2009 End of Session Letter
A Message From Bobby
Dear Friends, It is my honor to serve you in the Maryland State Senate. I would encourage you to contact my legislative office with issues or ideas for the Legislative Session. We welcome anyone to come visit us in Annapolis. In the meantime, please use this website as a... Click here to read more.
We have come to the end of the 426th Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly. This has been one of the most difficult Legislative Sessions of my entire career and I am writing to provide you with a brief synopsis of major legislation of importance to our community. This session was marked by major budget cuts, a response to tough economic times that weigh on all of us. With so many people in need of help, we must make sure that our government is doing as much as possible to help and avoid wasteful spending in times where money is hard to come by. As always, I am proud to work with Delegates Dan Morhaim, Jon Cardin, and Dana Stein to confront these issues. In Annapolis, success is never accomplished without teamwork and the District 11 Team strives to always work together for our constituents.
I would like to highlight a piece of legislation from each of our delegates. HB 533 – Cooperative Purchasing Agreements – Requirements and Expansion of Use – in Delegate Morhaim’s bill he continues his crusade to streamline government operations. This bill promotes group buying between the state, counties, and school systems, and it allows Maryland non-profits to piggyback onto government purchasing, thus saving money for all. This legislation was passed unanimously by the House and the Senate. Delegate Jon Cardin’s legislation HB 1179 –Election Law – Early Voting passed. Jon navigated through the “early voting” bill that puts into statute a week of early voting mirroring the successful programs in states such as North Carolina and Florida. Nearly 75% of Maryland voters approved the Constitutional Amendment to allow early voting last November and with 33% of Americans voting early, it is time for Maryland to join.
Dana Stein’s bill HB 547 – Vehicle Laws – Advertising Practices – Prohibited Acts – eliminates the deceptive practice – used in some auto ads – of advertising a price that incorporates an amount for customer cash or trade-in or rebates that some buyers may not qualify for.
After three months in Annapolis, I am looking forward to returning home and spending some much needed time with my wife and daughter, and I look forward to seeing you soon. My Annapolis Legislative Office will remain open and be staffed throughout the year. My staff may be reached in the Annapolis office at 410-841-3131. I will be returning to my law practice in Owings Mills and may be reached there during the interim.
Budget Issues and the Maryland Legal Services Funding
This year the General Assembly had to craft one of the leanest budgets in decades due to the states economic woes. But I believe that with every great challenge comes great opportunity, and our State must take the time now to tighten our belts, end wasteful spending, enhance government efficiencies, and return to the basics of responsible government. By closing a 2 billion dollar deficit from a 14 million dollar budget, the Senate took a big step to proving that, like everyone else, the government will learn to do more with less in tough economic times.
The Senate has cut more than $900 million in fiscal years 2009 and 2010, compared to about $825 million in cuts made by the House. While funds are short, we must make sure that programs that help those who are in need get necessary funding in a time where there services are all the more needed. Due to a misunderstanding in the House Budget Hearings, the important work of the Maryland Legal Services Corporation was at risk of losing its funding. With a budget amendment, I corrected that error to ensure MLSC received its funding for legal services in the area of domestic violence, disabilities, and the like.
Protecting our Children from Sexual Predators on the Internet
Last year, I was proud to be the lead sponsor of legislation that enhanced Maryland’s sex offender registry. Working with law enforcement officials from across our state and with Maryland’s Attorney General, we passed new legislation mandating that individuals required to register on the sex offender registry must disclose any internet identifying information. Convicted sex offenders must now register chat room names, facebook and my space accounts, and any other on-line identifying information, in addition to physical addresses, in order to give parents additional tools to protect their children. Recently, the on-line social networking group MySpace announced that 90,000 individuals had been purged from their site due in large part to the use of registries like that used in Maryland. Clearly, more must be done on this issue, but I am proud to say that there is progress thanks to steps we have taken.
