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Anne Arundel delegation breaks with rules, passes Annapolis public housing bill after emotional testimony

The members of the Anne Arundel County Delegation and Anne Arundel County State Senators pose for a photo before a public priorities meeting in Annapolis.
The members of the Anne Arundel County Delegation and Anne Arundel County State Senators pose for a photo before a public priorities meeting in Annapolis. (Joshua McKerrow/Capital Gazette)

Powerful testimony from Ward 6 Alderman Dajuan Gay’s mother, Heaven White, about her experience living in Annapolis’ public housing motivated Anne Arundel state lawmakers to expedite and unanimously pass a bill that would not allow the city to exempt public housing from licensing and inspections.

White, 41, spoke about recurring instances of mold, broken and leaky pipes, and other issues that have plagued her family in various HACA units over the years.

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“These units have been like this for a long time with single mothers and children and senior citizens living in these conditions,” White said. “Ask yourself if you would want your mother or your child to live in a house like that.”

House Bill 544 would eliminate an exception hidden in the Maryland Housing and Community Development Article regarding the inspection and licensing of properties overseen by the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis. The article currently authorizes local governments to “make exceptions to its sanitary, building, housing, fire, health, subdivision, or other similar laws, rules, regulations” for housing authority properties.

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Melissa Maddox-Evans, executive director of HACA, also testified in support of the bill. She answered questions from the delegates about the 790 units in Annapolis, the people who live in them and how the system works.

Del. Shaneka Henson, D-Annapolis, introduced the bill forth after defense attorneys in a lawsuit said this article could exempt the city from inspecting and licensing properties owned by HACA.

White is the lead plaintiff on a lawsuit that claims White and roughly two dozen other HACA residents have been discriminated against for decades and has led to deplorable conditions in those communities. The city and HACA claim no wrongdoing, and their attorneys argue there has been no racial discrimination.

The delegation took a somewhat uncommon step to vote for the bill immediately following the testimony. Often the delegation will hold hearings and then a vote on the bill at a later date.

White said she was excited to return to her community and let her neighbors know that their concerns are being taken seriously.

“To be able to now — after today — talk with them and let them know that we were heard, that this will be taken seriously now,” White said, “It’s going to change the morale around here.”

Del. Seth Howard, R-West River, told White that just because he and his colleagues are in positions of power now, it doesn’t mean they always have been.

“We have heard you,” Howard said.

The delegation’s support of the bill will help it move through the legislative process, but it still needs a full vote of support from both the House of Delegates and the Senate. Delegates and senators of other counties often defer to local lawmakers when bills only affect specific areas of the state, though it doesn’t guarantee passage. This is often called “local courtesy."

Liquor bills

In other business, the delegation passed a bill that would move the Anne Arundel County Board of Education annual meeting date from July to December and heard more than a dozen Anne Arundel County Liquor Board and alcohol-related bills from several different lawmakers.

Bills that are likely to come back before the delegation for a vote include:

House Bill 285 would require the Anne Arundel County Liquor Board to publish meeting agendas online at least one week in advance, and meeting minutes online no later than one month afterward. It would also require that every meeting be available to the public by live audio and video streaming online.

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House Bill 542 would alter restrictions on how many of certain liquor licenses that an individual or business can obtain.

House Bill 430 would require that businesses with a Class B or Class H liquor license provide a signed affidavit saying alcohol sales made up less than 49% of total business, and food at least 51% in a given 12-month period. These types of licenses already require that food sales make up at least half of total sales, but lawmakers are adding the signed affidavit for an added level of accountability.

House Bill 638 would alter requirements for liquor license applications to be subject to creditor claims.

House Bill 642 would establish a liquor license just for barbershops and beauty salons in the county that wish to provide limited amounts of beer or wine to their customers.

House Bill 651 would establish a liquor license just for movie theaters in the county to sell beer, wine or liquor for on-premises consumption.

House Bill 329 would change requirements for the Anne Arundel County Liquor Board notice posting requirements.

House Bill 330 would repeal the requirement for liquor license applications to be accompanied by a petition of support.

House Bill 844 would establish a permit for selling alcoholic beverages for on-premises consumption at public events.

House Bill 138 defines “assessment district” as a tax assessment district when relating to the issuance of certain off-sale alcoholic beverages licenses in the county.

House Bill 714 would authorize the Anne Arundel County Liquor Board to issue permits that would allow any business that primarily sells gift baskets — like a florist — to include a certain amount of beer, wine or liquor in a basket.

House Bill 461 would raise the salaries of part-time inspectors employed by the Anne Arundel County Liquor Board at varying levels.

House Bill 757 revises the membership of the county liquor board. It requires the governor to appoint five members instead of three — one from each legislative district. It also limits each member to four consecutive terms and requires the board to elect its own chair, rather than the governor appointing the chair.

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House Bill 758 requires the county liquor board to employ a full-time executive director, a full-time administrator, and two full-time secretaries whose salaries are fixed by the board within the general county classified salary schedule.

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House Bill 536 would allow the liquor board to transfer a business’s license to a new location if the original location of the license is somehow destroyed by “fire, explosion, or catastrophe, taken by condemnation, or taken by the exercise of the power of an eminent domain.”

House Bill 554 would establish a liquor license just for small yacht clubs with more than 30 members.

House Bill 558 would clarify the manner in which a business with an entertainment facility license — like Live Casino — can sell alcoholic beverages. The bill also expands the definition of entertainment that qualifies a business for this type of license.

Capital reporter Brooks DuBose contributed to this article.

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