BERLIN — While the 2012 General Assembly session is being considered an epic failure by many because state lawmakers were unable to reach a balanced budget before the 90-day session expired on Monday, triggering the so-called “doomsday budget,” local representatives this week said the session was productive in terms of legislation germane to the shore.
While much has been said and written this week about what wasn’t accomplished during the session that ended on Monday, local legislators were claiming victory for securing the passage of several bills of local importance. The following are some of the highlights of legislation important to the Lower Shore that made it through:
Ava’s Law Passes
The General Assembly passed legislation enhancing the penalties for driving under the influence of drugs, making them more in line with the penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol. Called Ava’s Law, the legislation was introduced following a tragic accident in Ocean City in December when a local man, Andre Kacyzinski, plowed his truck into the back of a passenger vehicle on Coastal Highway while admittedly under the influence of PCP, and severely injured 18-month-old Ava DelRicco and her mother, Lisa DelRicco.
The bill increases the amount of jail time from two years to three years and raises the fine from $3,000 to $5,000. Ava survived the crash and continues to mend although it appears she will never fully recover. Meanwhile, Kaczynski was indicted last month on several charges related to the accident is out on bail awaiting trial in June.
Local Bond Bills
Included In Budget
While the final product remains to be seen, especially if the governor calls a special session, the capital budget in place after the session closed on Monday includes bonds for numerous local projects. For example, included in the current budget is a state debt not to exceed $250,000 for use in the development of the Ocean City Art League’s new 7,500-square-foot facility on the site of its old facility on 94th Street.
Also approved in the capital budget is a bond allocation not to exceed $500,000 in state funds for the development of the new Coastal Hospice at the Ocean residence on Broad Street in Berlin. Coastal Hospice is embarking on the much-needed $5 million project in Berlin and the state funding approved is expected to help jumpstart the fundraising effort.
Also included in the approved capital budget, which, of course is subject to change, is over $800,000 in state matching funds for the proposed new public boat ramp in Ocean City. Resort officials last year identified a new location for a second public boat ramp in Ocean City at a newly acquired piece of property between 64th and 65th streets.
Center Funding Extended
The General Assembly passed legislation introduced by Sen. Jim Mathias in the Senate and Delegate Mike McDermott and Conway in the House that will extend the special food and beverage tax levied in Ocean City tied to the ongoing expansion of the Roland E. Powell Convention Center for the life of the project. For years, there has been an additional one-cent per $1 tacked on to the sales tax rate in Ocean City to help pay the town’s portion of the last Convention Center expansion more than a decade ago. That extra sales tax was set to expire in 2015, but the bill approved by the assembly will keep in place for the life of the latest 32,000-square-foot expansion including a 1,200-seat performing arts center.
Public Defender Bill Passed
In January, the Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion which essentially guaranteed legal representation for arrestees at all phases of court proceedings, including initial bail reviews that often occur at all hours of the night or early morning. Opponents immediately argued having a public defender available for bail review hearings in front of District Court Commissioners at all hours of the day could cost the public defender’s office and state’s attorney’s offices around the state millions of dollars in additional manpower. McDermott’s bill, approved by the legislature, would guarantee representation for defendants only at proceedings in front of District Court or Circuit Court judges.
Legal Fund For Farm
In the wake of the ongoing legal battle between a Berlin farm family and an environmental watchdog group over alleged pollution violations, state lawmakers included in the approved capital budget a funding mechanism for a law clinic to provide pro bono support for Maryland farmers caught in similar suits.