As the 2008 General Assembly comes to a close, I’d like to review some of the highlights of the legislation important to us in Harford County.
The Harford County Delegation succeeded in passing all but two bills – the election of the school board and the slot machines for our veterans’ organizations. These bills did not pass for political reasons and no other reason. The Annapolis oligarchy allows a select few to kill a bill, give no reason, and pay no price. If one member of a delegation chooses to force the will of one to subvert the will of the majority, then the voters need to intercede in the next election. Some folks will do almost anything to maintain power and control, even to the point of thwarting the will of their constituents and their representatives.
The school board bill appeared to be on the fast track when Senators Barry Glassman (R) and Andrew Harris (R) gained unanimous approval for it in Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee and the full Senate. As approved by the Senate, the bill—SB 306—would authorize six members of the school board to be elected and three to be appointed by the Governor. With the Senate’s unanimous approval, the delegation was hopeful SB 306 would move quickly in the House after being referred to the House Ways and Means Committee, but Chairwoman Sheila Hixson refused to take any action on either SB 306 or the cross filed bill, HB 799.
As chair of the Harford County Delegation, I met with her on several occasions to request local courtesy—a policy of deferring to the county delegation on local issues. That policy is basic to our legislative process because a county delegation understands local issues better and is more answerable to its citizens than non-local delegates and senators who could care less and have no responsibility to Harford residents. In response to Chairwoman Hixson’s feigned concern that the delegation had not provided sufficient proof of citizen support for the elected school board, I personally provided her committee with volumes of documentation demonstrating community, political, and parental support.
Delegate J. B. Jennings (R-District 7) who serves on Ways and Means, worked diligently to persuade Chairwoman Hixson to move the bill and she finally promised him she would put HB 779 on the voting list. During this time, Sen. Glassman testified before the committee on SB 306. At every juncture we kept hearing she needed more proof of support, such as a letter of support from the current school board that would be replaced if the bill had passed. Sen. Glassman met with House Speaker Michael Busch to see why the bill was not moving and to advocate for its passage. He emphasized that other delegations had not been required to provide the documentation being requested by Chairwoman Hixson before those bills were passed out of her committee.
In the final days of the session, it was clear neither Chair Hixson nor the Speaker intended to have the House vote on SB 306 or HB 779. After I challenged the Chairwoman Hixson with House Rule 41 that requires a bill voted in committee to reach the floor within three legislative days, unless a committee directs otherwise, Chairwoman Hixson very cleverly asked the Speaker to take her committee off of the floor and to the Silver Room. At that time, she covered her mistake for violating Rule 41. All of the Democratic members of the Committee voted to say that she had the authority to act for the committee after the fact. Unfortunately, the Democrats on her committee let her have her way. As a result, neither HB 779 nor SB 306 made it to the House floor for a vote before adjournment due to partisan politics.
Partisan politics also caused the demise of the delegation’s slots bill even though the delegation had a bipartisan team working to get this bill through the process. The team, expertly led by Del. Dan Riley (D-District 34A) and ably assisted by Del. Wayne Norman (R-District 35A) , did succeed in getting a hearing on the House bill in the Ways and Means Committee, so Del. Riley had the opportunity to explain to committee members that the bill would simply provide Harford County veteran organizations with the same rights Eastern Shore veterans organizations already have (five slot machines with the proceeds being divided equally between charity and the post home). The Senate bill, SB 804, never made it out of the Senate Rules Committee and Chairwoman Hixson never allowed HB 780 to come up for a vote. If she had done so, it likely would have passed both the committee and the House, but Speaker Busch was determined to kill the bill.
The delegation, however, did get nine bills through the process. In addition to bond bills authorizing $250,000 for the Lower Susquehanna Greenway Trail Development, $100,000 for the Churchville Library Green Building and Science Center, and $650,000 for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute Renovation in Harford and Cecil Counties, delegation bills which passed include:
* A bill which would allow deer hunting on private property on the first Sunday of the bow hunting season in November and the first Sunday of the deer firearms season.
* A bill which would increase from two to five the number of licenses that may be issued by the Harford County Liquor Control Board to one licensee so that a restaurant in Bel Air or elsewhere in the county would be able to open other restaurants anywhere else in the county.
* A bill which would allow Harford County to pay a claim for a refund of personal property tax without interest within a certain period after the claim is approved if it is determined the refund is a result of a failure to file a report when due or other taxpayer error.
* A bill which would allow the county to create special taxing districts and issue certain bonds for developing and financing infrastructure improvements if all the owners of real property within the proposed special taxing district petition the county for the creation of the district.
Much time and energy was spent this session trying to agree on the budget, particularly after the downturn in the economy caused a sharp decline in proposed state revenue. In the final weekend, the Legislature repealed the $200 million sales tax on computer services that the legislature passed in the last minutes of the 2007 Special Session. By a vote of 93 to 44, the House repealed this anti-business tax before it could go into effect on July 1, 2008.
The final budget included $276,228,000 for Harford County, with $20,616,000 going to the municipal government, $11,384,000 to community colleges, $210,827,000 to public schools, $1,744,000 to libraries and $3,186,000 for health care services. The county received a slight increase of 1.1 percent over last year’s budget.
As always it has been an honor and a privilege serving the citizens of Harford County. I want to thank the Harford County Delegation and the Harford Senators who helped pass Harford County’s bills. An 82% success rate is good. We are literally working on legislation and strategies for next session and the goal is a 100% pass rate.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact me during the interim at P. O. Box 1204, Bel Air, Maryland 21014, at (410) 836-9449, (410) 838-5187, fax (410) 838-5768 or Susan.McComas@house.state.md.us.