Session Wrap-Ups From Around Maryland

With the 2017 General Assembly session in the books as of Monday midnight, the session-end summaries offer insight into the issues affecting broader communities than MACo and county governments. Read these sources for broad coverage of the session that was:

Baltimore Sun: Final Day Roundup

Washington Post Session Review

Washington Post Summary of Passes and Fails

WYPR Radio coverage

Herald-Mail coverage

The Last Day: How Did Counties Fare?

With several issues coming down to the final day of the 2017 legislative session, here’s a quick wrap-up of their final disposition. As is almost always the case, the final results are a mixed bag of successes and disappointments.

ENERGY SITING BILL PASSESHB 1350 included a final compromise to grant counties greater input into the certificate process to approve large-scale energy generation facilities.

ATTORNEYS FEE LEGISLATION DEFEATED ON SENATE FLOORSB 705, a bill that spent most of the last three weeks of the session on the Senate floor, was defeated after several more “special order” motions to delay its consideration. MACo had opposed the bill, citing its broad effects and costs from lawsuits well beyond the targeted “access to justice” sphere.

NEXT-GEN 911 COMMISSION AND FLEXIBILITY BILL DIES IN HOUSE COMMITTEESB 466, an amended-down version of legislation to advance Maryland 9-1-1 call centers toward “next generation” technology failed to receive a vote in its House Committee, and was defeated. MACo had supported the modest bill, but questions kept the Health and Government Operations Committee from taking the bill up on Monday.

ELECTION SCANNERS COST SPLIT FAILS – A late session effort (SB 406) to codify the 50/50 state/county cost split passed the House, but failed to progress through its final procedural steps and was defeated as time ran out.

STORMWATER COMPROMISE STALLS IN SENATEHB 656 was a bill MACo initially opposed, but committed to lengthy negotiations and developed into a compromise to fairly apply government stormwater charges on properties owned by other governments. The House approved the compromise, but the Senate was unable to gather the support from the dually assigned committees, and the bill died. The framework of the bill, however, may offer a roadmap for county/municipal agreements in the future, even without passage.

Attorney’s Fee Bill Back To Senate Floor

SB 705, legislation providing plaintiff attorneys fees on numerous constitutional claims against governments, has been passed again by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, and will be debated in the days ahead on the Senate floor.

Local governments have opposed the bill, citing its effects far beyond the stated desire to provide “access to justice” for non-monetary cases. The fiscal note suggests the bill would have a substantial fiscal cost to state and local governments, as it would trigger more expensive lawsuits and does not contain numerous balancing provisions that exist in federal courts.

The bill will be on “second reader” and open to amendments for the Thursday morning session.

Update: Following another motion to delay consideration of the bill, it will be on the Senate floor agenda again for Monday, April 10 – the last day of session.

3,000 Times a Month, Marylanders SAVE With NACo Live Healthy Program

The NACo Live Healthy Program provides your county residents a tool to save on prescription drugs, medical supplies and services, and dental care.

The prescription drug discount card is completely free to the county, and free to your residents. Across 19 Maryland counties, every month more than 3,000 times that card gives residents the best discount available — helping many under-insured and uninsured residents with savings from 15% to 75%.

The additional services are available to residents for a very affordable fee:
Dental Discount Program: $6.95 month or $69 year for individuals. $8.95 month or $79 year for families
Medical Services: $6.95 month or $69 year for individuals. $8.95 month or $79 year for families

Learn more about NACo’s Live Healthy Program, an outstanding benefit to your county’s residents, and completely FREE to your county government!

Attorney’s Fee Bill Sent Back to Committee

Following nearly two weeks of floor debate, involving multiple delays and subsequent amendments, SB 705 was re-referred back to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Local governments had opposed the bill, citing its potential to trigger a wave of costly lawsuits against governments, far beyond the proponents’ stated goals of affording access to justice for non-monetary claims.

MACo had testified against the bill in Committee, but was surprised when the bill passed in a voting session – following four straight years of defeat before the same committee. Citing deep concerns over the unintended consequences from the bill’s broad language, local governments aggressively reached out to Senators across the State, seeking assistance in fending off the costly legislation.

MACo and MML’s final “floor paper” distributed on Tuesday, March 28, urged Senators to recommit the bill to Committee, with a final urging: “Bring it back when it’s truly a compromise!”

The Committee may convene a working group before the end of session to seek a compromise. MACo, MML, and local government attorneys have expressed willingness to engage in a productive resolution – with an opportunity to withdraw opposition to a more focused proposal without the same wide unintended consequences.

March 31 Deadline for “One Time” School Spending Designation Approaching

As counties and school boards start building their FY 2018 budgets, a state deadline for one-time cost approvals approaches. A MACo guide helps county officials navigate the process.
State funding laws intended to encourage education spending, may discourage it by complicating the structure of funding and requiring certain submissions on a timeline that mishmashes with county budget processes.

State “maintenance of effort” laws require a county to provide the same amount of education funding or more on a per-pupil basis each year. Maintenance of effort can discourage additional investment, especially during a faltering economic recovery, when future revenues are uncertain.

A legal provision called nonrecurring costs, however, allow county governments provide one-time school funding for one-time education costs without triggering perpetual mandates.

The hitch is: the deadline for submitting nonrecurring costs is this month – before many counties even begin budget negotiations.

Perhaps as a result of this process, on average fewer than eight counties per year take advantage of this education budgeting tool.

