2012 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.
It has been an honor to serve the residents of District 11 for fourteen years in the Maryland General Assembly. The 430th Session of Maryland’s Legislature just adjourned Sine Die. We faced many challenges this year as we continued to deal with the reality of long-term structural deficits. In addition, my colleagues and I tackled important issues in areas of job creation, public safety, civil procedure, family law, environmental protection, education, and health care.
By now you may have heard that while the General Assembly passed a budget as constitutionally required, it did not pass accompanying legislation and our state spending plan will revert to the “doomsday budget.” Intransigence in both chambers led to this outcome and it seems likely that a special session will be called. This Session, I voted against the income tax increase proposal. I believe that there are a number of cuts in our budget that could be taken without affecting needed services and areas like education, healthcare, and public safety. That being said, the cuts proposed in the ‘doomsday budget’ will be painful for many and are cuts that I believe are not the appropriate ones.
This Session I continued to serve on the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where we considered issues such as public safety, medical marijuana, drunk driving, estates and trusts, criminal law and procedure, family law, civil procedure, same-sex marriage, and domestic violence. I have attached a synopsis of some of the major bills, and I encourage you to contact my office for more information on any legislation.
It was a privilege to work with Delegates Morhaim, Cardin, and Stein during the past 90 days. I look forward to spending more time with my wife Tina and daughters Sophie and Emma, and returning to my law practice in Owings Mills. Please do not hesitate to call my office if I may ever be of assistance. Thank you again for the honor and privilege of serving as your State Senator.
Bobby A. Zirkin
Budget and Taxes
The budget the General Assembly passed this session contains a number of contingent cuts that will occur should no additional revenue measures be enacted during a possible special session. Some of these cuts include eliminating 500 state jobs, reducing the per pupil funding amount by $111, reducing agency operating expenses 8% across the board, and reducing funds for public higher education and community colleges.
Senate leadership sought to leverage these possible cuts as a means of building support for Senate Bill 523, which would have raised income taxes on virtually every Marylander. Senator Zirkin voted against raising the income tax and while it passed the Senate, it died in Conference Committee. He strongly believes that taxes should be the last resort, not the first. There were a number of items that could have been cut from the budget rather than taxing Marylanders in a fragile economy. While Senator Zirkin does not question the merits of certain industries or projects, he believes that certain state spending could be cut in lieu of raising taxes on Maryland families. For example, $130 million goes to the horse racing industry annually and the state budget also allotted $119 million to planning for mass transit lines. Projects such as the “red line” or “purple line” will not come to fruition for decades. Additionally, auditors have found $60 million in wasted spending in areas such as Medicaid over the past 3 years- $20 million per year. In this economy, the State should be tightening its belt like families all across Maryland. Again, taxes should be the last resort, not the first.
SB 792 passed this session establishes a Linked Deposit Program to provide financial support to small businesses by giving them specialized access to lower-than-market interest rate loans. This program creates affordable borrowing opportunities for Maryland’s small business community and gives these businesses vital relief during these difficult economic times. SB 447 extends the Job Creation Tax Credit and extends the lifetime of the tax credit to help encourage job creation in Maryland. SB 167 extends the tax credit for qualifying employers who hire employees with disabilities.
Public school construction continues to be a top priority for the legislature. This year, the capital budget contains the second largest investment in school construction in Maryland’s history, providing $351 million in investments across the state. Teacher pension shifts continue to be a hotly debated topic but as of yet remain unchanged due to the failure of the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act to pass.
Senator Zirkin is very disappointed that a bill that would have created a partially-elected Baltimore County school board died in the last hour of session. Senator Zirkin has introduced similar legislation for the past several years, and this session was the first time a hybrid bill had passed both the House and the Senate. House Bill 481 was waiting for a simple concurrence vote in the last moments of session and this bill would have become law. County administration, in a departure from the usual deference shown to the legislative delegations, lobbied the standing committees against the wishes of the house and senate delegations to defeat the bill. This delay was critical and ultimately resulted in the failure of a very hard-fought bill that would have brought accountability, diversity, and transparency to the board. Ninety-six percent of the nation lives under an elected or partially-elected school board and 20 of Maryland’s 24 counties have elections as well. Citizens of Baltimore County continue to be denied the democratic right to vote and participate in the selection of this critical board.
