Local Bills’ Fate Unknown As Session Nears End

ANNAPOLIS – With the clock ticking down on the 2009 Maryland General Assembly session, weighty statewide issues have consumed lawmakers as the days and hours click by, but local lawmakers remain hopeful their bills will make it through before Sine Die on Monday.

State lawmakers continued to slog through countless pieces of legislation this week as the clock continues to click on the 2009 session, but larger issues threaten to leave some local interest bills on the table when it expires late Monday. Legislators on both sides of the aisle are still working to reconcile next year’s state budget and late additions to the line-up including an attempt by Governor Martin O’Malley to save the Preakness and another late attempt at re-regulating energy across the state have taken precedence late in the session, but there is still hope for several bills near and dear to residents of Worcester County.

“Although our days are few, the amount of work left to do is significant,” said Delegate James Mathias (D-38B) yesterday. “It looks like we’ll be held over on Saturday to continue to work on some of these larger issues, and I remain optimistic some of the local bills put in by Delegate Conway and myself will get their fair shake before this expires.”

Among the legislation of local interest still on the table is House Bill 65, which would allow limited slot machine gambling in service clubs and fraternal organizations in Worcester County such as the American Legion or the Elks Club, for example, in the interest of expanding their fundraising capabilities. Last year, the bill passed a House vote, but died as the session expired before the full Senate could vote on it when the legislation got caught up in a swirl of other bills related to slots and gambling. Mathias said yesterday there appears to be the will to get the bill through the Senate this year.

Another bill introduced by Mathias, Conway and Delegate Page Elmore would make local alterations to the slots bill approved by voters across Maryland in November in a statewide referendum. Among other things, the bill, if approved, would alter the local revenue sharing formula to include a 10-percent share for Ocean Pines; mandate local hiring practices; rework the appointment process for the local development council to give the authority to the county commissioners, and change the language from “may” to “shall” regarding State Highway Administration’s commitment to improvements on Route 589.

The latter caused some heartburn and was removed as an amendment before the House voted 130-2 to approve the bill and forward it to the Senate. Mathias explained the language concerning Route 589 was changed because of concerns about the precedent it might set, but he remains confident SHA will do the right thing with the highway if and when the time comes.

“Part of the intent of this was to make sure State Highway was solidly behind its commitment to improving Route 589,” he said. “They did not want to commit to that because of concerns about the precedent it might set in other areas where slots are proposed, but there have been promises made and I trust them to follow through on them.”

Another bill of local interest still on the table as the session nears its end would increase the maximum amount of money the county’s Liquor Control Board (LCB) may borrow from $5 million to $6 million. Other bills include a measure that would ban the currently legal hallucinogenic Salvia Divinorum, which made its presence felt on the Boardwalk last year, and another bill that would allow Sunday motorcycle sales in Worcester County. They have all passed the House and await their fate in the Senate.

“I’m very hopeful for all of these local bills as they get before the Senate,” said Mathias. “We’re cautiously optimistic. I’ve been working the phones to drum up support and Norm has been doing the same.”