The McDermott notes: week 4

Here’s the weekly summary of local Delegate Mike McDermott’s ‘Field Notes‘ with my insight for good measure.

We are closing in on the 1/3 point of the annual “90 Days of Terror” which we conservatives call the Maryland General Assembly session. As of Friday, Senate bills introduced afterward have to go through the Rules Committee, with the similar deadline for House bills this coming Friday. Currently there are over 1,250 bills under some sort of consideration whether it’s first reading, committee votes, or select floor votes.

Much of what Mike writes about this week regards committee hearings and other bills being considered by his Judiciary Committee. Testimony was heard on everything from flash mobs to background checks to bison.

The background check bill (HB63) is a local bill which extends the authorization enjoyed by several other Maryland counties to Wicomico County, permitting them to do criminal background checks for prospective or current county employees. As projected, enactment of this law would cost the county approximately $55 per new hire, with the anticipated usage being for temporary parks and recreation employees. Wicomico County predicts about $7,300 would be spent based on 134 new hires.

I don’t have a problem with this and neither did the Judiciary Committee, since they moved the bill to the floor on a nearly unanimous vote (one Delegate was absent.)

The other committee vote taken was on a bill (HB4) to require Baltimore County Orphan’s Court judges to be members of the Maryland Bar. It passed committee with only Delegate Neil Parrott objecting, and I think he was in the right. Granted, the bill only places the question to a public vote this fall but most will reflexively vote for it. (This may or may not affect the in-state tuition for illegal aliens bill overturn, depending on how that question is worded.)

As I understand it, Orphans Court judges have the opportunity to consult with attorneys on legal matters regarding probate if they have any questions; otherwise, it’s generally a question of common sense in dealing with one particular facet of state law. I’d rather not artificially limit the pool of people who can do the job by requiring Bar membership, so I disagree with McDermott’s favorable vote. I highly doubt this will reach the level of one of the three committee votes I’ll use for the 2012 monoblogue Accountability Project but I thought the objection was worth registering.

Two other bills which McDermott introduced are undergoing further scrutiny after testimony last week. The hearings for HB112 and HB119 occurred on Tuesday, with the former getting a six-hour interrogation. As McDermott writes:

For over 40 years the Maryland system of Commissioner review followed by a Bond Review by a judge the next day has served us well. The Commissioner screening results in the release of about 65% of those arrested on Personal Recognizance or Unsecured Bonds and those folks never see the inside of the county jail. The next morning, a Bond Review by the District Court Judge insures that defendants have the opportunity to argue why they should be released if the commissioner determined they should have a bond. Involving defense attorneys and States Attorneys at the Commissioner level will change the nature of these hearings and add longer wait times. This will mean keeping police tied up with prisoners for extended periods. The bill seeks to answer the problem and could save the state and county governments tens of millions of dollars if passed.

Technically HB112 would enable the state and local governments to not spend the money since the new rules are only now taking effect, and it appears an amended version may be considered where the public defender needs to be present for bond reviews before a judge but not for appearances before a Commissioner – sort of a half-a-loaf approach. On the other hand, McDermott believed HB119 would get through the committee hurdle and make it to the floor for consideration.

And unlike HB4, the votes on these two bills (HB112 and HB119) may well end up on the monoblogue Accountability Project because they make a lot of sense; with that we invariably get opposition from those members of the General Assembly who seem to lack that attribute.

The weekly Eastern Shore delegate meeting focused on two economic drivers: agriculture and tourism. McDermott describes the meeting with Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance like this:

After listening to the Secretary for a few minutes discussing the new or proposed regulations, I thought I was in a meeting with the Secretary of the Environment. It would appear to me that the Department of Agriculture has succumbed to being an apologist for the governor’s office instead of being an advocate to the governor for the farmers (as we have always had in the past).

Mike also had this observation on a meeting with Delamrva Poultry Industry (DPI):

I thought the most interesting comment was made by DPI President Andrew McLain when he indicated that farmers use to have plans drafted to address improving agronomics of a farming operation, but now the plans are drawn up to satisfy regulations and mandates by the government.

Ain’t that the truth. Never mind that driving the poultry industry away would only ruin most of the Shore’s economy. Having a Delmarva Chicken Day is a good idea as well – wonder why those who were in office before didn’t think of this?

The tourism industry also had its due, with Mike being quite impressed by the variety of tourism experiences available. Let’s hope they are still able to thrive after our Governor and his Democratic allies raise the gasoline tax! That could be a rather uncomfortable vote for the local Democrats – of the three I predict Norm Conway and Rudy Cane will go for it and Jim Mathias will vote no. Norm is sort of a swing vote and could go either way, but I think the real Democratic leadership in Annapolis which allows him to claim some sort of pull from chairing Appropriations will remind him who’s boss.

Finally, Mike announced he’s been chosen to lead an effort to promote good government practices. I’ll be interested to see where that leads.

We’ll see what Week 5 brings. Apparently there’s been no action on the other bills Mike sponsored, since he didn’t update us as promised. There is a hearing on a bill he and Delegate Conway are pushing (HB251) regarding Ocean City taxi drivers in two weeks, while the other bill (HB257) involves video slot machines and hasn’t had a hearing scheduled. It wouldn’t surprise me to find a Democrat-sponsored bill introduced afterward with essentially the same aim being pushed because of the Delegate sponsoring it.

That’s the way business is often done in Annapolis – sad but true.