This post summarizes the status of various government liability and courts bills that MACo took a position on for the 2018 Regular Session.
Attorney Fees for Constitutional Violations: HB 1270 / SB 1042 would authorize a court to award a prevailing party reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses in a civil action against the State or a local government to enforce a “self-executing” provision of the Maryland Constitution or Declaration of Rights. “Self-executing” is defined as a provision so complete that it may be enforced by a court without the need for further legislative authority or direction.
While a prevailing plaintiff can collect attorney’s fees based on a variety of factors and considerations detailed in the bill, a prevailing defendant is only allowed to recover fees if the court determines that the plaintiff’s suit was made in bad faith or without substantial justification. Attorney’s fee awards in local government cases are subject to the liability cap of the Local Government Tort Claims Act (LGTCA).
MACo Position: MACo opposed the bill, arguing that the bill: (1) has an overbroad scope that goes beyond similar fee shifting provisions from other states; (2) would lead to increased claims against the State and local governments; (3) creates an unequal “playing field” between plaintiffs and defendants; (4) would increase costs to local governments; and (5) lacks equivalent protections found at the federal level or in other states with a fee-shifting provision, such as an offer of judgment, vicarious liability, or respondent superior.
FINAL STATUS: The House Judiciary Committee heard HB 1270 but took no further action on the bill. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard SB 1042 but took no further action on the bill.
Constitutional Right to Healthy Environment and Communities: SB 873 would amend the Maryland Constitution to create a new environmental right under the Declaration of Rights for any “person.” “Person” is defined as any: (1) resident of the state; (2) corporation incorporated under the laws of the state; or (3) a partnership, organization, association, or legal entity doing business in the state. The right would provide for “clean air, pure water, healthy communities, an environment free of conditions that degrade public health or natural resources, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment.”
MACo Position: MACo opposed the bill, arguing that: (1) the bill’s language is vague and overbroad and would likely affect many core local government services, such as transportation, water and sewer services, and planning and zoning; (2) adequate legal remedies already exist to address valid environmental concerns without the need to create a costly and unnecessary alternative; and (3) the bill would apply broad federal standing requirements to state cases that are more limited in scope than federal causes of action.
FINAL STATUS: The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee heard SB 873 but took no further action on the bill.
Comparative Fault – Motor Vehicle Accidents Involving Pedestrians and Bicycles: SB 465 would establish a comparative fault standard in civil actions involving a plaintiff who was a pedestrian or driving a nonmotorized vehicle, such as a bicycle, and a defendant who was driving a motor vehicle at the time of the accident. The bill is based on a recommendation from the Task Force to Study Bicycle Safety in Maryland.
MACo Position: MACo opposed the bill, arguing that the bill would upset Maryland’s long-established and carefully constructed contributory negligence system and failed to address several related legal structures, such as joint and several liability or the “last clear chance” exception, that currently work because Maryland has a contributory negligence system. MACo also cited concerns over an increase in litigation and liability imposed on local governments.
FINAL STATUS: The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee gave SB 465 an unfavorable report.
Speed Cameras – Calibration and Trial Requirements: HB 1151 would alter several calibration and trial requirements for speed camera programs. The bill would:
- require that a speed camera recorded image show an accurate representation of the linear distance traveled by the motor vehicle between each time-stamped image;
- require the annual calibration of a speed camera include a check on all key systems relevant to the accuracy of the system;
- require each local jurisdiction with a speed camera program to publish online the results of each annual calibration, including the certificate of calibration;
- require the speed monitoring system operator, law enforcement officer who signed the citation, or the technician who performed the annual calibration check to be present at a speed camera trial if the defendant provides 10 days written notice; and
- provide that if a person who received a speed camera citation makes a reasonable request for data other than a recorded image from the speed camera and the request is denied by the local jurisdiction, there is a rebuttable presumption that the citation issued was an erroneous violation.
MACo Position: MACo opposed the bill, noting that: (1) images generated by more accurate speed camera technologies, such as LIDAR, cannot be utilized to show liner distance traveled over time; (2) the General Assembly has consistently rejected expanding the annual calibration requirement; (3) requiring the presence of the law enforcement officer who signed the citation or the technician performing the annual calibration (who may be based in another state) with 10 days notice is impractical, costly, and impossible to meet; and (4) the rebuttable presumption provision will encourage numerous broad-based information requests by defendants hoping to have the citation voided due to the presumption.
FINAL STATUS: The House Environment and Transportation Committee gave HB 1151 an unfavorable report.
Speed Cameras – Operation in School Zones: HB 1365 would alter several operational requirements of local government speed camera programs. The bill would:
- require a local jurisdiction that has a speed camera program in school zones to ensure that each sign designating a school zone is next to a device that displays a real-time posting of the speed at which a driver is traveling;
- limit the operation of school zone speed cameras to 1 hour before until 1 hour after instructional hours on days when school is in Session (current law is 6:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday);
- limit the location of school zone speed cameras only on a highway in the school zone that fronts the school’s main entrance or the entrance that experiences the greatest amount of student and school bus traffic; and
- limit a contractor’s fee to 30% or less of the gross revenue generated by the speed camera system.
MACo Position: MACo opposed the bill, arguing that: (1) the real-time posting of speed is costly and unnecessary based on current signage requirements; (2) changing the hours of operation would create an inconsistent and confusing patchwork across the state; and (3) the bill’s location restrictions are illogical as the school may not be location where speeding poses the greatest risk to students.
FINAL STATUS: The House Environment and Transportation Committee gave HB 1365 an unfavorable report.
For more information on all of the government liability legislation that MACo tracked in the 2018 General Assembly, click here.