Lawmakers mostly pleased with 2016 session results

Twelve hours after the 2016 Maryland Legislative Session ended, with confetti and celebrations, Delegate Carl Anderton was eager to get home.

“I can’t wait to see my wife and my kids. I can’t wait for 3rd Friday so I can see people and start high-fivin’ again, or just walk around Wal-Mart. I miss everybody,” he said.

He’s coming home satisfied after a successful three months, better than last year, said Anderton, a relative newcomer finishing his second term.

His colleague, veteran state Sen. Jim Mathias, said he’s “very pleased” with the 2016 session that started in January.

“The greatest success of them all is continuing to grow the relationships we have, in the Senate, in the House, with the governor. The governor invited me the other day to the Orioles game. We had the opportunity to talk about things, to relax. Developing and continuing to strengthen those relationships allows other things to happen,” Mathias said.

A bill passed to allow Wicomico County residents to choose, by referendum vote, how school board members will be chosen. That referendum will be in November.

Voters will determine if they want school members to continue to be appointed by the governor, to be elected, or to have a portion elected and others appointed.

“Some of the greatest stuff we did is what we stopped,” Mathias said, referring to halting proposals that would have caused undue restrictions on chicken farmers.

The Wicomico Youth & Civic Center will be allowed to apply for a liquor license, thanks to passage of SB1140 and HB1521. There will have to be a public hearing first.

Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver said he’s gratified the bill passed unanimously. It will take effect July 1.

“This legislation will provide the Civic Center with the ability to apply for an alcohol license and hopefully will help generate the funds to make this facility more financially independent. Hopefully this will help with filling the financial gap. I want to thank our local legislators for supporting this important bill for Wicomico County,” Culver said this week.

Culver said selling beer, wine and liquor is important to draw bigger entertainers and sporting events to town.

The restriction against alcohol dates back to S. Franklyn Woodcock, who donated land where the Civic Center was built. Woodcock stipulated no alcoholic beverages could be dispensed.

Culver said he asked the acting county attorney to research the law. It was discovered that in 1971, the Wicomico War Memorial Builders, which received the property where the Civic Center was built in 1959, deeded it back to the county.

The original alcohol covenant — agreed to when the Woodcock family first donated the land to the county decades ago – was not included in the deed.

Under common law, a covenant terminates when all the land is returned that benefitted from the covenant, Culver explained in a news release.

Wicomico County benefitted from the alcohol restriction until 1971. When ownership of the property returned to Wicomico County 45 years ago, the restriction was extinguished as a matter of law.

“In Maryland, alcohol laws are pretty complicated,” Anderton said.

“You have to go to the legislature to do just about anything. With the county finding out it was inherent use already, there was no need for any type of legal action,” he said.

He said selling alcohol at the Civic Center should help the facility pay for itself.

“We couldn’t get a hockey team without the sale of alcohol,” Culver said.

“A lot of big concerts won’t come. People want to have a beer when they go to a concert. Studies have been done that have shown the extra income we could bring in for the Civic Center, if we could sell alcohol,” he said.

Mathias said when Culver asked him to sponsor the bill, “I asked him if all legal bases were intact, he said yes.”

“I agree with him in regard to attraction of events, in regard to revenue, in regard to how competitive the market is today. You just can’t do it on the box office. You need other revenue streams to be competitive and give people what they want. I have every confidence the sale of alcohol will be handled responsibly,” Mathias said.

Late Monday, in the final minutes of the session, which ended at midnight, Anderton’s disparity bill was passed “to restore money back to the county it was taken from,” he said.

“There was a formula that was cut a few years back. The disparity grant was for Wicomico and Prince George’s. It’s for any county that maxed out its piggyback tax. We are getting half but it’s $1 million more than last year,” he said.

Anderton said he and fellow lawmakers would “like to see the county do some worthwhile things with that money” such as improving schools and paving roads.

