2015 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 come to the end of the 435th 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 seventeen 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 new administration and limited revenue, we managed to cut the budget and reduce our structural deficit without jeopardizing essential services and our top rank in public education. We were able to do this without raising taxes. This budget passed with bipartisan support and closed Maryland’s structural deficit by 69%. My colleagues and I tackled tough issues such as funding our public schools, creating jobs and building infrastructure, protecting healthcare for low-income Marylanders, addressing Maryland’s heroin epidemic, reforming Maryland’s charter school program, addressing climate change, and reforming the watershed protection and restoration programs.
This Legislative Session marked my sixth as a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and my first 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 have been given this incredible opportunity. 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 marijuana reform, protecting our children from abusive homes, protecting victims of human trafficking, retirement age for judges, body cameras for police, divorce reform, increasing penalties for drunk driving, and expungement of crimes that are no longer a crime. 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 to work with Delegates Morhaim, Stein and Hettleman 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 serving as your State Senator.
Bobby A. Zirkin
District 11, Baltimore County
As Chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Senator Zirkin had the privilege of dealing with many important issues that related to Maryland’s judiciary system. Some of the more important bills this session dealt with police body cameras, marijuana reform, domestic violence, hydraulic fracturing liability, divorce reform, the maintenance of DNA kits, State and Local Government Tort Claims Act, foster care protections, shielding of public records, and expungement.
The General Assembly passed legislation which deals with the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) by law enforcement officers. The bill requires the Maryland Police Training Commission to develop and publish a policy for the use of BWCs by police officers on or before January 1, 2016. The policies will include when recording is mandatory, when recording is prohibited, when recording is discretionary, when recording may require the consent of the person being recorded, when a recording may be ended, providing notice of being recorded, consequences for violations of the agency’s BWC policy, and notification requirements when another individual becomes a party to the communication following the initial notification. This commission will consist of a member from the Senate, House of Delegates, the Secretary of State Police, Office of the Attorney General, Office of the Public Defender, Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, Maryland Fraternal Order of Police, ACLU, NAACP, Maryland Sheriff’s Association, Maryland Chiefs of Police, and CASA de Maryland. The commission will also have representation from each of the five major local law enforcement agencies in the State, a representative from a law enforcement agency that currently utilizes body cameras, three representatives of the general public and two experts on BWCs. The use of body cameras by police officers will serve to protect both the public and the police officers and will enhance reliability and credibility in our systems of public safety.
In 2014, the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission was enacted into law and the decriminalization of de minimis quantities of marijuana was approved by the Maryland General Assembly. This year, JPR and the General Assembly passed further marijuana reforms. Senator Zirkin introduced SB 456 which would require the court to dismiss criminal charges for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia if the court finds that a person used or possessed marijuana or marijuana paraphernalia because of a medical necessity. Senator Zirkin also introduced SB 517 which makes the smoking of marijuana in a public place a civil offense punishable by a fine not exceeding $500. The bill repeals the criminal prohibition on possession of marijuana paraphernalia and eliminates any penalty. Both SB 456 and 517 were passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly and will go to the Governor’s desk to be signed.
Several of JPR’s bills this session dealt with protecting victims of domestic violence. Legislation was passed that expands the circumstances under which a court may issue a final protective order with a maximum duration of two years. The bill authorizes a court to do so if a final protective order was issued by consent of the respondent within one year after the expiration date of a prior final protective order issued against the same respondent on behalf of the same person eligible for relief. The previous final protective order must have been issued for a period of at least six months to apply. The court may also extend the term of the final protective order for a maximum of two years if the respondent named in the protective order consents to the extension. Other legislation was passed that grants the court the right to include any additional relief necessary when issuing a protective order to protect a person from abuse and to file a protective order if the domestic abuse occurred out of state and the person eligible for relief is a resident of the State. Important legislation was also passed that expands the court’s requirements to issue a permanent final protective order. This legislation includes being convicted of conspiracy or solicitation to commit murder as a reason to issue the permanent final protective order.
Senator Zirkin introduced legislation which would hold companies strictly liable for any injury death, or property loss caused by fracking. Senator Zirkin has been clear that he believes Maryland should not permit fracking due to the serious threats fracking poses to public health and the environment. The bill declared that chemicals used in fracking are not trade secrets by definition and any provision of any land lease that waives or diminishes an individual’s right to sue would be null and void. The bill also closed legal loopholes that the oil and gas industry seek to exploit when they cause injury or damage. The bill would have required any company partaking in gas or oil shale drilling to obtain liability insurance. Companies would be required to keep no less than a $1,000,000 liability policy for each person and a $5,000,000 policy for each accident to pay for damages to a person or their property. They would also be required to obtain an environmental pollution liability insurance policy of no less than $10,000,000 to cover damages to natural resources, cleanup and remediation of the pollutants. The industry would be required to maintain these insurance policies for six years after the gas or oil well had been sealed and plugged or the drilling site had been reclaimed. Most importantly, the bill would have held the fracking industry strictly liable for all damage done by the industry. This bill was passed by JPR and the full Senate but unfortunately did not receive a vote in the House Environment and Transportation Committee. Holding the oil and gas industry responsible for damage caused by their actions will continue to be one of Senator Zirkin’s top priorities and he has called on the House of Delegates to do the right thing on this issue for the people of Maryland.
