Anne Arundel lawmakers charged into Maryland’s 441st legislative session in January with a long list of priorities. They wanted to create a funding structure for jurisdictions around the state to fight the effects of climate change; revamp local liquor laws; protect public housing residents and give counties the authority to implement progressive taxing structures.
Slowly but surely, in committee hearings and floor votes, they chipped away at the list, many with high hopes of completion by the end of the 90-day session.
But everything changed when the novel coronavirus touched down in Maryland. Less than two weeks after the first case in Maryland was reported, the legislature adjourned early Wednesday for the first time since the Civil War.
The legislature shifted gears, passing about 650 bills in a three-day day sprint, including several bipartisan pieces of legislation in response to the anticipated effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Marylanders. Some Anne Arundel County-focused bills were caught up in this flurry, while others were left behind.
One emergency bill. which Gov. Larry Hogan signed into law Thursday, ensures people under quarantine can’t lose their jobs, expands unemployment benefits, reduces barriers to screening and prohibits price gauging.
“I think it’s the most important piece of legislation I’ve ever voted on,” state Sen. Sarah Elfreth said Saturday.
Elfreth, D-Annapolis, said it was important that the legislature adjourn so they can be in their communities directly serving constituents. The early end to the session also allows the governor to direct all of his attention to the worsening situation in Maryland.
Lawmakers tentatively plan to reconvene at the end of May and have identified a coronavirus workgroup to ensure they are up-to-speed when they return.
Here’s a look at the lucky bills.
Funding structures to help fight climate change
Senate Bill 457, an effort by Elfreth to help local jurisdictions create funding structures to combat the effects of climate change.
When the city of Annapolis announced an ambitious plan to remake City Dock for an estimated price tag of $50 million, a portion of which would fight climate change, but there were concerns about cost.
Elfreth’s bill would enable local jurisdictions of more than 30,000 people to create funding structures specifically to mitigate the effects of climate change.
“We’re blessed to live here,” Elfreth said in February, “but we also have the burden of being one of the states most impacted by the effects of climate change.”
Annapolis — or any other jurisdiction in the state — would be free to create a resilience authority that would issue and sell state or local bonds to fund resilience infrastructure projects like the one on City Dock. City and county officials have indicated they plan to do just that.
The City Dock proposal includes resilience infrastructure including flood barriers, green spaces, building elevation and stormwater infrastructure.
The bill stipulates that a resiliency authority could receive money from its local government, the state, or other non-profit organizations, and would also be allowed to charge and collect fees for its services, or to back its bond issuances. But it would not be able to levy a tax.
Closing loopholes for public housing inspections
House Bill 544 is an effort by Del. Shaneka Henson, D-Annapolis, to eliminate an exception in state law that defense attorneys representing the city argued allows the city to avoid licensing and inspecting public housing properties.
The bill focuses only on Annapolis public housing properties, so it wouldn’t affect entities outside the city if passed.
Annapolis would no longer be permitted to make an exception for the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis to a law, rule, regulation that operates in the city and relates to licensing and inspection of real property.
in written testimony, Housing Authority Director Melissa Maddox-Evans warned of unintended consequences" such as a lack of funding for inspections and staff needed to complete them.
Court dogs for child witnesses
Senate Bill 101, if approved by the governor, will take an Anne Arundel County program that allows children who have to testify in court to be accompanied by a support dog statewide.
The Courthouse Dog and Child Witness Pilot Program has been part of Anne Arundel and Harford county courts since February 2018. Child witnesses eligible for the program are identified by the state’s attorney’s office, a best interest attorney or a Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteer who sends a request to the court’s administrative judge for approval.
Sen. Brian Simonaire, R-Pasadena, the goal of the program has always been to help kids across the state.
Successful alcohol bills
A major effort of the Anne Arundel County Delegation this year was a hearty package of bills to overhaul local alcohol laws and the county’s liquor board. In total, they introduced more than a dozen bills for this purpose.
The bills ranged from substantial changes to the board’s membership, to how application notices must be posted, how licenses work and which types of businesses can obtain them. One successful bill would establish a new license for salons and barbershops to serve alcohol to their patrons.
The bipartisan effort to revamp the county liquor board and alcohol laws came just months after the board ended a five-year battle with a county resident over a license for a liquor store off Housely Road.
Among the 11 successful bills were one that would allow a business to transfer it’s license to a new location in the event of a catastrophe; one would change the board’s posting requirements; one would add a new position and raise salaries of inspectors; one would require applications for a license be subject to creditor claims; and one would implement transparency measures including requiring the board’s meetings be live streamed.
The not-so-lucky bills
But left behind were hundreds of bills, including several of Anne Arundel’s most-watched, including many of the alcohol bills.
If legislators do come back at the end of May, it’s likely they won’t be focused on reintroducing these bills. House Minority Leader Del. Nic Kipke said they’re likely to put politics aside and focus on any legislation needed to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
“These are really strange times,” he said. “My priority right now is focused on my family, my community, making sure the state has the resources that it needs. We have people coming to us. They’re hoping to get masks and resources. That’s where our focus is.”
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The fate of the leftover bills in the immediate future is clear, but whether they will resurface in a future session remains to be seen.
Left among the pile of bills that could later be introduced was a major liquor board overhaul: A bill that would have required the governor to appoint five members instead of three, and would shift the power of appointing the chair from the governor to the members themselves.
One member would have to be from each legislative district in the county and would have limited each to serving four consecutive terms.
Other unsuccessful bills include one that would alter restrictions on how many liquor licenses an individual or business can obtain; one that would clarify how entertainment facilities — like Live! Casino — can sell alcoholic beverages; one would have established a new license for movie theaters to sell alcohol; and one would have required businesses with certain licenses to verify that at least half their sales were food, not alcohol.
Local authority to implement progressive taxing structures
House Bill 1494, an effort fueled by Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman but introduced on the state level by Baltimore City Del. Nick Moseby, would have given counties the freedom to raise the county-level income tax cap to 3.2% for high earners across the state through the use of brackets.
Reporters Pamela Wood, Luke Broadwater and Selene San Felice contributed to this story.
This story was updated to reflect a correction. A bill to establish liquor licenses for barbershops and salons passed.