MACo and Partners Support Initiative Bills on Police Body Camera Footage

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, testified in support of a pair of cross-filed bills, Senate Bill 970 and House Bill 767, “Public Information Act – Inspection of Records From Body-Worn Digital Recording Devices,” before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Judiciary Committee on February 21, 2017.

The bills are one of MACo’s four legislative initiatives for 2017.  Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City saw the issue of  how body camera footage is treated under Maryland’s Public Information Act (PIA) as vitally important to address. Joining MACo in support of these bills were Bill Jorch, Maryland Municipal League; Hilary Ruley, Chief Solicitor, Baltimore City; John Fitzgerald, Chief of Police, Chevy Chase Village (representing the Maryland Association of Chiefs of Police and the Maryland Sheriffs Association); and Lisae Jordan, Executive Director & Counsel for the Maryland Coalitions Against Sexual Assault.

The bills would create a needed policy on how police body camera video would be handled under the Maryland Public Information Act (PIA). The bills would provide for: (1) law enforcement officer accountability and transparency; (2) protection for victims of abuse, domestic violence or sexual attacks; and (3) clarity of and protection from potentially abusive requests to local government and State records custodians. MACo believes these bills achieve these necessary protections for all parties without altering any current discovery rights or PIA exceptions.

From MACo testimony:

 MACo believes that SB 970 offers a thoughtful and reasonable solution to the issues posed by police body cameras under the PIA. The bill ensures police officer accountability and transparency, includes victim protections, and addresses the expense and potential for abusive requests facing local governments and State records custodians.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Resists Effort to Dictate Local Land Use Policy

MACo Policy and Legal Counsel, Les Knapp, provided written testimony in opposition to Senate Bill 532, “Temporary Family Health Care Structures – Permits” before the Senate Finance Committee on February 22, 2017.

SB 532 would require a local legislative body to acknowledge a temporary family health care structure as a permitted accessory use in areas with single-family detached dwellings if the structure is used by a family member for the care of a related mentally or physically impaired individual. The legislative body may not require a caregiver to obtain a special use permit for the structure or impose any zoning law on the structure (subject to certain exceptions). The bill also defines the size, design, and requirements the structure must meet and limits a local government to charging a $100 application fee and a $50 annual renewal fee. Finally, the bill exempts the services provided by the caregiver from being included as an “assisted living program” under the Health – General Article.

From MACo testimony:

The care of a physically or mentally impaired relative affects many families and counties will typically work with an individual who is in such unfortunate circumstances. However, the bill imposes a “one size fits all” solution and usurps local land use control rather than acknowledge that a variety of approaches exist.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Opposes Changes to Child Abuse Reporting System

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, provided written testimony in opposition to House Bill 697, “Child Abuse and Neglect – Statewide Reporting – 2-1-1 Maryland,” to the House Health and Government Operations Committee on February 23, 2017.

HB 697 would shift the critical responsibility of answering calls concerning child abuse and neglect from local departments of social services to the statewide 2-1-1 system. While the concept of a statewide hotline is well intentioned, it has practical shortcomings.

From MACo testimony:

The child welfare system in Maryland is primarily managed locally by each Local Department of Social Services (LDSS). Screening of child abuse and neglect calls is one of their core functions. Each county has highly trained and specialized staff that respond to those calls. The localized system allows them to efficiently and effectively gather necessary information, assess the situation, and dispatch local resources. In cases of child abuse and neglect, every minute counts and LDSS are best trained and situated to respond to urgent concerns.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Counties Support Increased Control Over Use of Local Roads

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, provided written testimony in support of Senate Bill 640, “Municipalities and Counties – Local Roads – Regulation of Travel by Heavy-Weight Vehicles,” before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on February 22, 2017.  MACo provided written testimony on cross-filed House Bill 930 to the Environment and Transportation Committee on February 21, 2017.

The bill would authorize certain counties to regulate and permit heavy-weight vehicles on their own roads. It amends existing law (Local Government Article, Section 12-527) which addresses Allegany, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s and Washington Counties.

From MACo testimony:

As counties continue to suffer the repercussions of devastating cutbacks to their highway user revenues, it becomes increasingly important for local governments to have control over their roads to prevent them from falling into a state of irreversible disrepair. When heavy-weight vehicles continue to repeatedly use local roads instead of state and interstate highways, they compromise the integrity of infrastructure oftentimes not built to accommodate such traffic on a regular basis. When left unregulated, heavy-weight traffic can cause extraordinary damage to local roads and any utilities existing underneath or adjacent to them. This problem is only exacerbated by the fact that local governments lack access to any significant portion of transportation revenues to fund maintenance of their roadway networks.

