Special Event Enforcement Bill Cruises Through Senate

OCEAN CITY — A bill introduced in the General Assembly that will allow for the creation of special event zones with enhanced penalties that could deter some of the activities associated with the resort’s often troublesome motorized events breezed through the State Senate with a 46-0 vote this week and is headed to the House for approval.

After a troublesome motorized special events season last year, Ocean City officials formed a task force to begin exploring ways to deter or even eliminate some of the illicit behavior. One potential remedy to come out of those discussions was legislation allowing for the creation of special enforcement zones during the events with enhanced penalties, reduced speed limits and other enforcement tools.

Early in the session, Senator Jim Mathias (D-38) introduced Senate Bill 872, which would allow a local jurisdiction, Worcester County and Ocean City in this case, to create special events enforcement zones. The bill was cross-filed in the House by Delegate Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C) and both bills had hearings in their respective committee early in the session during which a contingent of Ocean City officials and Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) officials testified.

This week, Senate Bill 872 breezed through a vote by the full Senate, 46-0, and is now headed to the House. The bill as introduced would have applied statewide, but it was amended to include only Worcester County largely because of the unique nature of the motorized special events in Ocean City. Mathias said this week the bill’s passage in the Senate was significant because it came on cross-over day in the General Assembly, which could put it on the fast track for approval.

“I’m very pleased with the outcome on this one,” he said. “This allows for fines up to $1,000 for certain offenses and allows for the creation of the special enforcement zones where the penalties can be enhanced. It set’s the threshold for a special event at 1,000 spectators, which is very easily met.”

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The bill defines special event zones and allows local jurisdictions, in this case Ocean City, to establish special enforcement areas akin to construction zones or school zones, for example, where penalties can be enhanced for certain illicit behavior.

According to the language in the bill, the State Highway Administration (SHA) on its own initiative or at the request of a local authority, designated an area on a state highway as a special event zone. In addition, the local authority, in this case the town of Ocean City, can designate any area on a highway under its jurisdiction as a special event zone.

The bill would allow speed limit reductions in areas designated as special event zones. Particularly, the bill’s language states the local authority may “reduce established speed limits in the special event zone after a determination that the change is necessary to ensure public safety.” A person convicted of violating the speed limit posted in the special event zone is subject to a fine not exceeding $1,000.

However, the amended version approved by the full Senate this week does not include enhanced penalties for reckless driving or aggressive driving in designated special event zones, although those violations are fairly covered by existing laws under most conditions.

“What was not in the bill was the reckless endangerment piece,” said Mathias. “That was an important element to this because it would have enhanced the penalties for activities that could injure or even kill spectators. We will work on adding that in the future, but we’re happy to get the bill through the Senate and moving forward.”

Nonetheless, the version approved by the Senate appears to accomplish much of what the town was hoping for with the legislation, according to Mathias.

“We were successful in getting what the town was looking for with this bill,” he said. “It includes the establishment of special enforcement zones, increased fines and the definition of special events.”

Perhaps more importantly, the bill approved by the Senate was passed as emergency legislation, meaning if it makes it through the House as expected and goes to the governor for final approval, it could be in place for the spring motorized special event season in the resort, most notably the spring cruising event. Passing a bill as emergency legislation requires a three-fifths vote, a standard easily met by the Senate’s 46-0 vote this week.

“This bill is so important we wanted to make certain it maintained its emergency status, and we were able to do that,” said Mathias. “If it goes through the House as expected and gets to the governor for his signature, it would be enacted immediately and provide another enforcement tool for Worcester County this spring.”

Senate Bill 872 now crosses over to the House Environment and Transportation Committee for consideration. The House version filed by Carozza has already had a hearing in the Environment and Transportation Committee although no action has yet been taken on the legislation.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.