Not all education costs are annually recurring per-student costs. One-time education expenses might include costs to:

  • build new computer laboratories;
  • make technology enhancements;
  • start-up new instructional programs; or
  • purchase books for a school library

The mechanism for appropriately excluding these one-time education costs from the maintenance of effort calculation requires special approval. A county must submit an application to exclude certain costs to the State Board for their approval before March 31 of each year.Screenshot 2016-01-18 17.22.16

Data from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) in 2014 revealed that on average fewer than eight counties per year take advantage of this budgeting tool. Learning this, MACo developed Non-Recurring Costs For County School Budgeting: A County Official’s Guide to the Process and Laws Behind the System.

In the Guide, MACo aims to improve the accessibility and use of the nonrecurring cost exclusion, covering:

  • How does a county apply to have nonrecurring costs approved?
  • What categories of costs can be considered as nonrecurring?
  • When does the school board need to agree with the request?
  • What requests have been approved and denied in recent years?

All the submission forms, statutes, regulations, and guideline documents relevant to this process are provided in appendices to the Guide.

For more information, read Non-Recurring Costs For County School Budgeting: A County Official’s Guide to the Process and Laws Behind the System.

Maryland “Fracking” Ban Looming as Likely

The Senate Committee on Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs has passed legislation to ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) as a means of extraction in Maryland, setting the stage for a statewide ban on the practice. Governor Hogan’s announcement of his support late last week has triggered this new direction in the session-long debate.

From coverage in US News & World Report:

Throughout Maryland’s 2017 legislative session, there has been debate over whether to ban the drilling practice known as fracking indefinitely or to put another two-year moratorium in place.

The House passed a veto-proof majority bill on March 10 that would install a permanent statewide fracking ban. A House bill identical to one sponsored by state Sen. Robert “Bobby” Zirkin has cleared the Senate Education, Health and Environment Committee.

Because of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s previous support for natural gas drilling if done safely, the Senate committee’s chair, Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore City, told reporters that, while she would support the ban, she did not think it was worth bringing to a floor vote without a veto-proof majority.

Conway’s committee voted 8-3 Wednesday to advance the bill to the Senate floor, making a floor vote possible as soon as this or early next week. According to legislators and activist groups, the ban has the needed majority support in the Senate.

Attorney Fee Legislation Stalled in Senate – Vote Set for Monday

Throughout this week, SB 705 has been stalled on the Senate floor, with a variety of questions and objections delaying its passage. MACo, MML, and individual local governments have raised objections to the costly and unfair nature of the pending bill. On Thursday, the bill — currently on “third reader” and awaiting its final Senate up-or-down vote – was delayed until Monday for its further consideration.

Proponents argue that the bill seeks to expand access to the judicial system for multiple claims, but governmental attorneys have illustrated many scenarios where the bill would simply add costs to existing litigation, reduce the likelihood of reasonable early settlements, and trigger more lawsuits in search of easy payouts. Counties have pointed out numerous ways that SB 705 fails to create a true parallel with federal law – one of the stated goals of the bill’s proponents. Rather, the bill creates an easier avenue to attorney fee recovery, without other balancing elements present in federal litigation.

The effort on the Senate floor is atypical, as a very small share of items that pass from Committee become similarly entangled.

Read MACo’s testimony on SB 705.

For a discussion of the bill’s policy and fiscal effects, read the DLS fiscal note.


Body Camera Legislation Defeated in Senate Committee

In a surprise move, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee defeated MACo’s initiative bill to refine what footage from police body-worn cameras could be released under the Maryland Public Information Act. MACo’s bill, described by many as a “near consensus,” had sought to limit the worst-case scenario of a broad, untargeted request for footage that could prove costly and cumbersome to prepare for distribution.

HB 767, Sponsored by Delegate Sydnor, passed the House of Delegates with a comfortable bipartisan majority, but that bill and its Senate cross-file SB 970 were debated in the Senate Committee and ultimately rejected by nearly the full Committee membership. That vote spells the end of the debate on this issue for the session, and potentially for good.

A similar fate befell MACo’s bills in the 2016 session, when the House made modest amendments and passed the bill. The Senate committee, citing an extraordinary workload from other high profile legislation, did not focus on the body camera bills and they died without a formal vote, for lack of action.


President Trump’s Budget Proposal Carries Big MD Effects

President Trump’s proposed federal budget has triggered a wide range of reactions, including some local concerns about effects on the Maryland workforce, environment, and numerous other areas. While federal actions are far from certain, this debate does carry over into the state political arena in several ways.

A Baltimore Sun article covers the story, with significant focus on federal funds for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, but touches on the wider picture as well:

In Maryland, a state where the economy is closely tied to federal spending, the $1.15 trillion budget could put thousands of civilian government employees out of work but also boost defense activity in the state. Urban development and road projects in Baltimore could be put on hold while additional money may be set aside for addiction treatment.

The proposal, which faces opposition in Congress, underscores the administration’s desire to limit the federal government’s reach into housing, the environment and safety-net programs, while vastly increasing investments in the military and homeland security — all of which reflect promises Trump made during his campaign.

The federal budget process is dramatically different than that in Maryland State government. While the state and many larger counties use what is often referenced as an “Executive Budget” system, where the General Assembly may cut but not add funding, the federal government’s budget process is more legislatively-driven. The President’s proposals represent the Administration’s priorities, but are not materially binding on the Congress. Debate on the budget plan, and the multiple appropriations bills that represent the federal budget, will extend for months.

Wide coverage of multiple news sources discussing the Maryland and political effects of the proposed budget can be found on the Maryland Reporter site, which offers a daily harvest of Maryland news and political coverage.