This post summarizes the status of various government liability and courts bills that MACo took a position on during the 2019 Regular Session.
County governments enforce laws, employee residents, and maintain facilities throughout Maryland. These various roles may place county governments, much like their counterparts in the private sector, as defendants in court, litigating cases involving employment benefits, injuries sustained on county properties, or other subjects. MACo’s advocacy in this area seeks to clarify the unique role of governments as employers and public institutions, and to ensure a balancing of public interests that takes into account the taxpayer burden that excess litigation inevitably creates.
Follow links for more coverage on Conduit Street and MACo’s Legislative Database.
Attorney Fees for Constitutional Violations
MACo opposed a bill authorizing 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 argued 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. The Access to Maryland Courts Act did not move out of its Committees in either chamber.
MACo opposed legislation that would have required that for each school zone speed camera activated, placed, repaired, or altered on or after June 1, 2019, there must be a device that displays real-time posting of the speed at which a vehicle is traveling in each direction of a roadway and in close proximity to the boundary of the school zones. The bill also prohibited a contractor’s fee from exceeding 30% of the gross revenue generated by the speed camera system. MACo argued that the bill’s provisions are unnecessary, costly, and have previously been considered and rejected by the General Assembly. Vehicle Laws – Speed Monitoring Systems – Operation in School Zones received an unfavorable report.
MACo opposed a bill that would have limited the use of speed cameras in a school zone that extended beyond a single county’s boundary to the county in which the school is located, arguing that current law had sufficient requirements on where speed cameras may be placed within school zones to ensure student safety and that the bill would illogically restrict protecting students solely because they happen to live in another jurisdiction, regardless of the actual public safety issues. The sponsor withdrew Speed Monitoring Systems – School Zone in Multiple Counties – Limitation, so it did not advance.
Workers’ Compensation – Presumptions
MACo opposed legislation that added bladder and kidney or renal cell cancer to the list of workers’ compensation occupational disease presumptions for firefighters and rescue squad members. The presumption: (1) is not truly rebuttable unlike in most other states; (2) the scientific linkage between firefighting and many types of cancers remains murky; and (3) the potentially significant cost to county governments. Unfortunately, the General Assembly passed legislation adding bladder and kidney or renal cell cancer to the list of workers’ compensation
occupation disease presumptions for firefighters under § 9-503 of the Labor and Employment Article. The General Assembly did not pass another piece of legislation that would have had a similar effect.
MACo opposed legislation that modifies when a covered firefighter or rescue squad member can qualify for a workers’ compensation occupational disease presumption. The bill alters a 10-year service requirement with one jurisdiction to a cumulative 10-year service requirement from anywhere in or out of the state. The bill also removes a requirement that an individual is unable to perform the normal duties of a firefighter or rescue squad member due to the cancer or leukemia disability. MACo opposed the bill, arguing that: (1) the presumption is not truly rebuttable unlike in most other states; and (2) a broad study on the presumption that was supposed to take place in 2012 did not happen and further changes to the presumption should be held until the study takes place. The General Assembly passed Medical Presumptions for Diseases and Cancer — Eligibility (Firefighter Jesse McCullough’s Cancer Protection Law) with amendments. As amended, the bills: (1) alter the 10-year service requirement from 10 years within one jurisdiction to 10 years of cumulative service within the State; and (2) clarify that the cancer or leukemia must result in partial or total disability or death for the presumption to apply. The “within the State” language was suggested by MACo once it was clear the bills were going to pass.
Other Bills of Interest
The following bills may be of interest to counties even though MACo did not take a formal position on them. In some cases, the bills were handled through one of MACo’s affiliate organizations.
Vehicle Laws – Speed Monitoring, Work Zone Speed Control, and Traffic Control Signal Monitoring Systems – Repeal would have repealed the use of speed cameras within state or local highway work zones. This bill received an unfavorable report for its committee and did not advance.
Workers’ Compensation – Medical Cannabis – Compensation and Benefits provided that: (1) medical cannabis is among the medicines an employer must provide to a covered employee if the Workers’ Compensation Commission requires; and (2) a covered employee or dependent is not entitled to workers’ compensation benefits if the employee’s injury was caused solely by the effect of medical cannabis that was not administered or taken in accordance with the written certification or written instructions of a physician. This bill passed the Senate but failed to advance in the House of Delegates.