This post summarizes the final status of various government liability and courts bills that MACo either considered or took a position on.
Use of Public Defenders at Bail Review: HB 112, HB 261, and SB 422 are emergency bills that were introduced to address the recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision in DeWolfe v. Richmond, which held that indigent defendants were entitled to public defenders at District Court Commissioner bail hearings and bail reviews before the court. Without a legislative remedy, counties and States’ Attorneys would face significant new costs and logistical challenges to comply with the Court’s ruling. MACo supported the bills, arguing that the General Assembly should attempt to fix the problem legislatively given the ruling’s local costs, particularly concerning Commissioner bail hearings. FINAL STATUS: After engaging in a debate over the broader role of Commissioners and the bail process, the General Assembly passed HB 261 and SB 422 with amendments making the bills identical. As amended, the bills would require that a public defender represent indigent individuals at court bail reviews but not at Commissioner bail hearings. The bills would also limit the ability of a Commissioner to issue an arrest warrant based solely on an application for a statement of charges by an individual, prohibit a statement by a defendant made during the course of an initial appearance before a Commissioner from being used as evidence against the defendant, and require a defendant who is denied bail by a Commissioner to be presented before a District Court Judge if the District Court is in session, or if not, at the next session of the District Court within 48 hours. The bills would also require a police officer to issue a citation for a violation of various misdemeanors and local ordinances rather than arrest an individual. Officers must submit information regarding the issuance of citations similar to what is submitted for traffic stops in order to prevent racial profiling. Finally, the bills would create a Task Force to Study the Laws and Policies Relating to Representation of Indigent Criminal Defendants by the Office of the Public Defender. The Task Force will include county government and local public safety and corrections representatives. The House did not take action on HB 112.
Workers’ Compensation Presumption for Firefighters: HB 1101 / SB 949 is a bill sponsored by the Administration that would expand the workers’ compensation cancer presumption for firefighters to include esophageal, brain, testicular, bladder, urethral, and digestive cancers. The minimum length of service requirement before the cancer presumption applies is increased from 5 to 10 years. The bill also establishes that the cancer presumption would apply for 20 years after a firefighter leaves service and the presumption for heart disease, stress, and lung disease would apply for 15 years after a firefighter leaves service. Finally, the bill establishes a “rolling cap” on non-medical expenses for the cancer presumption, meaning that a county’s total benefit payout in a given year may not exceed 110% of the county’s highest annual payout for such benefits. MACo opposed the bill based on its cost and MACo’s longstanding assertion that the public safety presumptions should be truly rebuttable. FINAL STATUS: The House amended HB 1101 to include the following new cancers: multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, brain, testicular, and breast. The 10 year service requirement was also kept. All other provisions of the original bill were removed. As part of an agreement between MACo and the firefighters, the Senate further amended HB 1101 by removing pancreatic cancer and delaying the effective date of the cancer changes until June 1, 2013. In the meantime, a study of the linkage between various cancers and firefighting will be undertaken by a medical expert for the purposes of informing the General Assembly which cancers should be subject to the presumption. MACo and the firefighters must also create a record keeping system related to the presumption. A separate letter, signed by Committee Chairs from both Houses, requires a study on how rebuttable the presumption is in Maryland and the cost impact on the counties. The House accepted the Senate amendments, including the separate letter. The Senate did not take action on SB 949.
Workers’ Compensation Presumption for Law Enforcement Officers: HB 615 would create a would create a new workers’ compensation public safety occupational disease presumption for State and local law enforcement officers who are required to wear a duty belt and suffer a lower back impairment resulting in partial or total disability. A law enforcement officer must have been a full-time employee for at least 5 years in order for the presumption to apply. The presumption applies for up to 5 years after the officer’s retirement. MACo opposed the bill, citing the common occurrence of back impairments throughout the population, the cost to counties, and the already generous presumptions for officers. FINAL STATUS: The bill’s sponsor withdrew the bill, citing both the bill’s opposition and the need to rework the bill. The sponsor indicated the bill would be reintroduced next year.
Service of Process Fee Increases: SB 413 would increase the various service of process fees collected by sheriffs for service of process by $10 and transferred the extra money into a Rental Allowance Program Fund within the Department of Housing and Community Development. Monies from the Fund would be use to support the Rental Allowance Program, which helps low-income individuals find or maintain housing by providing housing assistance payments. MACo opposed the bill, citing the inadequacy of the current fees to cover service of process costs incurred by the sheriffs and the unrelated nature of the Rental Allowance Program. FINAL STATUS: The Senate passed SB 413 with technical amendments but the House gave the bill an unfavorable report.