2016 End of Session Report
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 reached the end of the 436th 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 eighteen years. Your calls, e-mails and letters have been instrumental 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 is to pass a balanced budget while maintaining our priorities in education, public safety, healthcare, and protecting our natural resources. With a surplus of more than $400 million, the $42 billion budget passed the General Assembly with bipartisan support. We managed to cut the budget without jeopardizing essential services and our top rank in public education. My colleagues and I tackled tough issues such as funding our public schools, creating jobs and building infrastructure, addressing Maryland’s over-incarceration, modernizing divorce law, creating a pathway to expungement for non-violent offenses such as drug possession, and protecting our natural resources.
This Legislative Session marked my seventh as a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and my second as Chairman. Judicial Proceedings, or “JPR,” deals with issues including criminal law and procedure, civil law, family and juvenile law, estates and trusts, real estate, corporate law, transportation and vehicle law, and the like. I am truly honored to chair this committee that tackles some of the toughest issues in the State. 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 expungement, criminal justice reform, asset forfeiture, police reform, human trafficking, divorce reform, increasing penalties for drunk driving, and drug policy reform. The members of JPR worked extremely hard in a nonpartisan manner to address problems in our legal system. I have attached a synopsis of some of the major bills. I encourage you to visit my website www.BobbyZirkin.com for more information or the Maryland General Assembly website www.mgaleg.maryland.gov.
It was a pleasure working with Delegates Hettleman, Morhaim and Stein during the past ninety days. As we move into the interim, I look forward to spending more time with my family and returning to my law practice. Please do not hesitate to call my office if I may ever be of assistance. Thank you again for the honor and privilege of continuing to serve in the State Senate of Maryland.
Bobby A. Zirkin Senator District 11, Baltimore County
As Chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR), Senator Zirkin had the privilege of dealing with many important issues related to Maryland’s judicial system. Some of the more important bills this session dealt with policing and public safety reform, criminal sentencing reform, addressing prison recidivism, controlling state spending on prisons, expungement, drunk driving, asset forfeiture, and domestic violence.
During the interim, Senator Zirkin was a member of the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC). Bipartisan members of the legislature, public, and various stakeholders participated in the JRCC. Members included state’s attorneys, public defenders, attorneys, corrections officials, judges, and advocacy groups. The goal of the JRCC was to examine data and craft a framework of sentencing and corrections policies to safely reduce the number of inmates in Maryland prisons, control state spending on prisons, and reinvest those savings into more effective strategies to increase public safety and at the same time help prevent nonviolent offenders from returning to prison. The Senate and the House of Delegates worked to craft legislation that will safely reduce Maryland’s prison population and alter the way non-violent offenders are treated in the criminal justice system. SB 1005, The Justice Reinvestment Act, introduced by Senate President Miller was the product of the JRCC. This groundbreaking legislation eliminates mandatory minimums for drug crimes and permits ailing convicts 60 years of age or older to be granted probation if their health indicates they will not present a threat to the public.
The legislation also expands the number of crimes eligible for expungement. A person is authorized to file a petition listing relevant facts for expungement of a police, court, or other record if the person is convicted of specified non-violent misdemeanors. A petition for expungement may not be filed earlier than 10 years after the person satisfied the sentence or sentences imposed for all convictions for which expungement is requested, including parole, probation, or mandatory supervision. If the person is convicted of a new crime during the 10 year waiting period, the original conviction or convictions are not eligible for expungement unless the new conviction becomes eligible. A person is not eligible for expungement if the person is a defendant in a pending criminal proceeding or if one conviction in a unit is not eligible for expungement. In general, a person must file a petition for expungement in the court in which the proceeding began.
The legislation requires the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) to conduct an assessment regarding whether, by reason of drug or alcohol abuse, a defendant is in need of and may benefit from treatment. They must provide the name of a program immediately able to provide the recommended treatment to the defendant. DHMH must facilitate the immediate treatment of a defendant following a court order committing the defendant to substance abuse treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
SB 1005 contains provisions that would make technical violations of parole and probation an offense that would not result in a long prison sentence. This provision enables judges to sentence a technical violator to up to 15 days for a first offense, 30 days for a second offense and 45 days for a third offense. A fourth or subsequent offense could cause the offender to serve out the remainder of their original sentence. The bill contains a provision that would allow a judge to cancel parole or probation if they decide a technical violator presents a threat to the public based on their history of violence. SB 1005 ensures longer prison terms for violent offenders, such as 2nd degree murderers and child abusers who kill a child, who now face a 40 year sentence instead of a 30 year sentence. The Senate passed the bill 46-0 and the House passed it 122-19.