Legislation was passed that requires an agency who is investigating a crime, upon written request, to give the victim, or the victim’s representative, timely notice as to whether or not DNA was obtained from the crime scene. Victims would also have the option to be notified if the DNA from the crime scene is put into a DNA database. They can also be notified about a hit report if the DNA matches someone who has a profile on the database.
This session, there were major changes made to the State and Local Government Tort Claims Act. Legislation was passed to raise the amount local governments can be held liable for on an individual claim from $200,000 to $400,000. The limit was raised for total claims from the same occurrence that local governments can be held liable for from $400,000 to $800,000. The State of Maryland can now be held liable for up to $400,000 to a single claimant for injuries arising from a single incident or occurrence, up from $200,000 under the current law. The six month notice provision in the law has been raised to a year. Senator Zirkin believes that raising these caps is a step in the right direction for injured parties across the state.
JPR passed legislation this session that required the Department of Human Resources to serve in a fiduciary capacity for children in its custody. The bill also established requirements for the management and use of specified benefits, assets, and resources of children in DHR’s custody. Legislation was also passed out of JPR that established the Office of the Child Welfare Ombudsman Pilot Program in the Office of the Attorney General. The purpose of the pilot program was to authorize the office to investigate and determine whether the needs of children and families under the jurisdiction of the local departments are being met in compliance with State law; the rights of children and families are being upheld; and the Children are being protected from abuse and neglect. Both of these bills were killed in the House of Delegates, but the senate sponsors are certain to bring them back next session. Legislation was passed that gives authorities more power to keep children out of potentially dangerous homes by expanding the instances in which social workers would not be required to try to reunite the parent and the child.
The General Assembly passed the Maryland Second Chance Act, which allows individuals with limited convictions, like driving on a suspended license, to request a once in a lifetime shielding of their criminal records. The request would be granted by a judge for good cause. The legislature also passed legislation that allows for expungement of criminal records for crimes that are no longer crimes. For example, the bill would allow for the expungement of the crime of possession of less than ten grams of marijuana which was decriminalized in 2014 and is now a civil offense. Legislation passed the Senate and House that repeals a section of the law that prohibits expungement of criminal records if the expungement request was based on certain case dispositions like a nolle prosequi or when the person had been charged or convicted of a subsequent crime. The Judicial Proceedings Committee has started to take steps to permit individuals with minor, non-violent offenses to clean their records in order to assist the individuals in becoming a productive member of society.
Senator Zirkin introduced legislation that requires in a civil proceeding, with the written request of the plaintiff, an insurer to provide the plaintiff with the defendant’s last known home and business address, if they are available. He also introduced legislation that would reduce the amount of information that a claimant must provide to an insurance company before the insurance company is required to disclose the applicable limits of an insurance policy. Both of these bills were passed by the General Assembly.
Senator Zirkin sponsored a bill that allows parties to receive an absolute divorce on the grounds of mutual consent. In order for this to be granted, parties would have to submit an agreement to the court that resolves all issues relating to alimony, distribution of property, and all outstanding issues. This bill was amended in the House to only apply to couples that do not have dependent children. The amended bill was passed the General Assembly and will go to the Governor for his signature. This important bill continues the process of reforming our arcane divorce laws and represents an important step forward.
Senator Zirkin’s top priority has always been ensuring the success of students in Maryland. This legislative session, he sponsored many bills that would help protect our successful students. Senator Zirkin was a cosponsor of legislation which would allow Baltimore County legislators to review decisions made by Baltimore County Public Schools regarding the status of magnet programs in Baltimore County. This legislation was unfortunately given an unfavorable report in the senate committee.
Another hot topic faced by the General Assembly was the issue of charter schools. Governor Hogan had proposed that the State Board of Education dedicate funds to charter schools. The final legislation passed by both chambers gives charter schools the opportunity to expand, while keeping proper policy safeguards in place. Some changes made through this legislation include targeting of the student population, having the Boards of Education more involved with these schools, and helping these schools become more innovative.
