Bill Would Put LCB Under State Ethics Laws

BERLIN – With the deadline for filing bills rapidly approaching, over 1,200 pieces of legislation have been filed in the House and Senate combined as of late yesterday, including several of importance to Worcester County and the resort area.

Thus far, 709 bills have been filed in the House, while 579 pieces of new legislation up for debate have been filed in the Senate. The deadline to introduce bills in the Senate expires today, while bills can be introduced in the House until next Friday. While some preliminary hearings have been heard, there has been very little action thus far in terms of real committee votes or larger chamber votes.

Among the more interesting bills introduced germane to Worcester and the resort area is a bill introduced by Senator Lowell Stoltzfus (R-38) that would, if approved, apply Maryland public ethics laws to the county’s Liquor Control Board (LCB). Senate Bill 306 would include the county’s LCB in the definition of an “executive unit,” thereby making it subject to the same ethics laws applied to other state and local agencies and departments in the county.

According to the bill, an executive unit is any department, agency, commission, board, council or any other body of government established by law that is not part of either the legislative or judicial branch. In Worcester, examples of entities considered executive units include the county health department, the sheriff’s office and the state’s attorney’s office, for example. Senate Bill 306 would add the county’s LCB to that list, holding the agency to the same ethics standards applied to the other agencies and offices.

Another bill introduced this week by Stoltzfus would allow Worcester County to recoup all unpaid assessments and other charges on a property when it is sold or otherwise transferred before the recordation of the deed. Essentially, Senate Bill 307 would alter the procedures for recording deeds in Worcester County by requiring and specified assessments or charges to be paid before the Clerk of the Circuit Court may accept the deed for recording. In essence, many properties sold or transferred have outstanding balances for water and sewer service and Senate Bill 307 would establish a mechanism for recouping those unpaid balances before a deed could be recorded.

Other bills of interest locally have been introduced, although there has been little or no movement on them thus far. For example, House Bill 56, which would allow slot machines for non-profits in Worcester County such as fraternal organizations and service clubs, had a committee hearing last week, but no vote has been taken to date.

Another bill of local importance is House Bill 47, which would create a constitutional amendment requiring district lines be drawn to include at least one delegate from every county in the state “to the greatest extent possible.” It’s important all over the state, but particularly in Worcester, which shares its legislative district with Somerset County and a portion of Wicomico County.

If approved as written, the bill could have an impact on how the local area is represented in Annapolis. Currently, Mathias, an Ocean City resident, and Conway, a Salisbury resident, represent the district in the House and a similar pattern has followed traditionally, but changing the district lines to accommodate the constitutional amendment could change the political landscape in the region.

Another bill introduced this session by Mathias would require individuals under the age of 18 to wear a helmet or protective headgear while riding motor scooters and mopeds. Mathias introduced the bill along with Delegate Donald Elliot, a physician who raised concern about young people riding scooters and mopeds without helmets during a visit to Ocean City last summer. The bill had a hearing in the House environmental committee on Tuesday, but no vote was taken.

Last week, members of the state Video Lottery Location Commission expressed in interest in having Maryland approve table gambling even before the first slots venue opened in the state. The idea grew out of concern neighboring states were already moving forward with full casino gambling while Maryland continued to struggle with implementing five slots venues approved by voters in a statewide referendum in November 2008.

This week, 16 House Delegates introduced a bill that could make table gambling a reality in Maryland. House Bill 608 would amend the Maryland constitution to authorize a person who holds a video lottery operation license to offer table games, including poker, blackjack, craps, and roulette, for example.

According to the language of the bill, possible venues would include the five locations approved for slots in the 2008 referendum. Of course, the bill points out approval for table games would be subject to the approval of a constitutional amendment through another referendum by the voters of the state.