Reforming the Death Penalty in Maryland
The death penalty was one of the most contentious issues I have ever dealt with. The Senate took up the death penalty legislation on a rarely used procedure. The Judicial Proceedings Committee, of which I am not a member, defeated the legislation on a 6-5 vote. Following that vote, at the request of the Governor, the Senate voted to change the committee vote on the floor. That legislative maneuver has not been used in over 30 years. That vote was successful, and the Senate took up the death penalty issue for a full debate.
On the floor, Senator Jim Brochin offered an amendment to strip the repeal of the death penalty and replace it with some restrictions on eyewitness testimony. That amendment passed the Senate by a narrow majority thus taking the repeal of the death penalty off of the table. I voted against Senator Brochin’s amendment for a number of reasons. However, when the amendment passed, and the repeal was no longer an option, I prepared an amendment that I believed was a common sense compromise on the issue.
While it is impossible to create a system that is perfect with respect to convicting innocent individuals, I sought a change to the death penalty statute that reserved this punishment only when the best and most reliable evidence was available. The amendment restricts the application of capital punishment only when prosecutors have one or more of a list of reliable evidence: DNA or biological evidence, a videotaped interrogation and confession, or video linking the defendant to the commission of the crime. Evidence such as eyewitness accounts or ‘jailhouse snitch’ testimony cannot be used in the absence of other more reliable pieces of evidence if a prosecutor seeks the death penalty. Again, while it is impossible to be 100% sure of a conviction, this amendment strengthens Maryland’s death penalty code. It is a first of its kind in the nation.
The limitation contained in the amendment to the death penalty legislation is a step in the right direction no matter your view on this issue. For those who favor the repeal of the death penalty, the amendment greatly restricts its use only when the best evidence is available. For those who seek to retain use of the death penalty, the legislation continues to give prosecutors discretion to seek the ultimate sanction, but will greatly reduce the risk of executing an innocent individual. As one who is personally conflicted on this issue, I consider the Senate’s work to be a big accomplishment in the right direction.
Transit Oriented Development- This year the Governor has pushed Senate Bill 274 which authorizes local governments to finance infrastructure improvements located in a transit-oriented development (TOD) areas. A TOD uses public transit stations as the foundation for vibrant communities with a mix of commercial, residential, and retail development. This would increase ridership and enhance opportunities for pedestrian and bicycle mobility, which in turn creates a “greener” environment, reduces traffic, and provides a viable alternative to urban sprawl. With the partnership of County Executive Jim Smith, we are making a lot of progress to create this type of smart growth in the Owings Mills area, centered around the Metro Center. This will allow us to revitalize a once vibrant center of District 11.
Local Issue: Rosewood
Last year, Governor O’Malley announced the imminent closure of e Rosewood in Owings Mills. Following that announcement, the State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has been working to relocate all patients housed at Rosewood to other settings, including the removal of the ‘forensic’ or court-ordered patients to a more secure setting. Of great importance to our community is what will become of the hundreds of acres of the Rosewood property.
It is my belief that our community has a strong interest in maintaining the character and beauty of Greenspring Valley.
Over the next year, I will continue to work with the community, the 11th District Team, and the Administration on an overall plan for the Rosewood property. There should be a ‘master plan process’ where all interested parties and individuals are able to provide input for the overall use of Rosewood. I am committed to the use of the campus for Stevenson University to expand their institution. Helping this growing and thriving campus is essential to the long-term success of Owings Mills and surrounding areas.
Further protecting victims of domestic violence was of extreme importance during this session. Two pieces of legislation dealing with protective orders were brought before the Senate. One of the bills requires that judges order the confiscation of guns from those who are issued final protective orders. The other, authorizes a judge to extend a temporary protective order for up to six months, rather than up to 30 days, to effectuate service of the order where necessary to provide protection.
A bill that would allow speed cameras in work zones and school zones only passed the Senate. This is very restrictive legislation. Under the bill, the cameras will be limited to school zones and work areas. Assurances were given that no further bills attempting to put speed cameras in residential areas or to expand camera use further in certain counties would be sponsored in the future.
Bobby A. Zirkin
District 11, Baltimore County