Several Carroll County bills, including a gaming bill and a bond bill, as well as several pieces of legislation reforming the state's Public Information Act, were passed by the General Assembly and have been or are soon expected to be signed into law.
House Bill 280, titled Carroll County-Gaming Events, was entered by Carroll's delegates and allows certain organizations to hold casino event fundraisers.
After initially passing the House of Delegates by a vote of 139-1, several language amendments were adopted by the state Senate, which passed its version 47-0 on April 10. The House concurred with the amended version and passed it 136-1 the following day.
A gaming bill had been entered by Carroll legislators during the previous seven sessions, and had on several occasions passed the House but not the Senate. Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, said the Carroll Delegation introduced the gaming bill seven years ago in the hopes of getting it passed before the state became heavily embroiled in a state casino bill. She said certain senators took issue with allowing gambling and killed it.
The state casino then took priority over local gaming bills, and multiple counties were forced to hold off on their own gaming bills as well, Krebs said.
"This was never a Carroll issue, but it's been made into that," she said. "It was about the speaker not wanting gaming until the state casino was straightened out."
Once the state casino issue was resolved, Speaker Michael Busch wanted uniformity among the various local gaming bills, which further stalled its passing in both chambers, Krebs said.
"All the gaming bills passed for all the counties this year," she said. "We are very pleased."
The General Assembly also passed a bond bill that authorizes Carroll County government to issue as much as $17 million in bonds for capital improvement projects.
HB 296, filed by the Carroll Delegation, and cross-filed by the county's senators as SB 663, passed the House by a vote of 137-0 on March 5, and also passed the Senate 47-0 with no amendments.
It was signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan April 14.
Another bill introduced by the delegation that has passed both chambers will make the state's Correctional Officer Bill of Rights applicable to Carroll County.
HB 115, which was cross-filed as Senate Bill 721 by Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, was passed in the House 137-0 on Feb. 12, and subsequently passed in the Senate with no amendments by a vote of 47-0 on April 3.
Warden George Hardinger of the Carroll County Detention Center requested the county's legislators introduce the bill during a meeting Jan. 6 to ensure that his officers have a chance to challenge complaints against them during a hearing by a board of their peers.
Residents and visitors in Carroll County will now be able to purchase alcohol from holders of Class A "off-sale" licenses beginning at 8 a.m. rather than 11 a.m. as the previous law stated.
HB 117, cross-filed as SB 719, was introduced by the delegation and Ready, respectively. It passed the House 136-0 March 5, and passed the Senate 47-0 with no amendments April 2.
John Hunt, liquor operations manager at Gourmet Wine & Spirits in Eldersburg, said he and the owner Doug Metz have spoken about the possibility of opening up their stores early on Sundays to tap into the game day market, but they are concerned opening early on a regular basis wouldn't be financially viable.
"It would only be functional on a game day," Hunt said. "Any other day I'd sit there until noon doing nothing. If this was promoted, I'm sure the store would be packed though."
Public Information Act reform
Several bills that called for significant Public Information Act reform, including a limit on fees charged for PIA requests and the creation of a compliance board, have successfully passed both chambers.
SB 695, introduced by Montgomery County Sen. Jamie Raskin, D-District 20, and cross-filed as HB 755 by Montgomery Del. Bonnie Cullison, D-District 19, sets a $250 limit on PIA request fees and establishes a PIA Compliance Board to address any request issues.
HB 755 was amended by the House's Health and Government Operations Committee and passed the chamber by a vote of 139-1 on April 8. The Senate then further amended the bill, before passing it 47-0 on April 13. The House then concurred with these amendments and passed HB 755 126-0 the same day.
When signed into law, the bill will create a Public Information Act Compliance Board that will issue written opinions concerning potential violations. The bill will also instill the board with the power to waive fees, levy fines against public bodies that violate the act and order the custodian of the requested records to produce said documents.
A separate bill, HB 867, introduced by Baltimore Del. Jill Carter, D-District 41, would have also created a compliance board but without the power to levy fines. It received an unfavorable report by the House's Health and Government Operations Committee and was withdrawn.
Carroll County Breaking News
Government agencies that are custodians of public records will now be required to maintain accurate and up-to-date lists of these records
HB 83, introduced by Krebs, and cross-filed by Ready as SB 444, passed the House 136-0 on March 6 after being amended by the chamber's Health and Government Operations Committee. It was then passed with no further amendments by the Senate 47-0 on April 3.
Another bill that has passed in both chambers will mandate all government agencies that keep public records identify a representative annually who would handle all PIA requests. The bill will also require the public body to have contact information for this person be easily accessible to the public by posting it either on a website or in another public forum.
HB 674, introduced by Prince George's Del. Erek Barron, D-District 24, received amendments from the House Health and Government Operations Committee and was passed in the House 137-0 on March 20. The Senate then made several additional amendments and passed it 46-0 on April 11, before the House concurred with the amended version and passed it again by a vote of 138-0 on April 13.