As a result of civil unrest in Baltimore in 2015, The Maryland General Assembly convened the Public Safety and Policing Workgroup over the interim to examine policing and public safety processes in the State. House Bill 1016, introduced by Speaker of the House Busch was a result of that workgroup. This bill passed the Senate 45-1 and the House of Delegates 90-49.
HB 1016 reconstitutes and renames the Police Training Commission (PTC) as an independent Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC) within the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS). The MPTSC retains the same powers and responsibilities as existed for the PTC and in addition has the powers and duties to require, for entrance level police training and at least every 2 years for in-service level police training conducted by the State and each county and municipal police training school, that the curriculum and minimum courses of study include special training, with attention to the application of antidiscrimination and use of force de-escalation training. Additionally, the MPTSC is tasked with adopting a set of best practices and standards for use of force. They will be required to evaluate and modernize recruitment standards and practices of law enforcement agencies to increase diversity within the departments and develop media strategies for recruiting women and minority candidates. MPTSC will also have to develop standards for the mandatory psychological evaluation of a police officer who has been involved in a traumatic incident or has returned from combat deployment. The MPTSC will also be required to develop an annual public report for each law enforcement agency’s serious officer-involved incidents; officers disciplined and how they were disciplined; a confidential hotline that is available to police personnel to contact and speak with a trained peer officer or mental health professional who can assist with counseling advice and referral to appropriate programs; a Police Complaint Mediation Program in which a nonviolent complaint made against an officer is referred to a voluntary mediation service if agreed to by the complainant; a community policing program in each jurisdiction; and a public complaint process in each jurisdiction that is uniform throughout the State.
The legislation also makes changes to the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR). Complainants are no longer required to have a complaint against a police officer alleging excessive force to be notarized. The complaint now will have to be signed by the complainant under the penalty of perjury. Complaints may now come from an individual with firsthand knowledge of an incident obtained from an unaltered video recording of the incident. The 90 day deadline for filing a complaint against an officer is now extended to 366 days. Officers now under investigation will have 5 business days to obtain an attorney for the internal investigation and disciplinary process instead of 10 days. Hearings must be open to the public unless the chief determines and provides notice that it should be closed to protect the identity or safety of a witness or undercover officer. Another provision in the bill requires each law enforcement agency to establish a confidential and non-punitive early intervention policy for counseling officers who receive three or more citizen complaints within a year. The bill also allows the chief to appoint a non-voting, trained member of the public, as a member of a hearing board. The legislation authorizes 2 nonvoting or voting, trained members of the public to be included on a hearing board under local law or a collective bargaining agreement.
The bill establishes a Community Program Fund as a special, non-lapsing fund administered by the Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. The purpose of the fund is to assist local law enforcement agencies in establishing community law enforcement programs and violence intervention programs. The fund consists of money appropriated in the State budget to fund, investment earnings of the fund, and money from any other source accepted for the benefit of the fund. The Governor must include in the annual budget bill an appropriation to the fund of $500,000. A community law enforcement program provides recreational or athletic opportunities for members of the community, improves relationships between citizens and law enforcement, and benefits or improves the community.
HB 1016 also includes important whistle blower protections. A supervisor, an appointing authority, or the head of a law enforcement agency is prohibited from taking, threatening to take, or refusing to take any personnel action as a retaliatory action against an officer who discloses specified information about a law enforcement officer involved incident.
The Maryland General Assembly took measures to hold drunk drivers accountable. SB 945 the Drunk Driving Reduction Act of 2016 or Noah’s Law, introduced by Senator Raskin is in the memory of Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta who was struck and killed in December by a suspected repeat drunk driver. SB 945 expands the use of ignition interlock devices for people convicted of drunk driving. Currently, interlock devices may be required on the cars of arrested drunk drivers who had a BAC of .15. SB 945 would expand the use of interlock devices to drunk drivers with a BAC of .08, the State’s legal limit for drunk driving. SB 945 requires the ignition interlock to be placed on the vehicles of certain motorists who refuse a police officer’s request to take a breath test for intoxication. The bill passed the House and Senate unanimously.
