2011 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.
At the end of the 428th Session of the Maryland General Assembly, I would like to convey what an honor it has been to represent Baltimore County’s 11th District in the Maryland State Senate. Your calls, e-mails, and letters have been essential in making decisions that truly represent the residents of our District.
This Session presented a number of challenges. The primary responsibility of the General Assembly was to pass a balanced budget while maintaining our priorities in education, public safety, healthcare, and protecting our natural resources. Despite limited revenue, we were able to greatly reduce our structural deficit without jeopardizing essential services and our #1 rank in public education. We tackled a number of significant issues in public safety, education policy, and economic growth, to name a few. I have attached a synopsis of some of the major bills, and I encourage you to contact my office or visit http://mlis.state.md.us for more information on any legislation.
This year marked my first Session as a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. As one of the Senate’s only practicing attorneys, I welcomed the opportunity to debate some of this Session’s most controversial bills and discuss their significant legal issues.
I am very proud to have worked with Delegates Cardin, Morhaim, and Stein for our second term together. Thanks to my Chief of Staff Theresa White, Legislative Aide Brenda Jones, and interns for their hard work and professionalism. They will continue to staff my legislative office during the interim. I look forward to returning over the interim to my law practice. After a long 90 Day Session, I especially look forward to spending more time with my wife Tina and daughters Sophie and Emma. If I can ever be of assistance, please let me know. Thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving as your State Senator.
Bobby A. Zirkin
Throughout his 13 years in public office, Senator Zirkin has prioritized public safety. This Session he worked on a number of initiatives that will make our roads safer, keep criminals off the streets, and protect our most vulnerable citizens.
Legislation passed this year will help make Maryland roads a safer place for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. First, the General Assembly addressed drunk driving through the passage of House Bill 1276, which expands the use of the Ignition Interlock System Program. A driver must participate in the program if he or she is convicted of driving under the influence with a .15 blood alcohol concentration, receives a second conviction within a 5-year time frame, or is under 21 years of age. The use of the interlock is in addition to any license suspension and/or jail time for drunk drivers. While this bill is not as strong as the version co-sponsored by Senator Zirkin that would require mandatory participation for all offenders, it sends the message that there are serious repercussions for driving drunk. Second, Senator Zirkin was proud to be the Senate floor leader for House Bill 363, the “Criminal Negligence Bill,” which creates a crime for killing an individual in an auto accident if the person was acting in gross deviation from the standard of care. This legislation, modeled after the Model Penal Code, creates a criminal misdemeanor with a sentence of up to 3 years in prison and/or a fine of $500.
The General Assembly considered several bills that would enable law enforcement to better prosecute human traffickers and protect the victims. Senator Zirkin co-sponsored and fought for many of these bills, including SB 247, which would authorize the State to seize property and funds associated with human trafficking and to use that revenue to combat traffickers. SB 299 adds trafficking to the list of offenses that can be investigated through wiretapping and electronic surveillance. SB 327, The Human Trafficking Victim Protection Act, allows courts to order a defendant convicted of human trafficking to pay restitution to the victim. The Act further allows the court to vacate certain offenses from the victim’s record if those actions were the result of having been a victim of human trafficking. Senator Zirkin worked on legislation for victims of domestic violence as well. He co-sponsored SB 50, which would provide victims with temporary housing assistance from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund. Additionally, Senator Zirkin fought for a bill allowing an extension of a peace order after the 6 month limit if good cause is shown to a court.
The General Assembly worked on a broad range of issues affecting children and youth. Senator Zirkin co-sponsored SB 151 to ban infant formula containers manufactured with Bisphenol-A (BPA), a harmful compound found in many plastics. This year, Senator Zirkin and his colleagues passed a bill that will mitigate the hazardous effects of concussions on student athletes. SB 771 requires State and local boards to bring greater awareness about this injury to parents and students, and it requires a student suspected of having a concussion to be removed from the field until cleared by a medical professional. Senator Zirkin was proud to work with Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown to pass SB 178, criminalizing child neglect. The bill makes it a misdemeanor for a person with temporary or permanent care of a child to neglect that child. The offender is subject to a maximum prison sentence of 5 years and/or a fine up to $5,000.
Senator Zirkin sponsored Senate Bill 809, which closes a loophole in the bail bond industry. Some bondsmen in the industry have made a business practice of filing frivolous appeals while failing to pay bond forfeitures. This practice has clogged our court system and kept defendants who have jumped bail out on the street. SB 809 forces bondsman to pay the forfeiture if the defendant fails to appear, and the bond is refunded upon the defendant appearing before court in a timely manner. Senator Zirkin also co-sponsored SB 174, which expands the prohibition on the use of handguns in a crime of violence to include all firearms.
As a very vocal proponent of juvenile justice reform, Senator Zirkin sponsored and passed SB 200. This bill requires the Department of Juvenile Services to release recidivism rates for all children committed to residential care facilities and the recidivism rates for the individual facilities. This requirement is an important step in evaluating the effectiveness of Maryland’s juvenile justice system and its facilities.
Despite the tough fiscal climate, legislators were able to maintain a high level of funding for education. Through a series of cuts and revenue measures, the General Assembly was able to dedicate $5.8 billion to public schools. This amount keeps funding in line with the major State aid formulas and represents an increase of $58.5 million over the originally proposed budget.
Senator Zirkin did not support or vote for Senate Bill 167, the controversial bill which allows illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition rates in Maryland public universities. As amended, the bill allows students who have paid Maryland taxes for three consecutive years to apply for in-state tuition rates at community colleges. After completing two years of community college, the student can transfer to a four-year institution. While Senator Zirkin sympathizes with the students, he did not feel it was a wise policy choice for Maryland.
