Frederick lawmakers to focus on transportation funding, outlawing ‘spice’ -- Gazette.Net


Money for transportation, a ban on artificial marijuana and energy issues are expected to be the top priorities for local lawmakers when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes next week.

“I think transportation will be a major issue,” said Del. Galen R. Clagett (D-Dist. 3A) of Frederick. “I’m sure the governor will bring [offshore] wind back again, and for me, I want to keep a lid on the budget. My God, we need to be careful of what we’re doing and hold the line on spending.”

Clagett, who serves as the chairman of Frederick County’s eight-member delegation, said the issue of raising Maryland’s 23.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax to raise money for transportation infrastructure will likely come up again.

Maryland has not raised its gas tax since 1992. Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed adding the state’s 6 percent sales tax to gasoline earlier this year, but the proposal stalled in the legislature.

“Even if we increase the gas tax, there will not be enough money [for transportation projects],” Clagett said. “We need to get sensible about what we do with transportation. We need to be creative.”

A proposal for a large offshore wind farm, which Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) introduced last session, is likely to come up again, he said.

There also is likely to be a heated debate on new regulations requiring more efficient septic systems in new construction, Clagett said.

The Frederick County Board of Commissioners also has asked the delegation to submit a package of 13 bills on its behalf that includes a measure that would impose a countywide ban on the sale of synthetic marijuana, also known as “spice.”

“To me, the main [county bills] are increasing the liquor commission from three to five members, funding a liquor inspector and making sure synthetic marijuana gets nailed down,” Clagett said.

The delegation members also have individual bills they have already prefiled or plan to file when the session opens on Wednesday.

Among the local measures, state Sen. David Brinkley (R-Dist. 4) of New Market said he will introduce a bill that would prevent the state’s Transportation Trust Fund from being used to balance the state’s budget.

Del. Patrick Hogan (R-Dist. 3A) said he will introduce legislation to include school supplies in the state’s tax-free shopping week, while Clagett will try to make talking on a cellphone while driving a primary offense for which police could pull over motorists.

And Del. Kelly Schulz (R-Dist. 4A) said she will reintroduce a bill that would prohibit people who kill family members from profitting from their crime.

Sen. Ron Young (D-Dist. 3)

Young of Frederick has already prefiled 10 bills, but he pulled legislation that would have imposed tolls on U.S. 15 in Frederick County for lack of local support.

Young said he is hopes to eventually have the backing of the county commissioners, fellow delegation members and the Maryland Department of Transportation so he can introduce the bill in the future.

“If we’re going to build these [transportation] projects, we gotta find the money somewhere,” he said. “I still think [tolls] make sense.”

He has prefiled a bill that would allow nonprofit, religious and veterans groups to own and operate not more than five slot machines to raise money. The same bill was introduced last session but died because the House took no action.

Young also has submitted a bill allowing a credit against state income taxes for certain wineries and vineyards. If passed, the Maryland Department of Agriculture would administer the credit, and the state comptroller would adopt the regulations.

The same bill was introduced last session but it, too, died for lack of House action.

Young said he plans to file another six bills, including one that would give counties and municipalities the authority to raise the sales tax by 2 cents to raise money for transportation projects.

Sen. David Brinkley (R-Dist. 4)

Brinkley said he plans to focus on preserving jobs in Maryland and protecting transportation funding during this session.

One of his bills would put a “wall” around the state’s Transportation Trust Fund to prevent it from being used to balance the state’s budget, he said.

Another bill would bring Maryland’s corporate income tax rate even with Virginia’s, which Brinkley said is currently 2.25 percent lower than Maryland’s.

He believes the move would level competition between the states to attract companies.

Brinkley said he also plans to introduce a bill to bring Maryland’s estate tax in line with the federal estate tax. Maryland is one of two states with a much lower threshold for the estate tax, he said.

Del. Kathy Afzali (R-Dist. 4A)

Afzali of Middletown said she plans to introduce three voting-related bills, including one that would make voter fraud a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

Her bill would increase the fine for a conviction to range from $50,000-$150,000, she said.

Another Afzali bill would set Maryland’s primary voting day as the first Tuesday in June.

Afzali said she also plans to introduce a bill on signage for farm businesses. The State Highway Administration limits where businesses can place their signs along highways.

Del. Galen R. Clagett (D-Dist. 3A)

Clagett said he has several bills in the works, either by himself or in collaboration with other members of the delegation.

But he said his primary focus was on a bill to ban synthetic marijuana, and one that helps define the relationships between government and private entities that enter into partnerships.

He said the partnerships bill would help provide better definitions for the ways public and private entities can cooperate on projects.

“It allows the public and private sector to get together and build roads and infrastructure,” he said. “We’ve done it on a couple of occasions. ... I want to make sure we know what we're doing.”

He also said he planned to sponsor a bill that would make talking on a cellphone while driving a primary offense just as texting while driving is, which would mean motorists could be pulled over for it.

“I’m sick of driving 65 mph watching people on the phone go all over the road, or riding up on someone going 25 mph in a 65 mph zone,” he said. “It has to stop.”

Del. Donald B. Elliott (R-Dist. 4B)

Elliott of Carroll County said his primary focus in the 2013 session would be on a bill that would examine the requirements of upgrading wastewater treatment plants in municipalities throughout the state.

He said he was concerned about the new requirements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Maryland Department of the Environment, which are unfunded mandates for upgrades to the plants.

The bill would ask for a study on possible financial reimbursements to small municipalities, he said.

“It sounds like a minor thing — if I can get it passed it won’t be so minor,” Elliott said.

Elliott said his hometown of New Windsor, which has a small wastewater treatment plant, would struggle to raise the needed funds without imposing large water bills on a small number of residents.

“They had a $4 million debt with 350 people to pay for it,” he said. “... This is an outrage.”

Del. Patrick N. Hogan (R-Dist. 3A)

Hogan of Frederick said his two biggest priorities in the session would be a pair of tax bills: one to lower corporate tax rates to get them more in line with neighboring states such as Virginia, and another to include school items, such as pens, pencils and notebooks, in the state’s tax-free shopping week.

“We need to be more competitive in attracting businesses to come here, and attracting businesses to stay here,” he said. “Maryland has a lot going for us in terms of quality of life, but unfortunately our tax and regulatory environment is not the best.”

Hogan also said he’d be working with fellow legislators to craft an ordinance to prohibit synthetic marijuana, partly based on Frederick’s ban, which went into effect in November.

“I think the city of Frederick wrote up a pretty good ordinance we can use as a model,” he said. “I think some other [legislators] feel the same way, too.”

Del. Michael Hough (R-Dist. 3B)

Hough of Brunswick said he has drafted a bill that would reduce how much experience a person needs to obtain a home improvement license from two years to one.

“I think two years is a lot,” he said. “It makes it tough for people to get jobs. I’ve hung drywall and painted, and I don’t have a two-year license.”

Del. Kelly Schulz (R-Dist. 4A)

Schulz of New Market is reintroducing a bill she sponsored in last year’s session known as the “Slayer Rule,” which would prohibit people who kill members of their own family from profitting from their crime.

The bill was inspired by the 2009 murder of Ann Sue Metz, a Frederick woman whose husband was convicted of her murder, then used his power of attorney to appropriate their house and some of her financial assets to help pay for his defense.

The bill was withdrawn last year after the House committee that was considering it had a number of questions, Schulz said.

Another of Schulz’s bills would allow microbreweries and craft breweries to be able to distribute some of their own product, rather than work with beer distributors.