2013 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 431st Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly. I feel honored and privileged to have served the residents of District 11, Baltimore County for the past fifteen years. Unlike last year, the General Assembly was able to pass a budget in a timely manner. This gave us the ability to tackle tough issues such as firearm safety, the death penalty, and transportation infrastructure. In addition, my colleagues and I tackled other important issues in areas of job creation, public safety, civil procedure, family law, environmental protection, education, and health care. Your calls, e-mails, and letters have been essential in making decisions that truly represent the residents of District 11.
This year marked my third Session as a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. I enjoyed the opportunity to hear some of the more controversial bills and discuss significant legal issues. As one of the legislature’s few practicing attorneys, I try to bring a practical perspective to the work of this Committee. This year, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee considered issues such as public safety, medical marijuana, drunk driving, estates and trusts, criminal law and procedure, family law, civil procedure, and domestic violence. I have attached a synopsis of some of the major bills, and I encourage you to visit my website www.bobbyzirkin.com for more information or the General Assembly website http://mgaleg.maryland.gov .
It was a privilege to work with Delegates Morhaim, Cardin, and Stein during the past ninety days. I look forward to spending more time with my family 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.
Senator Zirkin’s work on the Judicial Proceedings Committee this session involved addressing deficiencies in our insurance laws. He sponsored Senate Bill 43, 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 43 passed in the Senate.
One of the many bills concerning family law was Senate Bill 503 which Senator Zirkin introduced. This bill would have allowed a couple to be considered living “separate and apart” while remaining in the same home as long as they maintain separate bedrooms. Often, parties wish to be divorced but cannot afford the combined costs of representation and maintaining separate households. This bill sought to ensure that divorce proceedings were not dragged out. While SB 503 passed the Senate, it did not receive a favorable vote in the House. As well, the Senate passed a bill, SB620, that would have denied paternity rights to a man that fathered a child during a sexual assault. Senator Zirkin was a cosponsor of this bill, but it did not receive a vote in the House.
The Judicial Proceedings committee looked at two additional bills sponsored by Senator Zirkin relating to the courts. Senate Bill 295 proposed that a circuit court judgeship be filled in the same manner as a vacancy on the Court of Appeals or Court of Special Appeals. This would include a gubernatorial appointment followed by a vote in the general election. If the people choose to retain that judge, the judge would be up for re-election after 10 years. The other bill, Senate Bill 294, would have established that voters registered as independents would be able to vote for a circuit court judge in the primary or a general election. Both bills did not move forward this session.
Public safety was an overlying theme in this year’s legislative session. Two pivotal bills that the Governor introduced were the Firearm Safety Act and the Death Penalty Repeal. The Firearm Safety Act requires that anyone purchasing a new handgun have a more extensive background check, receive firearm safety training, and be fingerprinted. This legislation also bans assault weapons and limits magazine capacity. By passing the Death Penalty Repeal, the State of Maryland has determined that it will place offenders in prison with absolutely no possibility of parole rather than seek death. Maryland is now the 18th state in the country to pass this kind of legislation.
During this session, Senator Zirkin introduced a bill that authorizes a court to impose an enhanced penalty on a person that commits a violent crime in the presence of a minor. It would be up to the judge’s discretion to add up to 5 years of jail time to a conviction if the crime occurred in the presence of a child. Domestic violence and child advocates lauded this legislation since studies have shown that children who witness violent crimes can be affected negatively. The Senate passed a bill sponsored by Senator Zirkin that would make it a misdemeanor and imposes penalties on persons that make threats against a deputy State’s Attorney, an assistant State’s Attorney, or an assistant Public Defender. Penalties for conviction of this crime include imprisonment up to three years and a maximum fine of $2,500.
In addition, Senator Zirkin cosponsored a bill which expands protections against harassment to include electronic communications known as cyberbullying. Both the Senate and the House passed bills intended to criminalize harassment via the use of social media such as Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other electronic bulletin boards.SB 1052/ HB 396, also known as “Grace’s Law,” makes it illegal to use a computer or computer network to harass a minor. A person that violates this bill will be charged with a misdemeanor and may be imprisoned for up to one year and/or a fined up to $500. Senator Zirkin also cosponsored a bill that prohibits human trafficking of a victim who is younger than 21 years old. The previous statute prohibited human trafficking for minors; this bill increases the age, therefore protecting many more individuals.
As many in District 11 already know, Columbia Gas has proposed to construct a parallel pipeline through Baltimore and Harford Counties. After learning of this pipeline and the tragedies that occur due to pipeline explosions, Senator Zirkin introduced numerous bills related to improving pipeline safety and protecting landowner’s rights. One of the pipeline bills, SB907, expanded the current safety regulations on pipelines. This legislation was modeled after many states whose pipeline safety regulations are more stringent than Maryland. The property rights bills included increased compensation in an eminent domain taking, restricted use of easements, and voiding an easement contract if that contract was made under threat or coercion. Of all the bills that were introduced, SB863 was passed which requested that the Public Service Commission begin the process of becoming an Interstate Authority Agent. By becoming an Interstate Authority Agent, Maryland would have more control over the inspection of interstate pipelines ensuring that the pipelines are safer.
Another large public utility bill which was passed at the beginning of the session was SB8, otherwise known as the STRIDE bill. This bill allows gas utility companies to recover costs and charge a surcharge for any projects related to gas infrastructure replacement. Senator Zirkin voted for this bill due to his concerns with gas pipeline safety and his knowledge of the need for new infrastructure.
