Conduit Street Podcast: Call If You Can, Text If You Must. Sunshine Laws, Attorney’s Fees, #LIFT4MD, & Beer Wars

On the latest episode of the Conduit Street Podcast, Kevin Kinnally and Michael Sanderson discuss the announcement of a statewide Text to 9-1-1 system, examine Maryland’s Public Information Act (and why it needs an update), break down the “Access to Public Courts Act,” preview #LIFT4MD day in Annapolis, and explain the beer battle in Maryland.

MACo has made the podcast available through both iTunes and Google Play Music by searching Conduit Street Podcast. You can also listen on our Conduit Street blog with a recap and link to the podcast.

Listen here:

If you are having trouble using this media player, listen on our website.

Aligning Public Access Laws with Modern Technologies

Maryland’s Public Information Act creates a balanced framework for guaranteeing public access to open information, while protecting sensitive and private material. The rapid ascension of new technologies has strained the implementation and effect of these laws – potentially chilling their otherwise beneficial use. SB 788/HB 1638, Public Information Act – Revisions, clarifies and reframes the Maryland Public Information Act to better accommodate citizen electronic engagement, personal surveillance footage from first responders and other county officials, and the release of sensitive personal information.

Attorney’s Fees

MACo this week testified in opposition to HB 1270/SB 1042. In theory, the bill seeks to ensure there is adequate legal representation for low-income individuals asserting a constitutional claim in State courts. In practice, the bill would trigger a rush of litigation and costs for the State and local governments and create a profoundly unbalanced system that favors plaintiffs over defendants.

Text to 9-1-1

Governor Larry Hogan this week announced the Board of Public Works’ approval of a new Text to 9-1-1 technology for Maryland, helping to update 1960s-era emergency systems with life-saving technology. This new Internet-based infrastructure allows citizens to send a Short Message Service (SMS) text message to 9-1-1. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that more than 70 percent of all 9-1-1 calls now come from cellular users.

Text to 9-1-1 supports 160 characters per message, but no multimedia messaging, such as photos or video. The total cost of the 2-year contract is approximately $2.2 million.

Text to 9-1-1 is a component of Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG911), an initiative aimed at updating the 9-1-1 service infrastructure to improve public emergency communications services in a wireless mobile society. NG911 will improve and enhance the handling of 9-1-1 calls from cell phone users with technology that will increase response times, location accuracy, and allow text, photo, and video data to be shared by callers to First Responders on their way to the emergency.

Advancing NG911 is a priority for county governments. SB 285/HB 634, a 2018 MACo Legislative Initiative, establishes the Commission to Advance Next-Generation 9-1-1 Across Maryland. The Commission will examine the strategic aspects of Next Generation 9-1-1 implementation in coordination with the Emergency Numbers Systems Board’s (ENSB) existing efforts, particularly ensuring that those areas outside of the statutory responsibilities of the ENSB are addressed. The Commission will study and make recommendations for the implementation, technology, funding, governance, and ongoing statewide development of Next Generation 9-1-1 to the Governor and Maryland General Assembly.

#LIFT4MD

A perennial MACo initiative, counties have called for the return of their fair share of transportation-sourced revenues to fund their roadwork for years. This year, MACo’s initiative calls for a Local Infrastructure Fast Track – a #LIFT4MD – to bring local governments back their historic 30 percent share of transportation revenues from the State’s Transportation Trust Fund. It also calls for an assessment of the state of local infrastructure in Maryland, and for the State to share any additional federal infrastructure funds with counties and municipalities.

After discussing the topic with a myriad of stakeholders, MACo decided instead to introduce a consensus bill, with terms appealing to not only counties, but municipalities and the Administration. Therefore, House Bill 1569, as introduced, restores highway user revenues to counties and Baltimore City in eight years, and municipalities in two years.

The hearings on MACo’s Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland Act are scheduled for Wednesday, March 7 at 1 pm in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and Friday, March 9 at 1 pm in the House Environment and Transportation and Appropriation Committees.

MACo calls on representatives from all levels of county governments to join us for these hearings to show your support – it’s time to find a way to give local infrastructure a LIFT.

Beer Wars

Maryland lawmakers are considering a bill by Comptroller Peter Franchot that would repeal some of the state’s regulations on craft beer breweries. In 2017, Franchot proposed the Reform on Tap Act of 2018, a bill to relieve regulatory burdens on craft beer production and sales.

The Comptroller’s bill would remove the state’s limits on how much beer breweries are allowed to sell on-site. It would also allow breweries to sell directly to retailers instead of requiring them to make franchising agreements with distribution companies. Currently, Maryland craft breweries are allowed to sell up to 3,000 barrels of beer, or about 500,000 pints, directly to consumers each year.

You can listen to previous episodes of the Conduit Street Podcast on our website.

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