This post summarizes the status of various government liability and courts bills that MACo took a position on during the 2020 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.
This year, for the first time in since the Civil War, the General Assembly closed session early on March 18, due to precautionary social distancing measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19. Consequently, many bills did not have hearings or did not move forward due to time constraints to meet the new deadline. For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 Resource Page.
Follow links for more coverage on Conduit Street and MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.
MACo supported legislation that would have eliminated the “Fireman’s Rule” as well as other similar defenses that generally prohibit a safety officer from recovering damages for injuries they sustained in the course of their duties. Counties approved of balanced approach to provide reasonable remedy for first responders while maintaining the policy logic and subrogation rights behind the rule. However, Civil Actions – Defenses – Fireman’s Rule was withdrawn by the sponsor following the public hearing in the Senate Judicial Committee.
Local Government Tort Claims Act
MACo members voted to support legislation that would add the Maryland Association of Counties Pooled Other Post-Employment Benefits Investment Trust to the definition of “local government” under the Local Government Tort Claims Act. This inclusion would allow counties to insure funds allocated to the Trust. Unfortunately, the bill did not have a hearing before the close of session.
Courts and Collective Bargaining
MACo stood against legislation that would establish collective bargaining for Circuit Court and District Court clerical, administrative, constabulary, maintenance, and housekeeping staff, potentially leading to significant cost increases to counties who share funding responsibilities with the State for the 937 Circuit Court personnel throughout the state. Additionally, despite counties’ role in supporting Circuit Courts, the legislation failed to provide any opportunity for county governments to participate in collective bargaining negotiations. Both Senate and House committees held public hearings on Circuit Courts and District Court of Maryland Employees – Collective Bargaining but neither chamber advanced the bill.