Session’s Final Week: County Issues Still in Play

With one week remaining in the 2014 legislative session, here are several issues with county impact that still appear to be “in play” for a final determination.

Bail Reform – Will County Jails be Left Holding the Bag? MACo and many newspapers have written extensively about the lingering impasse over bail reform. County wardens are very worried that state inaction, or a poorly conceived bill, could leave many non-violent and low-risk defendants staying for extended time in local jails, which lack the structure and capacity to properly handle them. The Senate proposal (SB 923) would create a new efficient system to ensure early release where appropriate, but the House may be working in a different direction. Failure to work out any solution could lead to a constitutional crisis, a state budget explosion, and even a special session. Will county jails be sent a wave of unwarranted new detainees by the legislature?

RISE Zones – Who’s In Charge of County Tax Credits? MACo and MML are fighting to keep some manner of local control over the generous (and mostly local) tax credits envisioned under SB 600, a bill trying to establish growth areas around colleges. The Senate bill, however, would allow the college to propose a zone and its goals and boundaries, and for the State to approve it – without needing any approval or even input from the affected local government. The House may revisit some of these portions of the bill, but one version seems likely to pass – after being resolved by the two sides. Will there be a voice for the county government on its own budget effects?

Emergency Pothole Funding – Now? Or Never? – Will procedural hurdles be cleared enough to get the promised $10 million in county-only road repair funding out the door during this fiscal year, rather than waiting until July? Most observers agree this year shapes up as the worst ever for potholes and winter road damage – citizens would appreciate a quick delivery of this emergency funding. The Governor has pledged a supplemental budget for FY 2014, and the legislature could support and approve that – but the pieces need to fall into place quickly.

Program Open Space – Will Future Funding Get Siphoned Off? – The Senate passed a budget proposal to limit funding for Program Open Space and other transfer tax funded programs in future years, but the House appears ready to reject that proposal, all as part of the capital budget debate. Will there be a cutback in future commitments, or will this dedicated revenue stay directed to the programs that brought about its creation?

Speed Camera Reforms – Will Good Reforms Get Done? Two different bills (HB 929, and SB 350) have passed to reform the laws for local speed camera programs, adding transparency and accountability measures and clearer operational guidelines. MACo has joined many stakeholders in seeking a good reform bill, but the two bills must be worked out in a conference committee and passed by session’s end (the mechanics of these stages failed last year, despite a near-consensus on the goals).

School Funding Partnerships – Can We Improve A Weak Process? MACo’s initiative bill, HB 1145, sits in its House Committee, despite substantial interest in the idea of improving the process for “nonrecurring costs” being approved for school budgets. Can the bill still move, or is there another way to make gains toward a better process to help provide one-time school funds without binding future budgets?

For some broader views on remaining issues, see these session end summaries from major papers:

Baltimore Sun
Washington Post
Annapolis Capital

MACo and county governments will be following a variety of other issues that remain somewhere in the legislative process — bills that have not yet been voted at all, bills that have passed one chamber but not the other, and bills still being debated or amended in various stages. The last week of the legislative session always brings twists and turns – Conduit Street will continue to provide timely updates on these county issues across the board.

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Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties