OCEAN CITY — As expected, a bill aimed at strengthening the resort’s motorized special event zone legislation was introduced this week in the General Assembly, including, for the first time, certain offenses for which suspects can be arrested.
State Senator Mary Beth Carozza this week introduced Senate Bill 878, which includes under exhibition driving operating a vehicle in a manner that produces abrupt acceleration or deceleration, skidding, swerving, raucous engine noise, gear grinding or wheels losing contact with the ground. For the first time in the evolution of the special event zone legislation, the potential penalties described in the bill include potential jail time. For example, violations could result in a term of imprisonment not exceeding 60 days, or a fine of $1,000 or both.
Delegate Wayne Hartman is expected to drop cross-filed legislation in the House late this week. If the cross-filed bills are ultimately approved by the General Assembly, exhibition driving, as defined by the bill, could become an arrestable offense with a maximum term of imprisonment of 60 days.
“We’re looking to add exhibition driving,” Hartman said. “It would make it an arrestable offense. The individual charged with it could ostensibly be taken out of the event for the weekend. … It would provide more of a hammer. Hopefully, it would create a change in the attitude of some of the participants somewhat.”
Another issue with some of the violations and citations issued during events in which the special event zone has been implemented is the lack of reciprocity with other states. While the hefty fines do hit violators in the pocket somewhat, the tickets and associated points on driver’s licenses that go along with them are not always reciprocal in the violator’s home state.
“When you look at the data for the citations issued to out-of-state participants versus in-state participants, a considerable number of them are from out-of-state,” said Hartman. “This would make these things enforceable basically right away.”
Hartman said he has been working with his colleague in the House, some of whom have a dog in the fight, to help ensure the success of the enhanced legislation this year.
“I’ve been working with legislators who own property in Ocean City or who are familiar or sympathetic to some of the problems,” he said. “I feel like we have a good shot at getting this through.”
Although the special event zone has been implemented during a handful of motorized events since it was first adopted two years ago, the catalyst for the enhanced legislation continues to be the unsanctioned H2O International (H2Oi) event each late September. Again, H2Oi has never been officially sanctioned by the town of Ocean City and the formal event moved to Atlantic City two years ago.
However, the unofficial hangers-on associated with the original event continue to make their presence felt in Ocean City on the last weekend of September each year.
After a particularly troublesome unofficial H2Oi event last September, resort officials promised everything was on the table in terms of attempting to curb some of the lawlessness. Armed with testimony, pictures and video footage, Hartman said he believes state lawmakers will grasp the importance of the enhanced special event zone legislation this year.
“We’ve had a hard time in getting the General Assembly to approve harsher penalties,” he said. “With what happened last year and some of the new footage we have, it’s obvious we’re still having the same problems. I feel very optimistic we’ll have success this year.”
Meanwhile, Carozza said this week the bill has its roots in the unsanctioned H2Oi event although the enhanced special event zone legislation could be applied to other motorized special events in the resort.
“This is a priority local public safety bill which strengthens the current special events law by defining and increasing the penalties for exhibition driving,” she said. “We had an absolutely unacceptable and unsafe situation with the latest H2Oi event in Ocean City and this bill is one of the necessary actions we need to take to keep our residents and visitors safe during these types of events.”
Carozza said prior to the committee hearing on Senate Bill 878, she will share a video link provided by the Ocean City Police Department of the reckless and unlawful actions taken by some participants in the unsanctioned motorized special event.
“This bill will help keep Ocean City residents and visitors safe and family friendly, and I am encouraged by the support of my Senate colleagues for this legislation,” she said.
Senate Bill 878 has been introduced as emergency legislation and Hartman’s companion bill in the House will presumably be the same. As such, it would need to be passed by a three-fifths majority of each chamber in the General Assembly and the effective date would be the day it is enacted.