“The bill was mine, but all of us worked together to move it through the entire Senate in one day. We’re on the same page. We click really well. Sen. Mathias got it out of his committee then Sen. (Addie) Eckardt helped get it out of her committee. It was voted on unanimously on the Senate floor then conferred with amendments at 11:53 p.m.,” he said, comparing it to a touchdown at the end of a nail-biter football game.

“We scored. It was pretty cool,” Anderton said.

“Overall, the session was successful. If the governor is happy and if my county executive is happy and the sheriff is happy, then I’m happy,” he said.

Mathias was unsuccessful in getting an environmental study for a third bridge over the Chesapeake Bay, to ease traffic congestion, but said this week it’s a work in progress.

“I can tell you, I gave it all I got. It came out of the Senate 40-4. The 40 includes the minority leader and minority whip, so it was a true bipartisan effort.

“I worked with Speaker of the House (Michael) Busch. In December I went to Gov. Hogan’s chief legislation person and told him I had three legislative priorities – the Chesapeake Bridge study, school starting after Labor Day and the third didn’t require a bill. That’s to bring all the assets the state has — all the business assets, economic development, all the great minds — to bring them in to help Somerset County and Crisfield,” he said.

“My Chesapeake Bay Bridge bill passed in the Senate but in the House it got tangled up,” he said of the estimated $30 million study.

Originally, discussion about stretching a bridge over the scenic Chesapeake began in 1929, but nothing was constructed until 1952, he said, so it takes time.

Mathias’ Senate Bill 56 would have required the state to pay for an environmental impact study for another span.

“Transportation is vital,” Mathias said, adding it strengthens the area’s poultry industry and tourism and allows education opportunities for Salisbury University, UMES, Washington College, Wor-Wic Community College and Chesapeake College.

The bill was the result of studies that indicated traffic heading west, after busy summer weekends in Ocean City, could cause back-ups of more than 10 miles if there wasn’t another bridge in 20 years or so.

“I’m happy that we got liability insurance for the Tri-County Council,” Mathias continued.

“For a number of years they got insurance through the Government Insurance Trust, a self-funded trust. When they went for their renewal, they found out that because of a nuance in the law, that meant they weren’t qualified. It would have been extremely expensive to get insurance, or they couldn’t get it at all. We third-read it Monday night and we got it passed. Tri County does a lot for us, with Shore Transit,” he said.

A bill to delay the start of school until after Labor Day did not pass. Mathias said it’s a challenging matter that stirs fear about superintendents losing autonomy.

Legislation pre-filed by Del. Chris Adams, to allow each county to decide if sprinklers should be mandated in new home construction, failed, but Mathias worked with the Budget and Taxation Committee to get tax credits to ease the financial burden on those home owners.

“I said last year before we went back into session when this issue came up, there was some concern people would have. I would be most happy to seek a tax credit, which I have done,” he said.

Adams’ bill died in committee.

Late last year, Adams said the bill would drive up the cost of homes by $4 per square foot, making him determined to “return decision making authority to county governments” with LR1031.

State officials, he said, “took the land-use decision making from the counties” and instituted a “one-size-fits-all law that once again unfairly burdens Eastern Shore families.”

He called the mandate “a back door attempt by big city liberals to halt economic growth on the Eastern Shore.”

“We are a rural area. This is a rural issue. Everybody campaigns on the problems Annapolis creates for rural areas … if this mandate isn’t changed, you would see a lot of townhouse construction, a lot of apartments. I am talking about a home with a front yard, a back yard. It’s living the America dream,” he said.

On Monday, the state’s House of Delegates voted to limit standardized testing to 2 percent of the hours students spend in class.

Last week, the matter was addressed by Gary Hammer, president of the Wicomico County Education Association, who said there is absolutely too much testing. Hammer said he’d be happy with 2 percent, but would like to see the percentage eventually reduced further.

Gov. Hogan and all legislators are working on the state’s heroin problem, an effort Anderton call “all hands on deck.”

“There are a lot of initiatives and there is money in the budget for heroin issues. What’s going on with this situation is something unbelievable. I cannot wrap my mind around how somebody can try a substance and their body craves it like crazy. We’re doing everything we can,” he said.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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