OCEAN CITY – Sen. Mary Beth Carozza said her focus remained on her constituents this legislative session despite a challenging environment in Maryland’s General Assembly.
Carozza said she used her committee assignments to support local initiatives and advance Eastern Shore priorities during the legislative session that ended Monday. Several bills she sponsored passed this session, including the ones for the Ocean City promoter’s license and state park pass discounts for first responders, and others she opposed on behalf of constituents failed to move forward. She said she tried to focus on impacts for her constituents as she adjusted to a different environment in Annapolis.
“This was the first session in eight years with Democrats in control of the governorship and the super majority in the Maryland General Assembly,” she said. “As a result, an aggressive legislative agenda was pushed through including passage of major initiatives on gun control, cannabis reform, offshore wind energy, and abortion.”
Nevertheless, a variety of the bills Carozza supported for Worcester County passed. House Bill 113, which established an Ocean City promoter’s license in Worcester County, passed and is expected to allow for safer alcohol sales at special events in the resort. It will authorize the Worcester County Board of License Commissioners to issue a promoter’s license to for-profit organizations wishing to sell and serve beer, wine and liquor at special events, provided that the event is located within the corporate limits of Ocean City, held on town-owned property and approved by the Ocean City Police Department and the Mayor and Council.
Carozza was also able to report success with a bill to allow the Crisfield Police Department to enroll in the Law Enforcement Officers Pension System, a bill to give a state park pass discount to first responders and bills to allow Sunday hunting until 10:30 a.m. in Wicomico and Worcester counties, among several others.
She was also pleased to report that certain bills didn’t pass.
“Some victories are highlighted by bad bills that do not move forward,” she said.
This year, Carozza said those were Senate Bill 803, which was the tip credit bill, and House Bill 119, the health/sex/gender education curriculum bill.
“I heard from numerous local employees and employers in strong opposition to Senate Bill 803 which would prohibit the use of a tip credit for tipped employees and would instead require former tipped employees to receive the State minimum wage,” Carozza said. “This would be detrimental to restaurant operators, many which already run on razor-thin margins and are still recovering from the pandemic, and hurts restaurant and bar employees, including food runners, bussers, servers and bartenders.”
She said that with tips, the hourly range for those workers was $17-$50 per hour.
“If Maryland moves away from a tipping industry as this bill requires, then these employees would have far less earning potential,” she said. “Members of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association and the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce were extremely effective in advocating their opposition to SB 803, and the bill did not advance out of the Senate Finance Committee.”
As far as the controversial health education bill, it would have established a health education framework for public schools. Carozza said her position on the Senate Education, Energy, and Environment Committee put her in a position to help keep the bill from advancing. That was a relief for local officials, who have said that the amendments to it made it even worse than initially proposed.
“The bill ended up being rewritten by the House Ways and Means Committee which made it worse and allowed the State Superintendent of Schools to withhold funding from local school systems if they are not 100 percent lockstep with any part of the state curriculum,” Carozza said. “Fortunately, the bill died this session in my committee.”
One disappointment for Carozza during the 2023 session was the failure of the room tax bill to move forward. The bill, which was sought by Ocean City and Worcester County, would have allowed the county to raise its room tax threshold from 5% to 6%. Carozza said it was “disappointing and frustrating” local courtesy was not extended in the Senate for a local bill that was supported by four Eastern Shore counties.
“I believe it was hypocritical for some Democrats to oppose this local hotel tax increase bill when all it did is enable or give the option to a county to increase the rate from 5 to 6 percent when half of Maryland counties have a rate of 6 percent and above,” Carozza said. “Furthermore, 65% of the increase would be paid by out-of-state visitors, not Marylanders. Unfortunately, this local bill was caught up in politics at the end of session. Moving forward and working with Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, we have a commitment from the Senate President to pass this local bill next session.”
Carozza reported that the Eastern Shore Delegation worked together and were successful in gaining funding for a number of local priorities. This year’s capital budget included a $250,000 Senate legislative bond for Atlantic General Hospital as well as $75,000 for Diakonia and $75,000 for the Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department’s South Station. In Wicomico County, the Salisbury Regional Airport Terminal received $150,000 for terminal rehabilitation, $100,000 for Perdue Stadium boiler replacement, and $95,000 for the Horizons Delmarva/Salisbury School amphitheater.
Carozza added that the delegation worked together to acquire funding for TidalHealth’s trauma center through the passage of legislation to study trauma funding for centers across the state.
“TidalHealth’s trauma center is the only one on the Eastern Shore, serving 500,000 in the region and eight million people who annually visit Ocean City and Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” she said. “TidalHealth’s trauma center has been woefully underfunded for years, and the funding formula for trauma centers in Maryland has not been reviewed since 2000. This year’s operating budget included $9.5 million for trauma centers in Maryland facing financial challenges.”
She said the biggest challenge of the past 90 days was dealing with the absolute power of the super majority created by the increased number of Democrats in key positions.
“Whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican super majority, I do not believe absolute power of any one party serves the people of Maryland well,” she said. “We as Republicans in the Maryland General Assembly representing more rural and conservative to moderate constituencies now are working even harder to bring some balance to the aggressive liberal and in some cases national agenda that is being pushed by the statewide leadership.”
Looking forward, Carozza believes she’s in a strong position with her committee assignments — Education, Energy and Environment as well as the Senate Executive Nominations Committee. She used her assignments this session to advocate for local priorities and plans to expand on those efforts next year.