Both House and Senate bill sponsors introduced amendments to make the bill applicable to Garrett County only. 

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Revenue Collection Tools Ensure Fairness To All Ratepayers

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, provided testimony in opposition to House Bill 453, “Tax Sales – Water Liens,” to the House Ways and Means Committee on February 23, 2017.  James DiPietro, Deputy Director, Bureau of Utility Operations, Department of Public Works, Anne Arundel County; and Janice Simmons, Bureau Chief, Revenue Collections, Department of Finance, Baltimore City, joined in opposition to this bill.

MACo ensured the bill sponsor and committee that the Association was happy to help work on addressing any issues which might allow some to profit, perhaps unduly, from the hardship of others. However, this bill deprives counties of the opportunity to use an effective tool for enforcement – tax sale – to enforce liens for unpaid water, sewer, or sanitary system charges. The tax sale process, or more specifically the potential for a property to go to tax sale, presents a much needed tool of last resort to ensure that property owners remit payment for their fair share of taxes and charges connected to public services. Most counties in Maryland go to tax sale solely to enforce utility liens. This bill removes this leverage for all counties, and undoubtedly would create many more deficient accounts for water and sewer bills from lack of enforcement – leading to increased rates on citizens who properly pay.

From MACo testimony:

All property owners deserve full and adequate notice of any collection efforts to collect taxes or charges assessed on the property – and as such, every county has procedures to ensure notice is provided prior to tax sale. Additionally, property owners have the right to redeem property within six months from the date of any tax sale by paying the amount owed. The tax sale process includes multiple checks and balances to ensure that local governments can collect overdue fees without unjustly depriving taxpayers of due process, water, or their homes.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Strongly Endorses Restoring Highway User Revenues

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, provided written testimony in support of House Bill 552, “Transportation – Motor Fuel Tax and Highway User Revenue – Increased Local Share,” to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 23, 2017.

This bill restores highway user revenues to local governments, ensures that new gas tax revenues resulting from Chapter 429 of 2013 are shared equitably with local governments, and amends the Maryland Constitution to prevent depletion of highway user revenues from local governments in the future. This bill will supply desperately needed revenue to repair and maintain local roads and bridges.

From MACo testimony:

It is unquestionable that local governments maintain the lion’s share of the roads and bridges in our state. Unlike most other states, in Maryland, local governments own and maintain 83% of the roads. Even recognizing that state arterials have more lanes than local roads do, local governments still own and maintain 77% of the lane miles in Maryland. Every resident depends on local roadways. Highway user revenues fund roads and bridges throughout our entire state, through an equitable, time-tested formula based on road mileage and vehicle registrations. This touches the roads our kids ride to school, the roads our first responders travel to keep us safe, and the roads where we all live.

Support MACo’s #Lift4MD initiative!

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Expresses Concerns With Statute of Limitations Bill

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally, testified in opposition to House Bill 852, “Courts – Action for Violation of Collective Bargaining Agreement or Breach of Duty of Fair Representation – Limitations Period,” before the House Appropriations Committee on February 21, 2017.

HB 852 alters the time limit in which a complainant must bring an action for injunctive relief or damages for a violation of a collective bargaining agreement or a breach of duty of fair representation of an employee of the State or a political subdivision. The action must be commenced within six months after the later of: (1) the date on which the claim accrued; or (2) the date on which the complainant knew or should reasonably have known of the breach.

The bill’s six-month requirement could help reduce cases brought against local governments based on the date on which the claim accrued. However, MACo is concerned that setting the same threshold to the date on which the complainant knew or should reasonably have known of the breach could create a more open-ended standard that could ultimately increase litigation over the current law.

From MACo testimony:

MACo recognizes that HB 852 is intended to create a definitive statute of limitations for collective bargaining agreement and breach of the duty of fair representation of governmental employee claims. Unfortunately, MACo is concerned that the practical effect of the bill would be to increase the time limit within which such claims can be brought.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

Miller Offers “Grand Bargain” on Transportation Scorecard Bill

At the high profile hearing for SB 307, Governor Hogan’s proposal to repeal the transportation scorecard legislation enacted last year, Senate President Miller testified in support of a proposed “compromise” that would delay the scoring system’s effect for two years while a select work group would be empaneled to work through the system. The Administration and Department officials testifying in support of the repeal legislation expressed an initial reluctance, but indicated appreciation for the movement on the sticky issue.

From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan‘s administration is refusing to compromise with Democrats on a controversial transportation scoring law, demanding its full repeal before they entertain anything else.

“We can’t salvage this law,” Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Wednesday. Hogan’s chief legislative officer, Christopher Shank, said if the administration discusses a compromise, “that conversation has to begin with repeal.”

MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson testified in support of Senate Bill 307, indicating that MACo would support either a “repeal” or “replace” path forward. He indicated he was “heartened” by the proposed movement from the Senate President, who had reaffirmed that “we’re not going to pass a repeal,” but distributed amendment language to Committee members.

Sanderson outlined several areas for any workgroup to focus on — including specifying the Department’s ability to score projects differently based on region or mode, to specify the intended analytical responsibilities between the Department and counties, and to clarify the “advisory” nature of the legislation. He also urged local input into any review going forward.

Background

The bill as introduced repeals the 2016 legislation creating a “scorecard” for major transportation projects. That bill, with its many prescriptive elements, and the subsequent implementing regulations, have left counties deeply concerned about the process for selecting major transportation projects. MACo urges the General Assembly to remedy the current two-part scheme of legislative and regulatory interpretation that collectively place projects in jeopardy, and may overwhelm county transportation planning staff.

During the 2016 legislative session, MACo raised concerns with HB 1013, the legislation targeted by this year’s SB 307. In testimony, MACo raised concerns about respecting county input into project selection, overburdening county public works departments, and the potential for unfairness in the legislated scoring system. Many of these points were addressed, in whole or in part, through both House and Senate amendments.

During the interim, MACo was again alarmed by exchanges with the Maryland Department of Transportation, suggesting that a failure of counties to rapidly provide dramatically expanded information to defend proposed projects would result in them being “de-funded.” And finally, after the implementation of last year’s act was delayed pending adoption of regulations, MACo again expressed concern with the proposed Departmental regulations that failed to implement flexibility that we believe the legislation afforded. Taken together, counties fear the law and regulations’ scoring system will prove counterproductive and cumbersome.

From MACo testimony:

Imperfect scores undermine the entire system. An ideal scorecard system could advance the public’s ability to understand the State’s project selection process. Counties fear that the status quo, as a combined result of legislation and regulations, will substantially miss this mark. The Maryland public would not be well served if the Department were obliged to routinely offer a multitude of “rational basis” letters to assert an exception for a wide range of projects in order to retain funding, despite their project scores. Even though this process is spelled out in the law, a system that creates an unreasonable number of exceptions loses its utility.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Backs Regulation of Short-Term Rentals, Protects Local Autonomy

MACo Associate Director Natasha Mehu and MML Director of Government Relations Candace Donoho jointly testified in support with amendments on Senate Bill 463, “Business Regulation – Limited Residential Lodging,” before the Senate Finance and Budget and Taxation Committees on February 22, 2017.

The bill is an effort to regulate the burgeoning market of short-term residential rental arrangements through online intermediaries.  Counties support regulation of the limited residential lodging industry to protect the safety and welfare of their communities, but wish to ensure that any regulatory scheme is developed without unintended consequences that may undermine the benefits.

Specifically, the bill should be amended to ensure that the regulations are not overly burdensome on residents that serve as hosts. The record-keeping obligations and penalties are onerous and could prevent residents from hosting. This may be particularly acute for casual hosts who do not rent out their properties or rooms on a frequent basis. Likewise, the sprinkler requirement, which has been a controversial issue for rural counties in recent years, presents an additional hurdle for hosts.

From MACo testimony:

Counties across the state are currently studying and grappling with how to regulate short-term rentals in the best interest of their diverse and distinct communities. Local governments are best situated to address the specific needs of their communities – particularly in regards to public health, public safety, and zoning matters that have long been within their purview. Accordingly, the bill should be amended to expressly protect the authority of local governments to enact local laws concerning the regulation of short-term rentals and to prevent against state preemption.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Defends Against Traffic Signal Mandate

MACo Associate Director, Barbara Zektick, provided testimony in support with amendments of Senate Bill 865, “Vehicle Laws – School Zone Crosswalks – Traffic Control Signals,” before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on February 22, 2017.

This bill requires jurisdictions owning roads in school zones where the speed limit is at least 35 miles per hour to place traffic signals at all marked crosswalks. Further, it prohibits operation of those traffic signals from operating outside of the hours posted on signs designating the school zone.  MACo encouraged the Committee to consider amending this bill to mirror its cross file, House Bill 1199, which authorizes – rather than requires – installation of the subject traffic signals.

From MACo testimony:

Traffic engineers require flexibility in the law to determine the best treatment for any particular location, rather than “one size fits all” mandates which may actually compromise, rather than promote, traffic and pedestrian safety. Furthermore, restricting operation of traffic signals to specific times of day may only cause greater confusion and risk of accidents – particularly in school zones, where traffic may increase after regular school day hours due to after school events.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.