Public Safety Issues Highlight Annapolis Issues

Public safety issues lead the Washington Post’s five things to watch in Annapolis this week:

Cell Phone Contraband

The House Judiciary Committee will hear a few bills on Tuesday aimed at illegal smuggling and  use of cellphones in prisons.

Maryland lawmakers have repeatedly killed legislation sought by corrections officials to crack down on the smuggling of cellphones into prisons, a key element of the gang culture that thrived in the Baltimore jail at the center of two rounds of federal indictments last year…The legislature will start hearing a handful of bills this week intended to reduce the likelihood of similar activity in the future. Among those: a bill backed by the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) that would make it a felony rather than a misdemeanor to smuggle in a cellphone.

While opponents of similar legislation point to the detrimental effects of a felony for violations and the availability of cell phone jamming technology, supporters counter that such legislation is necessary to help protect against the use of cell phones to plot criminal activity inside and outside of the prisons.

Dangerous Dog Attacks

Two years later and the dangerous dog debate rages on.

Until a 2012 ruling by the state’s highest court, Maryland operated on the “one bite” principle: The owner of a dog that bit someone could not be held liable so long as the dog had never shown a history of violence. In April 2012, however, the Maryland Court of Appeals singled out pit bulls as an inherently risky breed, making their owners and landlords almost automatically responsible when a dog bites someone.

Since then, the legislature has been struggling to find a balance that would satisfy dog lovers who think their pets are under fire as well as people who have been harmed by dogs.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hear testimony Thursday on two bills aimed at settling the liability issue. One submitted by Senator Brian Frosh (D-Montgomery) is a bipartisan bill (cross-filed in the House by Delegate Luiz Simmons) that would create a rebuttable presumption that the owner new or should have known that the dog was vicious. Under another bill, submitted by Senator Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) unless there was evidence the victim provoked the attack, regardless of the breed the owner of the dog would be presumed liable. The bill also contains a provision prohibiting insurance companies from refusing to pay a claim based on the dog breed.

See MACo’s testimony online, supporting police departments in seeking an exemption for properly trained police dogs.