Senator Feldman introduced SB 564 known as Alex and Calvin’s Law. This legislation was in response to the drunk driving deaths of two recent high school graduates that were provided alcohol by a friend’s parent at a party. The legislation permits parents and other adults to be jailed for up to one year for providing alcohol to or hosting parties attended by those under the age of 21 who become impaired by alcohol and seriously injure themselves or others in driving from the event. First time offenders are subject to 1 year in jail and/or a fine of $5,000. A subsequent offender would be subject to 2 years in jail and/or a fine of $7,500. This bill passed the Senate 45-0 and the House 123-15.
The General Assembly also unanimously passed legislation to protect individuals who receive structured settlement payments from predatory businesses that offer to purchase these payments for pennies on the dollar. Attorney General Brian Frosh spearheaded this legislation, which was introduce by Senate President Miller. SB 734 strengthens judicial oversight of structured settlement transfers to ensure that purchasers do not take advantage of cognitively impaired recipients of structured settlement payments. The bill also codifies recent changes to the Maryland Rules that ensure that structured settlement transfer actions are brought in the circuit court for the county where the individual who holds the structured settlement resides, rather than in a court where the structured settlement purchaser is most likely to receive a favorable ruling. Finally, the bill requires businesses that purchase structured settlements to register with the Office of the Attorney General and makes these businesses subject to oversight and enforcement by the Attorney General.
Senate President Miller introduced SB 711 which seeks to protect Marylanders from erroneous debt collections. The legislation bars collection actions after the statute of limitations has run and specifies the documentation that a debt buyer must introduce in a collection action in small claims court in order to obtain a judgement against a consumer including: evidence of the agreement between the original creditor and the debtor; documents showing all charges and credits to the account since the charge-off; documents establishing the debt buyer’s ownership of the account; and any other documents required by Maryland rules. This bill passed both chambers.
Delegate Beidle introduced HB 525 which seeks to mediate disputes between auto-dealers and manufacturers. A manufacturer, distributor, or factory branch (collectively, “licensee”) may not prohibit a vehicle dealer from, or take any adverse action against a dealer for, providing to a customer information given to the dealer by a manufacturer related to any condition that may substantially affect motor vehicle safety, reliability, or performance. However, a dealer may provide the information only to a customer that has purchased the vehicle for which the information pertains from the dealer or that has had the vehicle for which the information pertains serviced by the dealer. A licensee may not deny a claim, reduce the amount of compensation to a dealer, or process a charge back to a dealer for performing covered warranty or required recall repairs on a vehicle under specified circumstances. The bill also provides that if a licensee issues a stop sale directive applicable to a used vehicle manufactured by the licensee to a dealer that holds a franchise from the licensee and there are no remedies or parts available to fix the motor vehicle, the licensee must compensate the dealer. This bill passed both chambers.
Delegate Smith introduced HBs 636 and 637 which creates an exception to the notice requirements under the Maryland Tort Claims Act and the Local Government Tort Claims Act. Both pieces of legislation provide that notice is not required if the defendant government has actual or constructive notice of the plaintiff’s injuries or the defect or circumstances giving rise to the plaintiff’s injury within 1 year after the injury occurred. Both of these bills passed both chambers.
Senator Hough introduced SB 161 which makes several changes to statutes pertaining to seizure and forfeiture of property in connection with violations of the State’s controlled dangerous substances (CDS) laws. The bill provides that only money or weapons used or intended to be used in connection with a felony CDS violation are subject to forfeiture. At the time of the seizure, the officer must provide a receipt to the person from whom the property was taken. The receipt must outline the description of the property, a case number and inventory number, the name and contact information of an individual or office that can provide information concerning the property, notice that the owner of the property may make a written request for the return of the property, and notice that within 60 days after receipt of the written request for return of the property the seizing authority will decide whether to return the property and notify the owner of the decision. The bill also authorizes the owner of the property to make a written request for return of the property. Within 60 days of the written request, the seizing authority must make a decision as to the disposition of the seized property and must notify the owner that they do not have custody of the property and must provide contact information for the agency that does; the seizing authority has custody and will file a complaint for forfeiture; the seizing authority has custody but is holding the property for evidentiary purposes; or the seizing authority has custody and will return it to the owner. The bill prohibits a seizing authority from transferring the property to a federal law enforcement agency except under limited circumstances. The seizing authority are also required to file an annual report regarding their seizures and forfeitures. Under the legislation, the Governor must appropriate 20% of the proceeds deposited into the State’s general fund from forfeited property to DHMH for the purpose of funding drug treatment and education programs. This bill passed the Senate 42-0 and the House 137-1.