The General Assembly considered a number of public safety bills this session. As a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Senator Zirkin worked on many of these bills both in committee and on the floor. He cosponsored Senate Bill 175, which expands protections against harassment to include electronic communications. Whereas the prohibition against electronic harassment previously had only included email, this bill expands the definition so a person cannot harass someone via Facebook or other social media sites. Senator Zirkin also cosponsored SB 612 which would have elevated the crime of strangulation to a first degree assault. Of female victims of domestic violence, up to 68% have experienced at least one strangulation assault by a male partner. Passage of this bill would have given prosecutors an important tool in preventing domestic abusers from causing further harm. A person convicted of a first degree assault is guilty of a felony and subject to imprisonment for up to 25 years. The bill did not receive a vote in House Judiciary. Adding to the anti-human trafficking legislation passed last year, Senator Zirkin cosponsored SB 352, which requires owners of bus stations or trucks stops in Maryland to post signs with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline information.
SB 63 would have created a criminal penalty for a mandatory reporter with actual and direct knowledge of serious abuse or sex abuse of a minor to knowingly and willfully fail to make a report of that abuse. The bill crossed over too late in the session for consideration by the House.
This session, Senator Zirkin served as the floor leader on SB 559 which would have banned smoking in a vehicle containing a child who is under the age of 8 years. Floor leaders are responsible for presenting the bill from committee to the entire floor, advocating for it, and serving as the point-person for Senators who have questions on the bill. Several studies show that the concentration of secondhand smoke in a car can exceed the concentration of secondhand smoke in a home by up to 100 times- even if the windows are rolled down. The bill would have protected children who have no choice but to inhale these toxins and established a fine of up to $50 for a violation. The bill did not receive a vote in the House Environmental Matters Committee.
Finally, many of you have heard about the tragic loss of Deanna Green, a 16-year old girl whose life ended when she came into contact with an electrified fence during a softball game. SB 929 requires all utility companies in the future to survey public parks and playgrounds, streetlights, and traffic signals to determine whether or not faulty electric distribution has caused objects to become electrified. While the amended bill is not as strong as the original language, which would have required all objects and surfaces capable of conducting electricity to be surveyed, it does enforce regulations established by the Public Service Commission this past summer. Senator Zirkin congratulates Deanna’s courageous parents who continue to press for important changes in the law.
Last session, Senator Zirkin introduced and the General Assembly passed legislation that reduces the amount of time married couples must spend living separate and apart before a judge can grant an absolute divorce. This session, he introduced SB 334, which would have allowed a couple to be considered living “separate and apart” while living in the same residence as long as they maintain separate lives. Divorce should never be dragged out, but that is often the case when one or both parties cannot afford to maintain a separate household. While SB 334 passed the Senate, it did not receive a vote in House Judiciary.
Senator Zirkin again cosponsored legislation allowing a same-sex couple to marry in the state of Maryland. Its long-awaited passage is a tremendous civil rights victory and places same-sex couples and their families on equal legal footing as heterosexual couples. The bill does not go into effect until January 1st 2013, at which point it will most likely have been vetted in a referendum during the 2012 general election.
Many of you may have heard about the “Pit 7” case, where 7 pit bulls were held at Baltimore County Animal Control for almost 2 years while the criminal case against the owner proceeded. Baltimore County tax payers bore the costs of housing, feeding, and treating these animals- totaling $78,000- while the owner, who was convicted of dog fighting charges, left sentencing without paying a single penny for their care. Senate Bill 203 would have allowed a judge the discretion to order a convicted animal abuser to pay back the costs of care for the abused animals. The bill, which received unanimous support in the Senate, did not receive a vote in House Judiciary.
The Baltimore County Senate Delegation sponsored SB 48, which is a constitutional amendment that will require all Baltimore County Orphans’ Court judges to be members of the Maryland Bar and in good standing. Our county is fortunate to have all lawyers on the bench, but were a non-lawyer to be elected, the court would become severely backlogged as non-lawyers cannot act independently. This issue will be on the ballot in November for voter approval.
Part of Senator Zirkin’s work on the Judicial Proceedings Committee this session involved addressing deficiencies in our insurance laws. He sponsored SB 80, which would have allowed a vehicle repair estimate to be submitted as evidence in court. Currently, in auto accident cases, plaintiffs are at a disadvantage as they have to subpoena the mechanic that wrote an estimate if they wish those costs to be considered in their case. This bill would have allowed the written estimate to be submitted without the testimony of the preparer. SB 82, which the Senator sponsored and the General Assembly passed, corrects an oversight from a 2010 law that raises the minimum coverage amounts that automobile liability insurance policies must offer in the event of injury or death. This year’s legislation applies the new minimum to policies offered under the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, which had been left out of the 2010 bill.
