The segments below provide a brief overview of MACo’s work on emergency services in the 2023 General Assembly.
County governments lead the delivery of public safety services in Maryland – responsible for county fire, police, and emergency services. MACo’s advocacy in emergency services includes urging for much-needed state support for local public services such as 9-1-1 call centers, front-line county services, and natural disaster response. Additionally, MACo advocates for all first responders to have the flexibility, support, and technology necessary to provide for public safety.
In addition to the swearing-in of a new governor, the 445th legislative session kicked off with more relaxed health and safety measures compared to the turbulence of the last few years. This enabled MACo’s policy team to dynamically engage with private-sector stakeholders, legislators, and representatives from all levels of government. Under these more conventional circumstances, MACo’s advocacy led to a plethora of favorable outcomes for its members.
Emergency Services — Security, Employee Protections, and Next Generation 9-1-1
MACo supported HB 745/SB 340 – Criminal Law – False Statements – Emergency or Commission of Crime (Antiswatting Act of 2023). This bill strengthens state laws to protect first responders and residents from malicious threats that disrupt emergency communications and jeopardize public safety. HB 745 expressly prohibits “swatting,” where an individual places a phony 9-1-1 call, often alleging a hostage situation or other serious circumstance, to dispatch law enforcement personnel to an address where no emergency exists. By weaponizing 9-1-1 and public emergency response staff, swatting places first responders and civilians in danger, and drains limited public safety resources. The bill passed the General Assembly and awaits the governor’s signature.
MACo supported SB 405/HB 744 – Criminal Law – Public Safety – Interference With a Public Safety Answering Point – Penalties. This bill would have bolstered state laws to protect against sophisticated cyber-attacks that pose a significant threat to the security and stability of Maryland’s 9-1-1 system. While HB 744 passed the House, it failed in the Senate. SB 405 did not advance from the Senate. Ultimately, the bill did not advance in the 2023 session.
MACo supported HB 1176 – Public Safety – Voluntary 9-1-1 Registry with amendments. This bill would have required each county 9-1-1 center to establish a voluntary registry to alert first responders of specified special needs that may affect the way a registered individual interacts and respond to law enforcement, firefighters, or emergency ambulance services. The bill passed the House with MACo amendments to alleviate a significant unfunded mandate and guard against unintended consequences for county governments. However, the bill died in the Senate and did not advance in the 2023 session.
New Offices and Programs
MACo supported HB 789/SB 650 – Catastrophic Event Account – Unit of Local Government – Authorized Fund. By implementing the recommendations of the State Disaster Recovery Fund Workgroup, this bill will help counties streamline and expedite community resources in times of crisis. In lieu of federal assistance, county governments and their residents rely on state relief programs. However, Maryland’s current relief mechanisms are siloed, mostly unfunded programs, which create barriers to access and significant delays in distributing aid. As such, the bill established a State Disaster Recovery Fund, administered by the Maryland Department of Emergency Management (MDEM), to provide disaster recovery assistance to county governments, individuals, and families when federal aid is not available or insufficient – typically due to the nature and breadth of the event. The bill passed the General Assembly and awaits the governor’s signature.
MACo supported SB 30/HB 138 – Study on Statewide 2-1-1 and 3-1-1 Systems. As introduced, the bill would have established a statewide 3-1-1 system for non-emergency government services, resources, and information to streamline service delivery for residents, businesses, and visitors across Maryland. Amendments turned the bill into a study. While the House and Senate passed their versions of the bill, neither received a hearing in the opposite chamber. Ultimately, the bill did not advance in the 2023 session.
MACo supported SB 677 – Maryland Center for School Safety – Statewide Secure Schools Emergency Response Program – Established with amendments. This bill aimed to strengthen school safety by implementing a statewide emergency notification system to streamline communication between school personnel, 9-1-1 centers, and public safety agencies during life–threatening emergencies. While counties supported the intent of SB 677, the technology and coordination required to implement this legislation are complex. As such, MACo urged amendments to require an interim study to evaluate and recommend how best to ensure efficient and effective responses for school-based emergencies. The bill did not advance in the 2023 session.