Senator Lee introduced SB 278 which expands the definition of “stalking” under the State’s stalking statute to include a malicious course of conduct that includes approaching or pursuing another person where the person intends to cause or should have known that it would cause serious emotional distress to another person. This is punishable by imprisonment up to 5 years and/or a $5,000 fine. This bill passed both chambers unanimously.
Senator Ramirez introduced SB 346 which adds offenses of misuse of telephone facilities and equipment, misuse of electronic communication or interactive computer service, revenge porn, and visual surveillance to the offenses for which an individual may seek relief under provisions of a protective order. This bill passed both chambers unanimously.
Senator Zirkin introduced SB 359 which repeals a provision that prohibits a court from entering a decree of divorce on the uncorroborated testimony of the party seeking the divorce. It also authorized parties to jointly file a complaint to initiate divorce proceedings on the ground of mutual consent. Under this legislation, witnesses would no longer be needed to confirm a couple hasn’t lived together for a year when someone is seeking an uncontested divorce. SB 359 passed both chambers.
Delegate Morhaim introduced HB 990 which passed the Senate 40-6 and the House 115-18. This bill adds disability insurers to entities subject to the recovery of actual damages, expenses, litigation costs, and interest in first-party claims against insurers if the insurer failed to act in good faith. This bill applies to first-party claims made under individual disability insurance policies.
The Maryland General Assembly also took a serious look at environmental issues this session. Senator Pinsky introduced SB 323 The Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act. This legislation increases the State’s current greenhouse gas reduction goals to 40% by 2030. SB 323 passed the Senate 38-8 and the House 97-39 and was already signed by Governor Hogan. Senator Nathan-Pulliam introduced SB 198 the Pollinator Protection Act of 2016. This bill establishes specified restrictions, effective January 1, 2018, on the sale and use of neonicotinoid pesticides. Neonicotinoid pesticides would be permitted for use by farmers and veterinarians. Under the legislation, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is also required to take specified actions on completion of the US EPA’s pollinator risk assessment of four neonicotinoid pesticides and must incorporate practices into the State’s managed pollinator protection plan.
Senators Raskin and Zirkin introduced SB 361 The Hydraulic Fracturing Liability Act. The bill would make the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process discoverable as evidence and disclosable to local health departments, Maryland Department of Environment, and healthcare professionals. SB 361 voided any contractual waiver of a right to sue a permittee or liability for damages caused by the fracking activities of the permittee. The bill increases, from $300,000 to $1.0 million per person and from $500,000 to $5.0 million per occurrence, the required comprehensive general liability coverage for damages caused by the oil and gas company. The bill also increases, from $1.0 million to $10.0 million, the environmental pollution liability insurance coverage for bodily injury and property damage to persons and natural resource damages, including costs of cleanup and remediation, caused by the release of pollutants by the oil and gas company. The oil and gas company would also be required to maintain their insurance coverage for 6 years from the sealing and plugging of the well. SB 361 passed the full Senate 41-5 and was heard in the House Environment and Transportation Committee but never received a vote.
With the help and hard work of Delegates Hettleman, Morhaim and Stein, our District 11 team were able to gain funding for 5 important projects including funding of $16 million over 3 years for the cleanup and remediation of the Rosewood property. The first project is the construction of a gymnasium for the Jemicy School’s Lower and Middle School campus. The second project is the construction of an educational Native American Village at the Irvine Nature Center. The third project was for repairs and construction at the Jewish Community Center’s Gordon Center. The team also gained important funds for construction and repairs at the HopeWell Cancer Support Facility.
Senator Zirkin also wants to recognize Delegate Morhaim for his continued advocacy and hard work toward our State’s medical marijuana program; Delegate Stein for his hard work in strengthening Maryland’s Program Open Space; and Delegate Hettleman for her advocacy for the Maryland Corps Program which will provide great opportunities for our young Marylanders to grow.
District 11 has a long tradition of legislators working together for the benefits of our citizens. Senator Zirkin wants to specifically thank Delegates Hettleman, Morhaim and Stein for their incredible efforts during this past legislative session.