A bill that would have provided greater protections for patients who use marijuana medicinally died in the House. SB 995 would have created a mechanism by which doctors could provide patients with a written certification preventing patients from being subject to arrest, citation, prosecution, or civil or administrative penalty. However, a companion bill on the topic, championed by Delegate Dan Morhaim, did become law.
SB 422 overturns a Maryland Court of Appeals decision, DeWolfe v Richmond, which held that under the Maryland Public Defender Act, an indigent defendant must have representation at all stages of a legal proceeding. This decision threatened to overwhelm the already cash-strapped Office of the Public Defender (OPD). Under the compromise legislation, OPD will be required to provide representation at all bail hearings but not at the defendant’s initial appearance before a District Court commissioner. Any statement made by the defendant during the initial appearance cannot be used as evidence against the defendant and the new law mandates new citation offenses for smaller crimes.
Service Members, Veterans and their Families
Senator Zirkin introduced SB 1028 after a constituent contacted his office, frustrated that she would be penalized at work for taking off to greet her husband at the airport from an overseas military deployment. SB 1028 would have allowed an immediate family member to take leave from work without having to use accrued annual or sick leave. When our servicemen and women return home, they deserve a hero’s welcome, and that welcome should include being greeted by the ones they left behind to protect the rest of us. While the bill did not make it out of the Senate Finance Committee this session, Senator Zirkin plans to reintroduce the bill next year. Senator Zirkin also cosponsored SB 276, which gives veterans a notation on their driver’s licenses of their veteran status. This designation will facilitate veterans accessing state programs and allow merchants to more easily apply veteran discounts. Senator Zirkin also supported the Veterans’ Caucus recommendation for a Task Force to look at alternative venues in the Court system for veterans.
As required by the Affordable Care Act, Maryland is in the process of creating a Health Benefit Exchange that will allow Marylanders to compare rates, benefits, and quality among health insurance plans. The Maryland Health Benefit Exchange Act of 2012 expands on legislation passed last session, adding exchanges for small businesses and adding dental and vision plans to the exchange. The exchanges will become fully operational by the 2014 federal deadline.
Senator Zirkin cosponsored SB 179, the Kathleen A. Mathias Chemotherapy Parity Act of 2012. Named in honor of Senator Jim Mathias’ wife who battled breast cancer for many years before passing away in 2011, the bill requires health care insurers to provide equal coverage to chemotherapy administered intravenously, by injection, or in pill form. Health insurance companies had widely categorized oral chemotherapy as a prescription drug subject to annual limits that were highly problematic for cancer patients who cannot take IV treatments.
Senate Bill 404, which the Senator cosponsored, would have provided a sales tax exemption for the purchase of wheelchair lifts or stairlifts used in the home. This exemption would have added this equipment to a number of health care products currently exempted from the sales tax. The bill did not receive a vote in the House Ways & Means Committee.
The legislature considered several pieces of legislation this session that seek to protect our natural resources and provide clean sources of energy. SB 236 requires counties to adopt growth-tier designations to determine which developments would be eligible for septic use. This amended bill is not as strong as originally introduced, as the state has no enforcement power under the enrolled legislation. Baltimore County is not affected by the legislation. HB 446 increases the flush tax from $2.50 per month to $5 per month, with the funds directed to the Bay Restoration Fund. The governor’s wind legislation came close to passage this year, and would have incentivized developers to establish wind farms 10 miles off of Maryland’s coast.
Senator Zirkin sponsored two bond bills this session, which will provide greater recreational opportunities for Baltimore County families and students. Under SB 480, Robert E. Lee Park will receive a new natural playground- a project that has long been in the planning process but lacking the construction funds. In addition, SB 719 provides an important funding piece for the Owings Mills High School stadium project so that students and their families have a venue to enjoy school sporting events. The transfer of the Rosewood Campus to Stevenson University is still underway, and will ultimately provide District 11 with a tremendous community asset. Senator Zirkin believes that the transfer of Rosewood to Stevenson will help continue the incredible growth of Owings Mills as a college-town. The process of cleaning up Rosewood from decades of environmental contamination is soon to begin. From there, the transformation of the abandoned 300 plus acres to ball fields, community and student amenities, and a new School of Education can begin.