by Nancy Hill

(Sections of this article were first printed in the May issue of The Equiery.)

The 2009 General Assembly session has come to an end.  The total number of bills introduced was 2,654 (1,073 in the Senate and 1,581 in the House of Delegates).  Every month it seems I write about the fact that the State of Maryland manages to spend more money than it takes in.  This month is no exception.   Our legislators adopted an annual operating budget of nearly $14 billion.  Although this amount balances the state’s current budget, it does not address the long-term budget deficit.

Other big issues of this session were:
The death penalty.  Currently, Maryland’s death penalty statute is among the most restrictive in the country but with the new law prosecutors will only be able to seek the death penalty if they have DNA or biological evidence, a videotape of the crime, or a video-recorded confession by the killer.

The environment.  Maryland is now one of the few states that pledges to reduce its climate-warming greenhouse gases.

Driver’s licenses.  Maryland will now require drivers to present a Social Security card or other proof that they are in the country legally to get a license.  Maryland has been one of only four states that didn’t require proof that someone is in the U.S. legally.

Electricity.  The state will now partially re-regulate the electric industry by allowing regulators to order utilities to build power plants and to set the rates charged.

Medevac helicopters.  The effort by some lawmakers to privatize the state’s medevac system was defeated.  Some reforms were passed and the replacement of the fleet’s 11 helicopters will continue as planned.

Speed cameras.  The legislature has authorized a statewide expansion of speed cameras to be placed in work zones and school zones.

Texting while driving.  The practice of texting behind the wheel will now be banned and will be punished with a $500 fine.

Of particular interest to the horseracing community is the issue of Magna Entertainment’s bankruptcy, the auctioning/sale of Pimlico and Laurel Racetracks, and now the state’s adoption of emergency legislation that authorizes Maryland to purchase The Preakness through eminent domain.  Rest assured, this saga is far from over.  (See SB 1072/HB 1578 below)

Two bills that will greatly benefit Maryland’s equine community, as a whole, passed the General Assembly – thanks to the efforts of the Maryland Horse Council, the Maryland Horse Industry Board, and Delegate Virginia Clagett (sponsor of the bills).  These bills await the governor’s signature.

• HB 955,  Maryland Horse Industry Board – Equine Activities.   This bill includes teaching of equestrian skills, participating in equestrian competitions, exhibitions or other displays of equestrian skills, and caring for, breeding, boarding, renting,  riding or training horses as “equine activities” that shall be treated as agricultural activities.

• HB 973, Maryland Horse Industry Fund – Assessments on Commercial Equine Feed, increases the assessment on horse feed from $2 to $6 per ton.  This money goes to fund the Maryland Horse Industry Board in its efforts to support equine activities in Maryland.

Senate and House Joint Bill
SJ 2/HJ 1, The Jim McKay Maryland Million.  The sponsors of this joint resolution are urging Maryland Million Ltd to honor Jim McKay by renaming the Maryland Million as the Jim McKay Maryland Million.  Mr. McKay was the founder of the Maryland Million racing event which has been second only in importance to the Preakness in Maryland and is among the premier sire stakes events in the nation.  This bill passed the General Assembly and is expected to be signed by the Governor.

Senate Bills
SB 78, Practice of Veterinary Medicine – Students – Immunity.  This bill was introduced by request of the Maryland Department of Agriculture and would allow students of veterinary medicine to practice veterinary medicine as long as they have successfully completed three years of veterinary education at an institution approved by the Board of Veterinary Medicine and who work under the responsible direct supervision of a veterinary practitioner.   This bill passed the General Assembly and has been signed into law by the Governor.

SB 90, Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Foundation – Valuation of Terminated Easements, was also introduced by request of the Maryland Department of Agriculture.  According to current law, requests to terminate agricultural land preservation easements are only available to landowners whose easement purchases were approved by the Board of Public Works prior to September 30, 2004, whose easements have been held by MALPF for 25 years, and whose properties can no longer support profitable farming.  The new language would provide that the agricultural value of the land is determined by the appraisal method that was in effect at the time the easement was acquired by the Foundation.   SB 90 passed the General Assembly and has been signed by the Governor.

SB 110/HB 546, Vehicle Laws – Transporting Pets in Trucks and Trailers.  This bill was introduced in the House of Delegates last year and was killed by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.  This year the bill was crossfiled.  It would prohibit transporting of pets (livestock is exempted) in an open pickup truck or trailer.  Some counties already have this law in place but, if passed, it would become state law.  SB 110 made it to the Senate floor where it was voted down; HB 546 had a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on February 12 and then subsequently withdrawn by the sponsor.

SB 119/HB 60, Maryland Horse Racing Act – Sunset Extension and Program Evaluation. This bill extends the Maryland Horse Racing Act through July 1, 2014.  The current sunset is scheduled for July 1, 2011.  The bill also extends the deadlines for evaluations of the Maryland-Bred Race Fund Advisory Committee, the State Racing Commission and the Standardbred Race Fund Advisory Committee from July 1, 2010 to 2013.  A delayed evaluation will allow examination of the Commission’s responsibilities in light of the recent and expected changes in Maryland’s horse racing industry as a result of financial assistance from video lottery terminal revenues.  This legislation passed the General Assembly and is expected to be signed by the Governor.

