Worcester Fears Senate Bills

SNOW H ILL — With a “tidal wave” of controversial legislature building in Annapolis, Worcester County officials admitted Tuesday that they were worried about getting wet.

“Hopefully, most of the bad bills won’t ever see the light of day,” said County Commissioner Virgil Shockley.

Three worrisome bills in particular generated discussion amongst the commission this week. Senate Bills (SB) 331, 196, and 848 drew criticism from the commissioners as all three were viewed as a state invasion into county autonomy.

“Things aren’t going in the counties’ favor,” said Chief Administrative Officer Gerald Mason.

It was Mason who labeled the crop of bills cooking in Annapolis “a tidal wave of bad legislation.”

SB 848 in particular was singled out. The bill would, according to its synopsis, require “a county to apply to the State Board of Education for a waiver from the Maintenance of Effort requirement under specified circumstances.” The bill goes on to mention that there would be “a penalty for a county that fails to apply for a waiver and fails to fund the Maintenance of Effort requirement.”

The bill could also establish the following year’s required Maintenance of Effort for a county in certain cases.

Mason revealed the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) has examined the bill and has serious reservations about it.

“This bill is one of many MACo is taking a strong stance on,” he said.

Commissioner Judy Boggs, a member of MACo, agreed that the organization has “a real concern with some aspects” of the proposed bill.

SB 196 would require political subdivisions to “conduct inspections of specified multifamily dwellings with balconies at least once every five years.” This could stretch already taxed county inspectors even thinner.

SB 331 resurfaces the debate over mandatory sprinkler systems. Last year, the majority of the commission voted to opt out of requiring new single- and multi-family dwellings to install sprinkler systems. If passed, the bill would revisit the issue and could lead to a law where counties can no longer opt out.

“I dread Annapolis going into session,” admitted Shockley.

According to Shockley, those three bills are just a few that the commission has noticed recently that could wrestle more local control from the county and give it to state legislators.

Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor agreed, saying, “We’re watching them all. We’ve got over 100 [bills] bookmarked right now.”