With about a third more constituents and a lot more territory to cover, State Sen. Wayne Norman finds himself with a significantly larger workload since the Maryland General Assembly's 2015 legislative session began last month, compared to his seven prior years as a state delegate.
"I'm not complaining," Norman said Monday. "I love doing it."
Norman, a Republican who represents northern Harford County and the western side of Cecil County, has already introduced eight bills since legislators were sworn in Jan. 14 to begin their 2015 session.
The clock is quickly winding down for submitting legislation – Senate bills must be introduced before Friday, and House bills must be introduced before Feb. 13.
Any bills introduced after those deadlines are referred to each chamber's rules committee, according to the legislative calendar. March 9 is the last day to introduce a bill without suspending the House or Senate rules.
He said he has received the largest public response to Senate Bill 100, which is meant to clarify that self defense "can qualify as a good and substantial reason to wear, carry or transport a handgun" when applying for a state handgun permit.
Norman's fellow Harford County senators, Bob Cassilly and J.B. Jennings, have signed on as co-sponsors. The bill was read the first time Jan. 26 before the Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee. Both Cassilly, a freshman senator representing central and southeastern Harford, and Jennings, in his third term representing western Harford, are Republicans.
"People are contacting me, and they want to testify on that bill," Norman said. "It's unbelievable."
He explained that the Maryland State Police superintendent "can issue a permit as he sees fit," and applicants typically put "carrying large amounts of cash" as a rationale for a permit.
"Self-defense isn't one of the primary criteria, and I think it should be," he said.
'Rain tax' repeal
Norman has also introduced Senate Bill 42 to repeal the requirement the state imposed on Harford and nine other Central Maryland counties that they collect a fee from residents to fund stormwater management projects that would reduce the amount of nutrient pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay.
The so-called "rain tax" generated no end of controversy and became a major campaign issue in the 2014 election.
The Harford County Council and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman approved and signed legislation to repeal the local fee, which was established in Harford County in 2013, in January.
The amount charged to homeowners and businesses has varied from one county to another.
"It's just a bill that says, 'You will tax,' with no guidance whatsoever in these 10 counties," Norman said of the state law he wants to jettison.
He said giving each county the responsibility of determining what the local fee will be is "just ridiculous, that doesn't clean up the bay."
The state – the previous governor and a majority of the last General Assembly – instituted the fee in response to a federal Environmental Protection Agency mandate that the Chesapeake Bay go on a "pollution diet."
"I love the bay," Norman explained. "I want the bay to be cleaned up, but that rain tax doesn't do anywhere near what the EPA says we need to do."
Deceased voter bills
Senate Bill 97, also sponsored by Norman, would require ballots cast by voters who die before a local board of elections canvasses the ballots to be counted, unless the ballot is rejected "for a reason unrelated to the death of the voter."
Democratic Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, whom Norman said plans to introduce similar legislation in the House, fought to get her late mother's 2014 primary ballot accepted by the Harford County Board of Elections.
Nellie Armstrong Lisanti, who was 90, cast an absentee ballot during the early voting period in June. She died six days before Election Day, however, and current state law allows local boards to reject absentee ballots if a voter dies before Election Day and before the ballots are canvassed.
Nellie Lisanti's ballot was counted for the June primary, though, because the board voted 4-1 to reject, and any vote to reject must be unanimous.
"It addresses a specific problem," said Norman, who also expressed concern that a member of the military who is deployed could not have an absentee ballot count if he or she casts the ballot and later dies.
Norman also sponsored Senate Bill 43 to require the governor to sign a bill that is "duplicative of" another bill passed by the General Assembly.
Norman said many bills are "cross filed" in the House and Senate, and the governor often only signs one version, even though both have been enacted by the General Assembly.
He noted it costs each side about $2,500 to put in a bill for consideration, and if both bodies introduce similar bills, "there's about $5,000 invested in each of them."
"I just thought it would be a little bit of parity that, if they're the same, the governor should sign both," he explained.
While Jennings had not yet been the primary sponsor of any legislation, Cassilly has introduced Senate Bill 137 regarding the statute of limitations for the solicitation of major crimes such as first- and second-degree murder, rape, assault and arson.
His bill would make the statute of limitations for the solicitation of any of those crimes the same as the statute of limitations for committing or conspiring to commit each crime, which would give the state the same amount of time to prosecute a person who solicits someone else to commit a crime.
"My culpability shouldn't depend on whether you say yes or no [to a solicitation]," Cassilly explained. "It should depend on my actions."
Harford's eight delegates have also been busy as co-sponsors of significant legislation, including legislation that deals with income, fuel and commercial taxes.
"I generally support all bills that reduce tax obligations, plus I have voted against every tax increase that's been proposed since I've been there," western Harford Republican Del. Pat McDonough said.
McDonough, who is a co-sponsor of House Bill 122 to create a task force to study how state and local taxes affect small businesses, said Maryland must become "more of a small-business-friendly state in order to generate jobs."
"The rain tax being one of the biggest culprits for small business, because if you have a parking lot or a little bit of ground, you've got to pay a lot of money on that tax, but that's just one," he said.
McDonough plans to introduce a series of bills during the session, including a bill to eliminate the "inflation escalator," which he said automatically increases the gasoline tax by 2 percent for every 2 percent increase in inflation, and to prohibit employers from not hiring tobacco users.
University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, which services Harford and Cecil counties and operates Harford's two hospitals, recently implemented a policy regarding tobacco use on its hospital campuses, which includes a ban on hiring anyone who uses tobacco.
"There seems to be a politically correct celebration about demonizing smoking to the extreme where people think they don't have to hire people [who smoke]," said McDonough, who does not smoke.
Bel Air and Abingdon area Republican Del. Susan McComas introduced House Bill 125, a local bill that would allow operators of Harford County school buses to extend a bus' service life from 12 years to 15 years.
McComas noted legislation introduced by Republican Sen. Stephen Hershey Jr., who represents Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne's counties, to allow operators of school buses on the Eastern Shore to extend their vehicles' service lives to 15 years passed in 2014.
"The thought was to add Harford County," she explained.
A bus can be used for 15 years, if it is maintained "under a preventive maintenance plan" that has been approved by the Motor Vehicle Administration and the State Police; it is inspected after the 12th year and then goes through at least two more MVA inspections each year after that, according to the proposed legislation.