Senator Zirkin worked with his colleagues in both the House and Senate Baltimore County Delegations to ensure funding for our Baltimore County Public Schools. Baltimore County has an aging school infrastructure and we must work together to ensure its success.
Senator Zirkin cosponsored legislation that took action to recognize and commemorate veterans of the Vietnam War. The legislation which passed marks March 30th as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” in Maryland.
Maryland’s tax credit for military retirement income is one of the lowest. Senator Zirkin supported legislation that will double this exemption from $5,000 to $10,000 for all veterans over the age of 65. This legislation passed the General Assembly overwhelmingly. Legislation was also passed which requires the Motor Vehicle Administration to establish a program to assist veterans and members of the military who are transitioning out of military service to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
Environmental issues such as fracking, the phosphorous management tool, and storm water remediation were important topics this session. In addition to the aforementioned fracking liability legislation, Senator Zirkin cosponsored legislation which would have banned hydraulic fracturing in Maryland. Unfortunately, this bill was never brought to a vote in its respective senate committee. However, legislation was passed that allows the State to create regulations regarding fracking by October 2016 but those regulations cannot be implemented until after October 2017 creating a de-facto moratorium for two years.
This session, the General Assembly tackled a review of the storm water management fee, or the “rain tax” as it is sometimes referred. Senate President Miller introduced a bill that would repeal the requirement of counties to collect this runoff fee. However, the bill required counties to cover the costs of bay cleanup and they must show how they plan to pay for it. The local governments’ plans must be approved by the Department of Environment or local governments could lose state funds. There is also a state and federal matching grant provision and failing to comply could allow the Environmental Protection Agency to deny MS4 building permits. The legislation also provides exemptions for veterans and charitable organization, and allows bay restoration money be used in hardship cases for any property owner. This legislation was passed by the General Assembly.
Confronting Maryland’s Heroin Epidemic:
The General Assembly was tasked with some very important pieces of legislation regarding the State’s heroin crisis. While Governor Hogan appointed Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford to lead a task force that would look into the epidemic, there were key pieces of legislation about the crisis that were introduced as well. Legislation was passed that establishes the Maryland Opioid Abuse Disorder Consortium. This group, consisting of ten legislators, will seek input from across the state in order to help fight the heroin epidemic and then develop a plan to address the epidemic in various key areas. Legislation was also passed that provides immunity for a health care professional who provides emergency services to someone who is suffering from a drug overdose. Clearly, more must be done on this important issue.
In 2014, the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Marijuana Commission was approved by the Maryland General Assembly. Regulations for this commission were proposed in the January 23rd edition of the Maryland Register, and no final action has been taken on the commission as of yet. This commission will approve the right of qualified doctors to prescribe medicinal marijuana and oversees marijuana growers and dispensaries where patients can go to receive the drug. The commission will also oversee the patients, making sure that they are properly identified and that they are receiving proper treatment. In order to receive medical marijuana, a patient must have an illness or disease that results in hospice care, cachexia, anorexia, wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, or muscle spasms.
Legislation was passed which will make both technical and substantive changes to the commission. These changes include changing “medical marijuana” to “medical cannabis,” as well as other technical changes. Physicians who administer prescriptions for medical marijuana would now have to register with the commission, as well as hold a State Controlled Dangerous Substance license in order to prescribe the drug. They would also be required to complete a full medical evaluation on each patient who is considered qualified to receive medical cannabis. In its totality, this year’s legislation sought to remove some pre-existing barriers to getting the medicinal cannabis program off the ground. Barriers such as those put on physicians were removed to ease what is hoped to be a program that begins next year.
With the help and hard work of Delegates Morhaim, Stein, and Hettleman, Senator Zirkin was able to gain funding for three special projects in District 11. The first project is the construction of the Lake Roland Education Center at Robert E. Lee Park. Through collaborative efforts with Delegate Morhaim, we have secured $200,000 in order to complete this project. The second project is the construction of new living facilities for the Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company, which will receive $250,000 from the State thanks to efforts from Delegate Stein and Senator Zirkin. Delegate Hettleman and Senator Zirkin were also able to secure $65,000 for the renovation of the Gilead House in our District.
Senator Zirkin also wants to recognize Delegate Morhaim for his leadership on issues such as medical cannabis and banning products containing plastic microbeads in Maryland; Delegate Stein who was appointed as Vice-Chairman of the House Environment and Transportation Committee and for his vision to create the Commission on Climate Change in the Maryland Department of the Environment; and Delegate Hettleman on her work addressing sexual assaults on our state’s college and university campuses.
District 11 has a long tradition of legislators working together for the benefits of our citizens. Senator Zirkin wants to specifically thank Delegates Morhaim, Stein, and Hettleman for their incredible efforts during this past legislative session.