Quick Wrap-Up Of Late Session County Issues

In the final days of the 2015 legislative session, Conduit Street ran a quick summary of several issues pending before the General Assembly. With the session closing late Monday night, here’s a quick update on the final disposition of each one. We’ll have more details on many of these as we develop our analyses, but here’s our quick sketch.

We’ll turn each Friday question into a Tuesday answer.

-Will the General Assembly repeal the mandated stormwater fee (aka “rain tax”) and replace them with a rigid and costly regime of compliance requirements and steep penalties?

Yes. SB 863 passed with rigorous House amendments, and was embraced widely by both parties. It will nominally repeal the requirement that the ten “Phase I permit” counties impose a dedicated fee, but will instead hold them all to rigorous new reporting and penalty standards, that may prove even more burdensome than had been obligated under prior law.

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-Will the state dramatically lift the liability limits that balance local governments’ responsibility to satisfy claims against public employees for on-the-job torts?

Not too dramatically. The limits were essentially doubled to $400,000 per individual, and $800,000 per incident, with claimants now getting a full year to notify local governments of their intention to file a suit. With other more dire options on the table, MACo joined MML and did not oppose this compromise resolution in the session’s final hour.

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-Will a late-session revival of “body camera” legislation leave local police departments flexibility to use these tools effectively without costly mandates or unreasonable exposure?

Yes. This got worked out with Senate amendments, and HB 533 passed in a form that law enforcement and local governments believe will be helpful. A study commission will work through many remaining issues in implementation.

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-Will state legislation pre-empting local regulation and oversight of “drones” allow for a stakeholder study after three years of industry maturation to assess the need for new laws or local tools?

Yes. MACo secured this amendment in the House, got universal agreement, and will be among the stakeholders charged with evaluating any safety or security problems arising from drone use as the industry likely expands in the year ahead.

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-Will a broad health insurance reform limit options for local governments seeking to self-insure with stop-loss insurance, or will governments retain some extended window to select their coverage through means like the LGIT-sponsored health co-op?

No. The Senate created a window for local government flexibility, but the final version of the bill removed that provision. The two Committee chairs overseeing the legislation pledged to issue a letter to the Maryland Insurance Administration to encourage follow-up attention to local government issues.

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-Will MACo’s minor changes to school funding laws, passed unanimously by the Senate, see any attention in the House, or will the proposal simply fail for lack of any discussion or vote?

No. The House Ways and Means Committee clearly remains unwilling to entertain any changes to the “maintenance of effort” laws, regardless of how non-controversial or universally accepted. Despite the unanimous Senate vote, the amended bill was never heard or discussed in the House (nor were the house bills) beyond their required public hearing.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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