This week, the county commissioners voted to forward 18 of 22 legislative proposals to our local legislative delegation, inviting them to advance those suggestions as bills during the next 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly, which starts Jan. 8.
Our four representatives in Annapolis — Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert), Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert), Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s) and Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) — are expected to be on hand next Tuesday, Oct. 1, for a joint meeting with the commissioners at the Chesapeake Building in Leonardtown starting at 6 p.m.
We encourage citizens to attend. Remember, because St. Mary’s County does not have code home rule, we must rely on Annapolis to do our regulatory bidding for us, even for the tiniest details. And you have a right to hear what’s being served up, and an obligation to speak up if you disagree.
In this space last week, we strongly enjoined the commissioners not to advance two of their three proposed changes to the county’s open meetings act. Now, we’re beseeching our local state delegation not to carry those to Annapolis with them.
One of the commissioners’ suggested tweaks to the St. Mary’s sunshine law would allow more meetings and aspects of meetings to be held in closed sessions. We are dead set against that, as well as another that would keep some subcommittees out of the sunshine, but don’t disagree with a third that would make some county agencies more accountable.
We’re asking our senator and three delegates not to waste the people’s time at the state house promoting legislation that makes government less transparent. As Roy Dyson, the former Democratic state senator who championed the local sunshine law four decades ago and got it passed, said last week, such changes would mark a dangerous precedent. Any weakening of our open meetings law — regarded as the most citizen friendly and government restrictive in Maryland — could open the door to even more peeling back of your right to know what’s going on with our elected officials.
We’re also not excited about another proposed piece of legislation, one that would offer commercial property owners a tax reduction for real property. Is this something they could not afford? It would seem to be a good way to keep more tax money in the coffers, particularly during a time when the county is counting every dollar.
Here are some of the other suggestions for legislation the commissioners will serve up on Tuesday night (and we favor these):
• Allowing alternative funding for individual volunteer rescue squads without penalty;
• Hiking the public accommodations tax (for hotels and motels) from 5% to 7% (this would bring in more revenue primarily from tourists);
• Taxing vaping, e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems;
• Amending a bill that would allow more flexibility in the budget for the College of Southern Maryland;
• Detaching the debt of the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission from the county’s overall debt;
• Granting more than $812,000 for needed renovations at the county health department’s Leonardtown headquarters;
• Allocating $350,000 for a project at the St. Clement’s Island Museum;
• Setting a fee for an on-site consumption permit for a Class 1 distillery; and
• Allowing the county to designate emergency snow routes.
Copies of the legislative proposals are available for viewing in the county attorney’s office and online at www.stmarysmd.com/docs/2020%20Legislative%20Proposals.pdf.
So come out on Tuesday and see what gets advanced. And what doesn’t. Who knows? That could someday influence citizens to consider whether this county ever wants to put code home rule to a referendum again (it was soundly defeated in 2016). On the other hand, maybe it’s better not to have county commissioners operate without a buffer when it comes to enacting laws.