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Editorial: Tax Refund-Warrant Intercept Program makes too much sense not to pass

Sometimes, legislation comes along that just makes perfect sense. To us, that seems to be the case with a proposed Tax Refund-Warrant Intercept Program, which Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has championed this year, along with many Carroll County legislators in Annapolis.

The way it works is simple: If you have an outstanding arrest warrant anywhere in the state, the comptroller's office would withhold your tax refund until you turn yourself in.

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Anne Arundel and Washington counties already use such a program, and Baltimore City is in the process of implementing one. A pair of bills cross-filed in the House and Senate seek to expand the program statewide.

Officials in Anne Arundel, where the idea originated in the state, have called it an unequivocal success, having cleared "hundreds and hundreds" of outstanding warrants there since it was implemented in 2012 and doing so while providing police officers who often put themselves in danger serving warrants "levels of safety that don't exist today."

The program won't close every outstanding warrant overnight, but the numbers speak for themselves. Of the nearly 1,500 refunds the comptroller's office has withheld since 2013, 1,107 were eventually satisfied, according to Franchot, a success rate of about 74 percent.

The comptroller's office estimates there are about 200,000 outstanding warrants in the state, and 133,000 of these are in counties not participating in the program, according to a legislative analysis.

Despite similar legislation being passed 44-0 in the Senate in 2014, it died in the House Ways and Means Committee that year, likely because the bill mandated that local jurisdictions implement it, a move that comes at a cost. This year's version of the legislation seeks to fix that by giving counties local control to opt in or out of the program, something Cecil County Republican Del. Teresa Reilly, the House bill's sponsor, said is very important.

Carroll County's entire House delegation — Dels. Kathy Afzali, Barrie Ciliberti, Trent Kittleman, Susan Krebs, Warren Miller, April Rose, Haven Shoemaker and David Vogt — have all co-sponsored the House bill, and Sheriff Jim DeWees has previously expressed interest in having a Tax Refund-Warrant Intercept Program in Carroll as well, noting the more than 1,000 open warrants here. Sen. Ed Reilly, R-Anne Arundel, is currently the only sponsor of the Senate version of the bill.

The bills have primarily Republican support, but having Franchot, a Democrat, speak in favor of the program should get a few others on board.

The Tax Refund-Warrant Intercept Program incentivizes people to do the right thing and settle a warrant, provides safety for law enforcement officers, and gives local control to counties to decide if this is a program they can afford. We don't see a downside here.

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