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Mobtown Beat

Just a Bill?

Keeping tabs on pending Maryland legislation, so you don’t have to

Photo: Tom Chalkley, License: N/A

Tom Chalkley


The death penalty, guns, pot—these and a selection of other hot-button issues in the Maryland General Assembly this year have been getting a lot of attention (see The Nose on page 10 for the latest on pot). Many hundreds of other measures won’t, simply due to logistics: With about 2,600 bills introduced during the current session, which is to wrap up April 8, many interesting or important proposals simply won’t make it under media microscope.

Past patterns suggests about one in four bills will become law, so trying to zero in on those with the best chances helps to winnow out the nonstarters. Many that pass legislative hurdles, though, still don’t make it to the finish line. But on a variety of issues—the environment, booze, crime, health, and others—the bills described below merit notice they haven’t yet gotten, and all of them have gained sufficient traction so far that they have a fighting chance of becoming more than just a bill.

Information about what each sets out to do is from its “Fiscal and Policy Note,” prepared by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, and additional information can be found at mgaleg.maryland.gov, the Maryland General Assembly’s website.

Environment

House Bill 561/Senate Bill 748: Fertilizer. Applying fertilizer within 15 feet of waters of the state was made illegal in 2011, with the hope of helping reduce the nutrient load polluting the Chesapeake Bay. This would water down the restrictions by excluding underground waters and floodplains within the 100-year flood zone from the definition of “waters of the state.”

Senate Bill 302: Sewage Overflows. With 1,775 sewage overflows last year, including 39 involving at least a million gallons, ratcheting up penalties that might stem them—thereby helping reduce such insults to the Chesapeake Bay—is an obvious step. This would double maximum fines the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) can levy on violators—mostly local governments, whose sewage-treatment facilities are the most common source of overflows—and require MDE to publicize annually on the web the total amount of sewage released and the resulting fines.

Oysters

House Bill 184/Senate Bill 484: Save Those Shells. Recycling oysters shells back into the Chesapeake Bay, so that new generations of oysters can call them home, is taking off as a way to try to reverse the long-term drop in languishing oyster populations. Recyclers who can quantify their efforts would be eligible for a $1/bushel income-tax credit, capped at $750 per tax return.

House Bill 96: Less Testing. Once an area in Maryland has been deemed so polluted that shellfish—mostly oysters—are no longer allowed to be harvested there, the state, for the past 50 years or so, has been required to come back and re-test the waters at least twice monthly. This re-testing regime is four times more frequent than what federal law requires, and MDE now wants to reduce its commitment to bring it in line with the less-frequent federal standards.

Booze and Butts

Senate Bill 225/House Bill 46: Closing Time. Liquor sales at packaged-good stores in the 40th and 41st legislative districts, which cover a good part of West and Northwest Baltimore, would have to stop at 10 P.M. instead of midnight. The bill would affect about 14 stores, which have no on-premises consumption.

Senate Bill 235: Shuttered. When the Baltimore City liquor board revokes a liquor establishment’s license, the business may remain open pending the outcome of an appeal—but no more, if this becomes law. Instead, it would have to close down immediately and cease all sales of everything, not just alcohol, for at least 45 days.

Senate Bill 69: Cigarette Smuggling. The maximum fine of $50 per carton for smugglers caught bringing cigarettes through Maryland isn’t a sufficient deterrent, the Comptroller of Maryland says, so it wants to up the fines—and make them mandatory—to $150 per carton for the first offense and to $300 per carton for repeat offenders. The problem has been on the rise in recent years, and this solution, should the enforcement pattern continue, may produce millions in new revenue.

House Bill 147: Butt Destruction. When the Comptroller of Maryland seizes cigarettes from smugglers, and legally takes possession of them, it is required to resell the cigarettes to add to the state’s coffers. If this becomes law, though, the Comptroller can instead simply destroy them.

Crime

House Bill 742/Senate Bill 991: Fewer Arrests. Cops will be able to simply issue citations, rather than arrest and file statements of charges, against people accused of: selling booze to underage drinkers or someone already drunk; misdemeanor theft; or malicious destruction of property under $500. All told, these charges account for tens of thousands of cases across the state each year, so the potential for fewer arrests and pre-trial detentions is large—should police make use of the discretion this bill would give them.

Senate Bill 191: Shopping Carts. Those who take grocery store shopping carts without permission, or damage or abandon them, currently face a $25 fine. This would bump the fine to $100—perhaps enough to make those folks think twice.

House Bill 152: Double Jeopardy. When both state and federal law are violated, state prosecutors wouldn’t be able to pursue charges once the perpetrator’s federal trial has started. The impact here would likely be limited to serious crimes with grave penalties, like child pornography and major drug conspiracies.

Senate Bill 117: No Bongs for Kids. Local governments would be allowed to enact ordinances shutting down businesses where employees repeatedly get caught selling drug paraphernalia to minors.

Senate Bill 74 and House Bill 430: Drunken Sailing and Scootering. In 2010, operating vessels while under the influence of alcohol or drugs was made illegal—though an exception for those in kayaks or rafts inadvertently included sailors, and Senate Bill 74 seeks to close that loophole. Meanwhile, House Bill 430 would expand the ban on open containers or alcohol consumption in vehicles to include scooters and mopeds.

Elections

House Bill 220: Stopping Fraud. False and fraudulent campaign literature or any other willful and knowing attempts to fraudulently influence voters’ voting decisions would be subject to a court-ordered injunction—on top of already existing remedies, such as criminal prosecution—when the efforts are aimed at changing the outcome of a pending election.

House Bill 447: Cash for Conferences. Campaign committees’ spending is restricted to electoral purposes, which, if this bill passes, would be expanded to include attending meetings and conferences that deal with issues pertinent to office sought.

Health

House Bill 1343/Senate Bill 380: Cancer Clusters. A state work group would be established to probe the possible existence and causes of “cancer clusters”—geographical areas where the incidence of cancer is high—in Maryland.

Historic Preservation

House Bill 263/Senate Bill 144: Restore and Save. Local jurisdictions that grant tax credits for restoration expenses to owners of properties deemed to be historic or architecturally significant would be able to increase them to as high as 25 percent of the costs.

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