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Harford legislators wrap productive 2016 session in Annapolis

The Harford County legislators ended the 2016 General Assembly session Monday with the passage of a flurry of bills that will show the county and state's continued support for two slain Harford County Sheriff's Office deputies, allow alcohol to be served in local movie theaters and allow Harford Community College to obtain a license for alcohol sales during community events on campus.

Those bills were part of what Harford legislators considered a very productive session, with impacts at the state and local level.

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"It is a lot of work, but this session exceeded my expectations," Del. Mary Ann Lisanti said Tuesday.

Del. Rick Impallaria, chairman of the county's Housed delegation, said he though the session went "very well," with the passage of three of four bills designed for "updating our liquor laws," as well as three other bills to secure more death benefits for the children of fallen officers, dedicate a portion of Route 924 in the Sheriff's Office deputies' honor and obtain property tax assistance for the spouses of fallen officers.

While the two bills pertaining to the February murders of Harford County Sheriff's Office Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey and Deputy First Class Mark Logsdon drew unanimous support from Harford's eight delegates and three senators – as they did from the legislature as a whole – two changes to Harford's liquor laws encountered resistance from two of the local delegates.

Law enforcement bills

House Bill 1581, or the Harford County Deputy Sheriffs Dailey and Logsdon Benefits Memorial Act, increased the age that children of fallen officers can get death benefits from 18 to 26 if that officer does not have a surviving spouse, primarily to allow the 20- and 17-year-old sons of slain Senior Deputy Patrick Dailey, who was divorced from their mother, to obtain benefits from their father's retirement fund until age 26.

That bill was signed by Gov. Larry Hogan on April 4.

Senate Bill 1104, which was sponsored by the county's three senators – Republicans Robert Cassilly, J.B. Jennings and Wayne Norman – paves the way for a section of Route 924 in Abingdon to be designated "Heroes Highway" in honor of Dailey and Logsdon, who were killed in the line of duty Feb. 10 at the Boulevard at Box Hill shopping center off Route 924.

The section of highway between the intersections with Singer Road and Route 24 will be dedicated to the two deputies.

The bill, which had already passed the Senate, was passed by the House Monday, the final day of this year's session and then returned to the Senate. It must be signed by the governor.

Lisanti said she worked with Democratic Del. Mary Washington, of Baltimore City, to get a last-minute amendment on Washington's bill to provide property tax credits for spouses of fallen city police and firefighters, to include Harford County properties owned by either fallen officers or their spouses.

"She really helped me get my amendments right and consistent with her bill," Lisanti said of Washington, lauding the cooperation between Baltimore and Harford representatives.

Liquor bills

The Senate passed and enrolled SB-916 last Saturday with a 46-0 vote, including the support of all of Harford's senators; the bill had already passed the House of Delegates.

The legislation allows the Harford County Liquor Control Board to issue a Class CC, or community college, license to HCC for sales of beer and wine at community events.

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The annual license fee would be $1,500, according to an amended version of the bill.

Harford Dels. Glen Glass and Pat McDonough voted against the legislation.

Glass and McDonough also did not support House Bill 892 when it came before the House March 15. That bill allows the liquor board to issue a Class MT, or movie theater, license to theater owners for the sale of beer, wine and liquor on the premises.

The bill was passed by the Senate 46-0 on April 6 with support from all Harford senators.

"I just don't want to flood Harford County with alcohol, and I don't want more people drinking and driving and I don't want the children and college students to be around it," Glass said Tuesday about the theater and HCC legislation.

Lisanti noted movie theaters where alcohol is sold "are springing up all over the Baltimore area. Allowing HCC to host events that include alcohol sales in the APG Federal Credit Union Arena gives the college the opportunity to raise more revenue.

"I think it will give them an ability to enhance their resources, and the more revenue that they can collect that doesn't come from the students, the longer we can keep college affordable," she said.

Glass and McDonough were also in the "nay" column March 15 when HB-969, which would allow owners of establishments licensed to sell alcohol in Harford County to appeal distance restrictions between their establishments and public or private schools, came before the House and was approved on a 135-2 vote.

The bill was sponsored by the Harford House delegation. It was passed by the Senate Monday on a 45-0 vote, and then returned to the House.

A fourth liquor-related bill, involving changes to Harford County liquor license fees, HB-806 and its Senate companion, SB-1088, stalled in committees.

Impallaria, who sponsored the House version, said he plans to work with his fellow Harford legislators during the summer to come up with another fee revision bill for the 2017 session.

Heroin bills

Dels. Andrew Cassilly and Kathy Szeliga sponsored three bills to help local law enforcement and health officials deal with Harford's ongoing heroin epidemic, but none passed.

House Bill 34, which would have established criminal penalties for dealing drugs within 1,000 feet of a methadone clinic, was rejected by the House Judiciary Committee Feb. 15.

House Bill 15, which would have required medical personnel to inform law enforcement within 48 hours of treating a person for a drug overdose, was withdrawn by the sponsors March 29 after legislators were able to work out a compromise with local health officials on more accurate reporting of heroin overdoses.

"The sheriff does need to know where the heroin overdoses are coming from," Impallaria said.

House Bill 24, regarding a requirement to immediately notify EMS after reviving an overdose victim using the drug Narcan, did not move out of committee.

Municipal election ties

House Bill 852, regarding the resolution of ties in an election for municipal officials, was passed and enrolled Monday, but the final version was significantly different from what was introduced.

Lisanti, whose district includes the City of Aberdeen, sponsored the bill in response to a tie in Aberdeen's City Council race last year.

The fourth seat on the council remained unfilled between Election Day in November and Monday night, when Steven Goodin was appointed by Mayor Patrick McGrady, and the appointment was approved by the council.

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Lisanti's bill was drafted with the requirement that municipalities develop a policy to resolve election ties, either by charter amendment or ordinance, but that language was struck as the bill moved through the Senate. It was replaced with a requirement simply that a municipal vacancy caused by a tie be filled within 90 days of the election.

The amended bill passed the House Monday, 138-0. Lisanti said she favors the changes, which would have prevented Aberdeen's stalemate on filling the council seat from continuing for five months.

"I think it restores voters' faith in elections, that they will have an end and there will be choices made and leaders in place to do the job of the municipality," she said.

Budget, criminal justice

Glass praised the bipartisan cooperation among all legislators to get Hogan's budget passed, with increased investments in education, job training and workforce development and no tax increases.

Other than Lisanti, Harford's delegates and three senators are Republicans, as is the governor.

He also praised the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Act to steer more money into drug treatment and reduce sentences for non-violent offenders, while at the same time increasing penalties for violent offenders.

Glass said it was unfortunate, however, that the legislators could not reach agreement on Hogan's proposed tax cuts.

"It's an uphill battle, but we were able to get a lot done, despite not getting everything done," Glass said.

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