Some Wins, Losses For Local Bills Of Significance

ANNAPOLIS – The 426th Maryland General Assembly session expired late Monday with thousands of bills passed by state lawmakers and thousands more left on the table, but by and large, the local delegation was successful in pushing through several pieces of legislation important to the area.

Some battles were won and others were lost during a session Delegate James Mathias characterized this week as “good with a small ‘g’.” It wasn’t great by any means, as harrowing statewide economic and social issues dominated the session, but there were several bills of local importance discussed with varied results. The following is a quick glance at some of the bills germane to Worcester County and the Ocean City area that passed muster or failed:

House Bill 1553: Introduced by Delegates Mathias, Norm Conway and Page Elmore, this bill makes local alterations to the slots bill approved by voters across Maryland in a statewide referendum in November. Among other things, the bill alters the local revenue sharing formula for slots revenues to include a 10-percent share for Ocean Pines. Another element of the bill reworked the appointment process for the local development council, removing the Ocean City Mayor from the equation and giving the full authority to the county commissioners.

The appointment process issue was contentious for a time because Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan voiced concern changing the appointment process did not guarantee Ocean City ample representation on the council, but the commissioners offered assurances the resort would be well represented on the panel.

Another element of the bill would have changed the language concerning the State Highway Administration’s commitment to improvements on Route 589 from “may” to “shall,” but that component was removed from the bill by amendment. Mathias said this week he has assurances from SHA officials they will do the right thing with Route 589 if and when the time comes. He also said Maryland Transportation Secretary John Porcari’s appointment as Deputy Secretary of Transportation in the Obama administration bodes well for federal assistance for transportation projects across the state including Worcester in the future.

“He’s going to be the No. 2 man in transportation in the U.S.,” he said. “That can only mean good things for us. I feel good about Route 589.”

Another element of the bill would have mandated local hiring practices for the future slots venue at Ocean Downs, but that was also struck from the bill by amendment over fears it could set a bad precedent for the other five locations across the state. Mathias said on Wednesday track owner William Rickman, Jr. has made assurances every effort will be made to hire employees from the local area at the future slots location.

House Bill 1261: This bill introduced by five Delegates including Mathias and Conway would have banned the sale of the legal hallucinogenic drug Salvia Divinorum, which made its presence felt on the Boardwalk last year, to individuals under 21 years of age. It passed the House and made it out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee near the end of the session, but failed to come before a vote by the entire Senate.

“That was extremely disappointing,” said Mathias. “That was a good bill, an important bill, and it was keyed up from the beginning. The Attorney General was on board, it was cross-filed in the Senate, everything looked like a go, but it died in the end.”

Mathias said, if nothing else, the bill increased awareness about the dangerous drug and set the stage for its future passage.

“This stuff is a heavy hallucinogenic substance that whacks these kids out,” he said. “They can’t wait to get off it. People who have used it have said it was the scariest experience of their life.”

House Bill 1522: This bill increases the Worcester County Liquor Control Board’s maximum borrowing limit from $5 million to $6 million. The intent is to allow the LCB to borrow more money to take advantage of bulk liquor purchases with deeper discounts, which should be handed down to the licensees and ultimately the consumers. The local courtesy bill breezed through the House and was ultimately passed by the Senate near the end of the session.

House Bill 1573: This bill repeals an archaic law on the books in Maryland that requires a separate license for soda fountains in the state and further requires a fee on each soda dispensary within a business instead of a flat fee for the entire business. In simpler terms, if a restaurant, for example, had 10 soda “guns” throughout the facility, a $25 fee would be required for each one. This bill repealed the old law and implemented a more business friendly policy. It also passed the House and Senate.

House Bill 846: This bill will allow Sunday motorcycle sales in Worcester County. Again, an archaic “blue law” still on the books in Worcester prohibited the sale of motorcycles on Sunday, but this bill repeals the old law to allow for the sales. It was also approved and enacted into law.