The session has sort of settled into a lull, as McDermott described more of the “routine” bills getting testimony and either passing through his Judiciary Committee or, as he puts it, they “met their fate.” None of them seemed like back-breakers to me, although Mike was quite descriptive with his opinion on a couple in particular. For example, in describing HB528, a bill which would limit the sentence allowed in county jails to be 12 months, McDermott stated that the change from 12 to 18 months was originally made when the state promised to chip in – now it has “become an unfunded mandate. Based on the fiscal note of $39 million, I am quite sure this is going nowhere, though it should serve as a warning to any who negotiate with the state,” said Mike.
Or HB1012, which would study the formation of a program to help ex-offenders: “I am skeptical of programs that tend to place the government in competition with existing private sector businesses.” Both assessments seem like fairly sound logic to me.
McDermott was also pleased to describe the progress made on a couple bills he worked on. HB119 and HB261 are now set to go to the floor of the House, although both have been heavily amended. As is often the case, some of the provisions of HB112 (which was a rather simple change in the law that McDermott sponsored) were folded into the more complex HB261 sponsored by a Democrat.
And as is often the case, the vast majority of the bills which passed their third reading and sent to the Senate were moved along unanimously or with token opposition. Only 2 of 31 bills received more than a smattering of opposition, and McDermott voted with the majority on most. Perhaps the one vote I would have gone against him on was HB288, the reformation of the Baby Boomer Initiative Council, which I find likely to be a waste of valuable time – and I’m a member of the Baby Boomer generation as defined by the bill.
But the reason I like to read McDermott’s reports is that he’s not afraid to express his opinion on a number of issues both inside and outside of his committee. For example, he talked about testifying in front of the Environmental Matters Committee regarding license plates honoring our veterans, with the proceeds helping wounded Maryland veterans and their families. However, McDermott predicted HB541 wouldn’t get through the committee – apparently the sentiment of committee Chair Delegate Maggie McIntosh was that the plate would “compete” with the Chesapeake Bay plate or the agricultural one.
He also pointed out the same-sex marriage bill was signed last week by Martin O’Malley, providing a link to mdpetitions.com.
His usual Friday Eastern Shore delegation meeting was punctuated by two appeals; one was from the paving and road construction industry begging for a gas tax increase. Mike believed the first step should be making sure the money we do collect from the existing gas tax goes to roads like it’s supposed to and not raided for the General Fund – again, sound logic at work.
As for the second, McDermott wrote:
We also heard from all 9 Eastern Shore Counties who were well represented as well as a representative from the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO). They provided a presentation on their current fiscal outlooks as it relates to absorbing teacher pension costs and the view was grim. As the governor has formed his budget around certain fund transfers, pension shifts to the counties, as well as a plethora of taxes and fees, I doubt that this can be stopped though it might be slowed down. My advice to them is to prepare for the absolute worst and have no faith in a decent return of tax dollars to the shore. It is not going to happen. They also expressed great displeasure with HB1412. I also met for several minutes with Commissioners Church, Boggs, and Lockfaw from Worcester County as well as Councilman Bartkovich of Wicomico to hear their concerns. Wicomico Executive Rick Pollitt was also at the Delegation meeting along with Worcester CAO Gerry Mason.
We were advised by Mike to look out for HB1412, something I wrote about last week. And we were admonished that the gas tax is not dead, but being obfuscated by the O’Malley social agenda:
The General Assembly is being distracted by the social arm of the O’Malley-Brown agenda which has bogged us down for 8 weeks. With little time left, the shell game of money movement will begin in earnest.
It’s always been a blessing and a curse that the Maryland General Assembly only meets 90 days a year on a regular basis. By having such a short session, it keeps members out in the community most of the time instead of truly being full-time legislators – imagine the damage they would do to our state if they had all year like Congress does.
(Maybe we need to have a rule that they can spend as much time as they want taking laws off the books, but only 90 days to consider them. But I digress.)
Unfortunately, once we get to that last week those in power take advantage of the time crunch to get a lot of bad stuff passed, and I suspect 2012 may be no different. That’s why I like seeing the weekly update from Delegate McDermott. I figure we have 5 or 6 left before I get to begin compiling the 2012 monoblogue Accountability Project.