judicial position a lay person can hold, and reducing the pool of people who can run allows attorneys a crack at another cushy judgeship.
Week 2 ended on Friday with the meeting of the Eastern Shore Delegation. Mike describes the speakers they heard from: Department of the Environment Secretary Robert Summers, Susquehanna River Basin Commission Director Paul Swartz (no relation), and the nine school superintendents on the Shore. Obviously he had many more questions than they could answer, but Mike brought up salient points regarding all three.
I happen to agree with Mike that the Eastern Shore takes an inordinate share of the blame for the Bay’s problems. We only contribute a small amount of the nitrogen that finds its way into the Chesapeake, but our farmers have to jump through hoops regardless. Soon they’ll be joined by those who will see the “flush tax” doubled if Governor O’Malley and Annapolis liberals have their way. Meanwhile, we can’t do much about the pollution which comes to the bay via the Susquehanna River – Mike uses the analogy of having a swimming pool with a hose connection to the neighbor’s septic tank. Obviously that would mean Pennsylvania and New York have to help us out, but they don’t really have to deal with the problem.
And as for the third meeting with the superintendents, it seems to me that any time Memo Diriker is brought into the conversation taxpayers need to watch their wallets. Somehow he always seems to advocate the most expensive solution, and I’d love to see the calculations that Diriker uses to claim each dollar spent on public education creates $1.90 in return. If that’s true, building Bennett Middle School should make next year’s Wicomico County budget a snap.
I’m not holding my breath.
Also on Friday of week 2, Mike introduced bills dealing with the criminal justice system, HB112 and HB119. Both will have a hearing Tuesday afternoon. Compared with some of the other bills I’ve read, these are very simple changes in the law. I’m not sure what fate HB112 will have, since I’m betting the ACLU and other similar groups will press hard against the measure, but HB119 has a fighting chance for success: it allows law enforcement officers in the field greater latitude to use their judgement on whether a misdemeanor offense deserves a simple citation or more intrusive action and has a small but bipartisan roster of co-sponsors.
During week 2 Mike also penned his thoughts on Martin O’Malley’s budget, where he chastises the governor who “lifts his eyes to Pennsylvania Avenue.” I agree with Mike: the 2016 campaign is already underway for Martin O’Malley, and my guess is that state Democrats have already been given their marching orders to try and make that happen.
I’ll look at Week 3 tomorrow, and try to get back to a Sunday evening routine afterward.