Senator Zirkin has always advocated for an accountable and transparent school board. He introduced Senate Bill 141, which would have established a partially elected, or “Hybrid” school board for Baltimore County. Unfortunately, SB 141 did not receive the support of the delegation. Instead, the legislature passed SB 397, which establishes a Task Force to study the membership and selection of the Baltimore County Board of Education. The Task Force must hold at least three public meetings, which Senator Zirkin encourages everyone to attend. The Baltimore County Delegation also sponsored House Bill 160, the Baltimore County Public Schools Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. This Act requires the Baltimore County Board of Education to develop and operate a website that will disclose information on any party receiving more than $25,000 in aggregate payments during a fiscal year. Senator Zirkin remains committed to having elected representation on the School Board.
Budget and the Economy
As Maryland continues to recover from the national recession, the General Assembly has been extremely sensitive to how its budget and policies will affect our state’s growth. The budget for the 2012 fiscal year takes a realistic approach to our state’s revenue and spending practices. Most notably, the structural gap was reduced by 42.3%. Additionally, the budget sets aside 5% of general funds for the rainy day fund, repays a portion of the transportation trust fund, makes employee benefits packages more sustainable, and maintains the most essential programs.
The fiscal health of our state and the growth of the economy are inextricably linked. That is why Senator Zirkin cosponsored Senate Bill 180, better known as Invest Maryland. This program would allow insurance companies to purchase discounted tax credits. The State would use the funds it receives to invest in high-tech start-ups, attracting more business to the state and creating jobs.
Senator Zirkin also cosponsored SB 248, which will allow instate and out-of-state wine manufacturers to directly ship to customers in and out of the state. This bill had failed in previous years, but the Comptroller’s study authorized by the General Assembly last year was able to dispel most of the myths about this legislation. The bill is a huge win for our Maryland wineries that will now be able to reach an expanded customer base.
Senator Zirkin cosponsored and the General Assembly passed SB 479, which requires any company placing a bid for a MARC train contract to disclose any activities during the Second World War. This bill is in response to a company currently bidding on a MARC contract whose parent company was responsible for transporting thousands of Jews to Nazi Concentration camps. The bill would require the company to make public any related records for full transparency.
The General Assembly reached agreement to try and entice development of a slots location at Western Maryland’s Rocky Gap lodge. The location has failed to attract prospective license owners and this measure can help spur economic development and tax revenue.
A number of far-reaching bills that would have stifled economic development and growth were defeated this Session with the help of Senator Zirkin. It is critical that we do not place undue burdens on our business community in these challenging economic times.
Civil Procedure and Domestic Law
As a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR), Senator Zirkin debated some of the more controversial bills considered this Session. He supported the Civil Marriage Protection Act in Committee and on the Senate floor. While the Senate voted in favor of granting equal marriage rights to same-sex couples, the House of Delegates defeated the bill.
JPR also supported the limited use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The bill permits individuals with chronic and debilitating diseases to use their condition as a defense if charged with unlawful possession of the drug. Senate Bill 308 also establishes a workgroup to develop a program that would facilitate patient access to medical marijuana.
Senator Zirkin is one of the legislature’s few practicing attorneys. This Session he introduced legislation to improve procedural efficiency within the judicial system. Senate Bill 138 would have permitted a Plaintiff in a civil action to introduce a written estimate for vehicle repair as evidence in a civil suit, rather than going through the expense of producing the estimator as a witness. The Senate passed SB 138 but it did not receive a vote in the House Judiciary. SB 142 and SB 586 addressed service of process issues with vehicle accidents. SB 142, which passed, repeals the requirement that a person must make attempts to locate a Defendant before an insurance company must provide the Defendant’s last known address. The bill will make the litigation process less costly and more efficient. SB 586 would have allowed a Defendant to file suit directly on an insurance company as alternative service without leave of court if best efforts were unsuccessful in locating a Defendant. The Senate passed this legislation. Unfortunately the bill did not receive a vote in the House.
Senator Zirkin was proud to co-sponsor successful legislation in response to the horrors of the Westboro Baptist Church, which has made a practice of picketing funerals of fallen soldiers. In response to a horrible decision by the United States Supreme Court, the legislature acted to increase the barrier between any picketing and a funeral.
One of Senator Zirkin’s most significant achievements was the passage of legislation reducing the time a couple most remain legally separated before filing for a divorce. The current 2-year separation period if a divorce is not “voluntary and mutual’ was replaced with a 1-year separation period regardless of the voluntariness of one of the two parties. SB 139 reduces the burden, hardship, and expense of what are now long and drawn-out battles in domestic relations.
I am proud that we were able to secure $175,000 for a bond bill to aid Jewish Community Services (JCS) in the construction of a new facility. JCS provides area residents with career services, counseling, and prevention education. The expansion will occur at the Jewish Community Center’s Owings Mills campus, adding two stories to an existing building.
Senator Zirkin sponsored an amendment to a previous authorization for Stevenson University. The original bond bill provided for the renovation of the school’s Greenspring Campus gymnasium in order to house the School of Design. Since receiving the award, Stevenson has re-located a facility better suited for the School and the needs of the University. The facility is located adjacent to Stevenson’s Owings Mills campus, fitting into the University’s long-term plans for the redevelopment of the Rosewood campus.
Senator Zirkin sponsored a bill for the Maryland Defense Force, which meets locally at the Pikesville Armory. SB 346 allows the volunteers, who provide professional services to the Maryland National Guard, to qualify for a subtraction modification on their Maryland income tax returns