Down To the Wire … County Issues Remaining For 2016 Session

As the 2016 General Assembly session winds down toward its conclusion Monday night, here are several county issues that remain in play, at least to some degree.

Justice Reinvestment – Will Reforms Create Major Unfunded Mandates?

SB 1005 looks like the vehicle for the major justice reform effort – but the Senate and House have adopted starkly different versions of the lengthy legislation. Most justice advocates are focusing on sentencing changes and the broader moves toward incarceration alternatives for low-risk, non-violent offenders. Counties – and our local jails and health departments – are concerned that the legislation (especially the Senate version) could shift massive costs onto locally-funded programs.

One hot-button section — Section 11 of the Senate Bill:

SECTION 11. AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That it is the intent of the General Assembly that local correctional facilities and local health departments provide funding for treatment required for individuals diverted from incarceration for a violation of § 5–601 of the Criminal Law Article as enacted by Section 1 of this Act.

Counties support the justice reforms, but urge the conferees to be sensitive to local costs burdens, and to avoid the language above.

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Police Body Cameras – Sensible Bill Stuck in Senate Committee

MACo’s initiative legislation HB 947 passed the House unanimously, with broad stakeholder support. The Senate crossfiled bill’s hearing was positive and encouraging. But the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee has not acted on either bill… and the clock is ticking.

Without this clarifying bill, many police departments are concerned that wide-open public information laws could render body cameras unworkable and too costly.

See MACo’s Action Alert on the body camera bill.

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Liability Laws – Will Locals Suffer Even More Lawsuit Exposure?

Several bills pose a threat to counties’ bottom line, by opening the doors to more lawsuits and judgments against local governments. The main issues remaining in play surround a “notice requirement” drastically altered in SB 934 and SB 356.

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Police Reforms – Will a Compromise Emerge on Officer Discipline Issues?

HB 1016 is another high profile bill stuck between House and Senate perspectives, with the Senate bill recommitted to its policy committee. With days left, most observers expect a compromise of some sort.

Read MACo’s testimony on the changes to the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights and related state laws.

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Automatic Voter Registration – A New Unfunded Mandate?

SB 350 and HB 1007, legislation to dramatically broaden voter registration (making that process “opt out” rather than “opt in” for large waves of citizens) has hit a snag with a defeat on the Senate floor. However, time remains for additional effort in the Senate to pass some version of a bill. Both bills trigger substantial costs on the county-supporter election boards.

See Conduit Street coverage: Election Surprise? Automatic Voter Registration Bill Fails On Senate Floor

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Syringe Exchange Programs – Who Gives the Approval?

SB 97, a Departmental bill arising from the Governor’s Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force would authorize syringe exchange programs in every jurisdiction. MACo had argued that a local option should be inserted into the bill. The Senate did not agree, and passed the bill without attention.

The House Committee on Health and Government Operations is deliberating the bill currently, after declining to act on similar measures last year. Some debate is expected on the local option, but many stakeholders resist this provision. MACo has raised its interest consistently, both on the potential value of the program, and the importance of the local determination.

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Local Road Funding – Left Behind?

Listed here mostly due to the deep county interest, in contrast to the lack of legislative interest. The budget was passed with a surprise – the conference committee took a cut that neither the Senate nor the House took, and flat-funded local roads and bridges for FY 2017, peeling back all of the Governor’s proposed increase.

The only bill that received measurable attention was SB 585, a bill passed with an inexplicably one-year funding guarantee for municipal roads only, in FY 2018. That bill was heard in its House Committee (where both Baltimore City and MACo urged amendments to create a fairer distribution), but has not received any action there and appears unlikely to pass this year in any form.

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Paid Sick Leave – A New Mandate on County Government Employers?

After four years, the House of Delegates passed an amended version of sick leave legislation. The legislation is now in the Senate Rules Committee. The Senate did not advance its own version of the bill this year, and it is yet to be determined if they will have interest in the amended House bill.

The bill targets private sector employers, but encompasses government employers, too, requiring provision of about a week’s worth of paid sick leave to county employees if earned at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked. MACo opposed the legislation, raising concerns with the bill’s potential effects on the provision of emergency and essential services and with broad requirements for providing leave to part-time, seasonal, and contractual employees. The amended bill addresses some county concerns.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties
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