This post summarizes the status of various government liability & courts legislation that MACo took a position on during the 2021 Regular session.
County governments enforce laws, employ county residents, and maintain facilities throughout Maryland. Therefore county governments may be subject to acting as defendants in court, litigating cases involving employment benefits, injuries sustained on county properties, and various other subjects. MACo advocates on behalf of county governments to clarify the unique role that they serve as employers and public institutions, ensuring the balance of public interests that account for the burden placed upon taxpayers by excessive litigation.
This year the Maryland General Assembly conducted a legislative session unlike any other due to the enduring COVID-19 pandemic. The unique circumstances surrounding the 442nd legislative session, including necessary health and safety measures, posed a challenge for lawmakers and advocates alike. Despite the unusual circumstances, MACo’s advocacy still led to more positive outcomes for its members.
For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 resource page.
Local Government Tort Claims Act
MACo members voted to support legislation that would add the Maryland Association of Counties Pooled Other Post-Employees Benefits Investment Trust to the definition of ‘local government’ under the Local Government Tort Claims Act. This inclusion would allow counties to insure its Trustees in the same manner as local government employees. Local Government Tort Claims Act – Definition of Local Government passed the House but did not advance in the Senate following its public hearing.
MACo supported legislation that would create immunity protection for lawful and proper actions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic – while preserving an avenue for individuals to seek compensation for gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing. This bill carves out a standard for assessing any lawsuits arising from this impossible situation – holding employers accountable if their conduct amounted to gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing. Countless employers who sought to act reasonably would be spared the uncertainty of a potential wave of COVID-19 lawsuits arising from even the most trivial workplace decisions; these protections expiring after the current health crisis abates. COVID-19 Claim – Civil Immunity did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly following its public hearings.
MACo supported legislation that would create reasonable liability protection for health care workers who have acted in good faith to provide care during the recent and ongoing health pandemic emergency. This bill’s “good faith” standard offers a reasonable measure to separate substantial claims from others with less merit. Health care workers, including emergency medical technicians, who sought to act reasonably would be spaced the uncertainty of a potential wave of COVID-19 lawsuits arising from even the most critical workplace decisions; these protections expiring after the current health crisis abates. Catastrophic Health Emergencies – Health Care Providers – Definition and Immunity (Maryland Health Care Heroes Protection Act) did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly following its public hearings.
Occupational Health and Safety Standards
MACo members voted to oppose legislation that would implement a new workplace safety regime to oversee safety precautions for airborne contagions. County governments are affected, not only in their capacity as employers but also in some cases as the entities charged with fielding complaints about these workplace concerns. Local health departments and their environmental health specialists simply do not have the capacity nor personnel to step into the new role to field and engage in the sort of workplace interventions envisioned under this bill. Occupational Safety and Health Standards to Protect Employees – Aerosol Transmissible Diseases and COVID-19 did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly following its public hearing.
MACo opposed legislation to increase the tort liability limits facing local governments when sued. Proposed bills in both chambers, entitled Civil Actions – Violation of Rights – Governmental Liability, would have increased state and local government liability exposure for all tort claims. Following extended public hearings in both the Senate and House committees, the two bills were defeated and received no committee action. However, components of the proposal were ultimately embedded into the final broad “police reform” legislation, HB 670, and will substantially increase governmental liability exposure for police misconduct cases.
Office of the State’s Attorney
MACo members voted to oppose legislation that would oblige each State’s Attorney, a count-funded State agency, to assemble and public a litany of detailed information on public-facing media, at a substantial cost to the county and its taxpayers. Office of the State’s Attorney – Collection Publication of Prosecutorial Information was withdrawn by its sponsor following its public hearing in the House Judiciary Committee and did not have a hearing in the Senate.
For more on government liability & courts legislation tracked by MACo during the 2021 legislative session, click here.