For many years, Senator Zirkin has introduced legislation creating a partially elected school board. Once again, the Senator was disappointed that SB10 failed. The Baltimore County Senate Delegation chose not to give this give a favorable report and it did not move forward. He plans to continue to work on this issue and hopes that it will move forward next session.
Military Veterans Issues
One of Senator Zirkin’s constituents approached him last year with an issue. As the wife of a marine she has had to take time off from work multiple times in order to see her husband off for deployment and when he returned. She felt that it was vital for family members of active military to be granted leave separate from vacation or sick leave in order to see their loved ones off to war. Senator Zirkin agreed and introduced SB12, a bill that allows employees to take leave from work on the day that an immediate family member was leaving for, or returning from, active duty outside the United States. He is proud to say that this bill passed both chambers with ease.
In addition, the Senator co-sponsored SB103, a bill that would have modified the existing military retirement income tax credit by increasing the maximum amount of excluded income from $5,000 to $10,000. Another important bill for our veterans, SB273, the Veterans Employment Act, facilitates professional licensing for active military personnel, veterans, and their spouses through quicker issuances of licenses, registrations, and certificates.
Senator Zirkin has always been conscious of protecting our natural resources. For this reason, he introduced SB601, a bill that would have prohibited the Maryland Department of the Environment from issuing a permit for the hydraulic fracturing, “fracking,” of a well until all the studies to determine the riskiness of fracking were completed in the State. He also chose to co-sponsor SB514, a bill that would prohibit fracking in Maryland and SB513which would prohibit a company from disposing of the wastewater resulting from fracking in the State. Unfortunately, none of these bills received a favorable report.
One of the Governor’s priorities, SB275/HB226, the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 passed both the House and the Senate. Senator Zirkin was proud to sponsor this bill as it would bring more renewable energy to Maryland and decrease our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
This session, the Judicial Proceeding Committee favorably passed multiple bills regarding issues related to animals. One bill, which Senator Zirkin sponsored, authorizes a court to order a defendant convicted of animal cruelty offenses to pay all costs associated with the care of the animal. This would save the taxpayers thousands of dollars since local animal control shelters have been paying for the costs of care for any animals involved in animal cruelty cases. Another bill, which passed both the House and the Senate and awaits approval from the Governor, prohibits a person from using or allowing a dog to be used for baiting. This bill would provide some protection to dogs that are involuntarily used in the horrific practice of dog fighting.
Senator Zirkin cosponsored SB820’HB767 which would establish a spay/neuter fund within the Department of Agriculture. An additional fee would be charged to commercial feed vendors in order to finance this fund. The monies would be used to help reduce animal shelter overpopulation and euthanasia rates. SB160/HB78 was introduced in response to the Maryland Court of Appeals decision in the Tracey v. Solesky case which determined that “pit bulls” were inherently dangerous. These bills eliminated any breed specific connotation in law and established that in a personal injury case involving a dog bite, the owner is strictly liable for all bites, regardless of the breed, to a child. For all other bites there is a rebuttable presumption that the dog had a vicious propensity.
The Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 passed the General Assembly this session. The enactment of this bill will establish new revenues which will be used to repair and restore deficient bridges and roads in Maryland. A provision of this legislation establishes a “lockbox” which would ensure that the Transportation Fund is used only for transportation projects.
Senator Zirkin introduced four bills relating to transportation and civil procedure. SB891 would have altered the process of who could be served in a lawsuit in accident involving a motor vehicle and when the defendant has passed away. This bill would have allowed a victim to serve the insurance company of the defendant instead of opening an estate for the decedent. Another bill relating to the Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund would prohibit the Executive Director from adopting a regulation that denies uninsured motorist benefits to an individual younger than 16 solely because one of their family members owns an uninsured vehicle. Senator Zirkin introduced a bill that would allow for individuals who owe a judgment due to a vehicular case to have a restricted license as opposed to completely suspending the license. The other bill is vital to health as it would prohibit smoking in a car if children under the age of 8 are present. Studies have shown that smoking in cars with young children causes severe health problems in the children. Since children under 8 years should be in car seats, police would be able to identify adults who are putting these children at a health risk.
The General Assembly considered several bills on the medical use and possession of marijuana in the state of Maryland. Senator Zirkin introduced legislation that would change the maximum penalty of the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana to a civil offense with a fine of up to $100. Another bill introduced by Delegate Morhaim, would establish a Maryland Medical Marijuana Commission. This Commission would regulate all the stakeholders involved in beginning a medical marijuana program in the State. Finally, Senator Zirkin supported a bill that would protect caregivers who provide medical or physical care to persons using medical marijuana from being prosecuted for possession of marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia.
SB279 would improve Marylanders’ access to voting in numerous ways. Implementation of this bill will increase the number of early voting centers in certain counties and establish an eight-day early voting period in future elections. Another pivotal bill SB1039/HB1499 changes campaign finance in the State. This bill, passed by both chambers, will change the State’s campaign finance laws relating to contribution limits, legislative party caucus committees, among other issues.
Maryland once again progressed in establishing the Health Benefit Exchange to conform with the requirements in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. SB274/HB228, the Maryland Health Progress Act of 2013, was passed into law and expands Medicaid eligibility and establishes the funding stream for the Health Benefit Exchange. Another important bill, SB610 would establish an Overdose Response Program which would allow third party individuals access to naxolone – a known antidote to opiate overdose. This program would be similar to how epi-pens are distributed to individuals. With the implementation of this program, we hope to see a significant reduction in deaths related to overdose.