Schuh vetoes nuisance bill aimed at hotels in west Arundel

E.B. Furgurson III
Schuh vetos nusiance bill aimes at hotels in west Anne Arundel

Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh vetoed legislation Friday that would have given the police chief power to close down businesses where there are repeated crime and nuisance complaints.

An effort to schedule a possible override is already underway.

The bill was aimed at curbing crime in and around hotels along Route 198 in west county where repeated incidents have been happening for years.

The County Council could take up a possible veto override as soon as Monday's council meeting, according to Councilman Andrew Pruski, who sponsored the legislation and was trying to get it on the agenda.

A spokesman for the county executive said debates around amendments to the bill made it clear the County Council was trying to target certain businesses without a rational basis.

Owen McEvoy cited testimony by County Attorney Nancy Duden during deliberations in which she said enactment would violate the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

"I cannot in good conscience affix my name to a piece of legislation that is unconstitutional, as doing so would violate the oath I took upon taking office," Schuh wrote Friday in his formal veto message to the council.

Specifically an amendment limiting enforcement of the law to hotels with 200 or less rooms was found to be problematic.

"In the opinion of the Office of Law, the legislation with that amendment opens us up to lawsuits as it arbitrarily targets hotels with 200 rooms or less," McEvoy said.

"No one should be surprised the bill was vetoed. We expressed that during deliberations."

The council passed the bill 4-3 on Feb. 21. Schuh had expressed opposition to the measure almost from the start.

Pruski learned of the veto Friday afternoon and was already working to get a veto override added to the council agenda as soon as possible.

"I am certainly very disappointed as are the residents of the community and around Anne Arundel County," Pruski said. "We tried to push limits on human trafficking, prostitution and drug dealing, and this was a start to do that."

He said regardless of what happens he and others would not stop working for the community to address the issues at hand.

He said people in the community supported the effort. "I had one resident say they not only appreciated the bill but that it came directly out of concerns in the community," Pruski added.

Another who worked hard to pass the bill was Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Julie Hummer, a resident of the Russet community in Laurel.

"I hope the council will override because we think we need to hold those hotels accountable," Hummer said.

Earlier this year, Anne Arundel police launched Laurel Safe Passage to address concerns by residents of Russet and Maryland City about public safety tied to the businesses.

McEvoy released a summary of its results Friday, citing 29 criminal arrests, the seizure of small amounts of crack and powder cocaine, heroin, PCP and various prescription medicines.

"It is obvious that what has been done so far hasn't worked," Hummer said. "There needs to be a long-term effort."

To override an executive veto, the council must have a super-majority of five votes. Schuh vetoed his first bill in 2015, a measure that would have doubled how much the county could store in its reserve fund.

Veto overrides are rare in Anne Arundel County. The last time a council overrode a veto was in 2013, after County Executive Laura Newman vetoed legislation creating the stormwater runoff fee for property owners.

Under the nuisance legislation, the county police chief would have had authority to issue public nuisance notices to hotels that have 10 or more arrests for certain crimes, in effect serving notice the hotel must address the issues at hand.

Several of the hotels in the Laurel area have been the site of repeated drug problems, prostitution and violence. Bill 87-16 was introduced in November and went through several versions as amendments were added and language honed.

The American Civil Liberties Union came out against the bill, fearing it could put victims of domestic violence at risk and undermine law enforcement.

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