August Special Session Wrap Up

The General Assembly reconvened briefly this week to consider proposals to allow table games in Maryland, allow a sixth gaming site in Prince George’s County, and correct the Court of Appeals ruling establishing strict liability for pit bulls.  In sum, both gaming questions will appear on the November ballot for voters statewide to decide, but the pit bull ruling remains intact, with continued unfairness and uncertainty for dog owners and their landlords.

Gaming Expansion

As a member of the House committee of jurisdiction of this issue, I participated in weeks of hearings this year and carefully considered the arguments on both sides of the proposed gaming expansion.  I have a libertarian perspective on this issue: I believe we as legislators should not withhold the choice of the public, but we must make sure it is gone about fairly and effectively.  During this debate, I did all I could to make sure a fair, cautious, balanced proposal will be put before the voters in November, and to create a fair, sustainable, forward-looking business climate that is in the best interest of the state as a whole.  And, as chairman of the House Election Law Subcommittee, I introduced four amendments limiting political contributions and mandating financial disclosures of gaming interests which were ultimately adopted.

The legislation granted a reduction of the tax on gaming machines (“slots”) in exchange for the facility purchasing the machines from the state.  (Until now, the state owned and taxed each machine.)  This shift in responsibility will save the state $59 million.  According to the governor, if approved by the voters, the bill will lead to the creation of 2,300 permanent jobs and raise $200 million a year for education when fully implemented.

I was persuaded that it is likely in the best interest of the state to allow the industry to compete with neighboring states for wealthier, more sophisticated clients.  Allowing table games has the potential to do this, and meanwhile strengthen an industry which appears to be struggling to establish itself at this time.  Neighboring states already allow table games.

Similarly, as we have already decided to allow gaming in Maryland, it is in the best interest of the state to do so at locations with the best potential to compete with our neighbors with minimal impact to vulnerable residential areas.  It seemed unfair to allow a sixth site at this time when voters have already spoken to allow only five and massive investments have been made in our state based on that status quo.  However, with this in mind, we were able to craft legislation that provides fairness for all parties as we slowly expand and strengthen the industry – if ultimately approved by the public this November.  The bill passed 32-14 in the Senate, and 71-58 in the House of Delegates.

It has taken a few years to get to this point, but I believe this legislation gives our state its best chance at fostering a competitive, sustainable, optimally revenue-drawing industry.  This fall, it will be up to the voters of Maryland to decide whether this is the direction we want to go at this time.  You can view the most recent version of the bill by clicking “SENATE BILL 1” here.  With this issue behind the legislature, we can return to the important business of promoting the health and welfare of Marylanders and our environment.

Pit Bull Liability

I am extremely disappointed the Senate did not pass legislation to correct the recent pit bull ruling.  Maryland’s highest court declared pit bulls “inherently dangerous,” holding dog owners and third-party property owners strictly liable for a pit bull’s malfeasance on the property.   Maryland is now the only state in the country to hold owners and landlords of just one breed strictly liable for injuries caused by their pets.

The House crafted a detailed, fair bill that promoted public safety, protected third parties (such as landlords) from liability for another’s dog, and treated all dog breeds equally while holding all dog owners responsible for a dog’s misbehavior under certain circumstances.  Unfortunately, the Senate was unwilling to reconvene to pass this well-tailored bill or go to conference committee to iron out the differences.  I can’t stress enough how disappointed I am that we did not at least eliminate third-party landlord liability.

I continue to fight to remedy this misguided court ruling.  I am relieved the attorney general has decided not to enforce the ruling while an insurance company asks the court to reconsider it.  Hopefully this will reduce the number of landlords evicting tenants through no wrongdoing of their own, buying us time to pass legislation once and for all in January.  Nonetheless, I remain incredibly disappointed we did not take care of this now when given the opportunity.  Pit bull families are already being separated as a result of this ruling, forced to leave their homes due to a landlord’s fear of potential liability.  Meanwhile, our animal shelters are already overcrowded.

Maryland DNA Case in the U.S. Supreme Court

Earlier this year, Maryland’s highest court held that collection of DNA samples (cheek swab) from people arrested but not yet convicted violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.  Recently, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. stayed that ruling, allowing our law enforcement officers to continue the practice while the Supreme Court decides whether to hear Maryland’s appeal of the decision.  I think the Supreme Court will take up this case due to the serious privacy issues at stake and lingering disagreement among state and federal courts.  Currently, 24 states and the federal government have laws allowing DNA sampling before conviction.  I am glad the chief justice decided to allow our police to continue collecting DNA while the case is on appeal.  I predict a final determination by the Supreme Court early next year.  I hope the Court establishes guidelines allowing for this important law enforcement tool to continue.

Summer Activities

It has been a wonderful summer, my daughter’s first.  I’ve also been very busy traveling and speaking to various organizations about tax policy and ongoing election law reform efforts.  I will continue to use my platform to speak out in favor of campaign finance reform, and against voter suppression tactics disguised as overly burdensome voter ID requirements: a “solution” in search of a problem, which undermines core values of our democracy.

It was an honor to speak at the National Conference of State Legislators in Chicago earlier this month, and the Maryland Association of Counties convention this week.  I also want to thank those of you who were able to attend my reception in Ocean City.  For those of you unable to make it, I appreciate your feedback and support.  As always, it is a privilege to serve our state and the 11th District.  Best wishes for an enjoyable conclusion to the summer!