SB 318/HB 495, Criminal Law – Crimes Relating to Animals – Limitations on Possession of Breeding Dogs.  SB318 was introduced in the Senate by Senators Gladden, Della, Madaleno, and Stone.  The primary sponsor of HB 495 was Delegate Smigiel along with 30 other delegates from both political parties.   The legislation was introduced in an effort to prohibit “puppy mills” and similar legislation has been introduced across the country.  Good intentions aside, this legislation would have had far-reaching effects that could destroy foxchasing, beagling and basseting and perhaps even dog shows and field trials.  SB 318 was heard on February 18 in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and subsequently withdrawn by the sponsor who promises to rework the bill and introduce it next year.  HB 495 was heard on February 12 in the House Judiciary Committee where it died without a vote. 

SB 547/HB 1169,  All-Terrain Vehicles – Protective EquipmentThis bill would have prohibited an individual from operating, or riding on, an all–terrain vehicle unless the individual would wear protective headgear and an eye protective device that meet the standards established by the administrator for motorcycle helmets and eye protective devices.  There would be no exemption for ATVs used on farms. SB 547 and HB 1169 both had hearings in their respective committees but died without a vote.

SB 548/HB 817, Vehicle Laws – All-Terrain Vehicles – Safety Standards and TrainingThis bill would have set up strict requirements for safety standards and training as well as prohibit children under a certain age from riding or operating an ATV.  It would require people to carry a card issued after they have successfully completed their safety training.  There would be no exemption for ATVs used on farms.  These bills had hearings in their respective committees but died without a vote.

SB 609/HB 1245,  Frederick County – Deer Hunting on Private Property – Sundays.   SB 609 was introduced by Senator Brinkley and HB 1245 was introduced by the Frederick County Delegation.  This legislation would allow Sunday bow hunting on private property on the last three Sundays in October and the second Sunday in November.  SB 609/HB 1245 passed the General Assembly and should be signed into law by the Governor. 

SB 652/HB 675, Allegany and Garrett Counties – Deer Hunting.  Senator Edwards introduced SB 652 which is the same as SB 609 but would apply to Allegany and Garrett counties.  SB 675 was amended to include Cecil County.   However, this legislation ran out of time at the end of session.

SB 691, Maryland Estate Tax – Payment Deferral for Qualified Agricultural Property.   Senator Middleton (Charles County) along with 22 cosponsors introduced this bill which would provide for a 5-year payment deferral under specified circumstances for Maryland estate tax imposed on qualified agricultural property passing from a decedent to or for the use of an individual who enters into an agreement to use the property for farming purposes after the decedent’s death; providing that Maryland estate tax subject to a payment deferral shall become due immediately if the qualified recipient ceases to use the property for farming purposes before the tax is paid; applying the Act to decedents dying after 2009; etc.  This bill had a hearing but was never voted upon by the committee.

SB 713/HB 906, Frederick County – Archery Hunting – Safety Zone.  Senators Mooney and Brinkley introduced this bill.  The bill stated that, “for archery hunters in Frederick County, the safety zone extends for 50 yards from a dwelling house, residence, church, or other building or camp occupied by human beings.  Currently, a person may not discharge a “deadly weapon” within 150 yards.  The scheduled March 13 hearing on SB 713 in the Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee was cancelled.  HB 906 was given an unfavorable report by the House Environmental Matters Committee.

SB 911/HB 1212, Horse Racing – Purse Dedication Account – Allocation of Funds.   This legislation would provide funds from slots to go to the racing industry and changes the percentages as follows:  Increases from 85% to 89% the amount that would go to Thoroughbred purses  and decreases from 15% to 11% the amount to the Maryland Bred Fund.  The same changes would be made to Standardbred purses and the Standardbred Race Fund.   This legislation passed the General Assembly.

SB 944, Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s Counties – Deer Hunting.  This bill would have required the Department of Natural Resources to establish a program to train sharpshooters whose purpose it would be to control the deer population.  People who currently have a deer damage permit would be given preference.  This would allow gun hunting from January through March and people may hunt on State land in those counties to the same extent as people who are authorized under the deer damage permit to hunt on private land in those counties.  Although this bill passed the full Senate with a vote of 44-0, it died in the House of Delegates.

SB 1072/HB 1578, Pimlico and Laurel Park Racetracks, Bowie Race Course Training Center, and Preakness Stakes – State Purchase or Condemnation.  This crossfiled bill was introduced toward the end of the session as a means for the State of Maryland to keep The Preakness in Maryland.

SB 1029, Reorganization of State Government – Consolidating the Departments of Agriculture and the Environment into the Department of Natural Resources.  This bill was introduced late by Senator Colburn and was given an unfavorable report by the Senate Rules Committee.  SB 1058, Reorganization of State Government – Consolidating the Department of the Environment into the Department of Natural Resources.  After SB 1029 was given an unfavorable report, its sponsor Senator Colburn turned around and introduced SB 1058 which would have consolidated only the Maryland Department of the Environment under DNR.  This bill had a hearing and died in committee.

House Bills
HB 129, Vehicle Laws – Horse Riding – Helmet Requirement for Minors.  This bill would have required anyone under 18 years old to wear a certified equestrian helmet while riding a horse on a highway, horse-riding path, or other property open to the public or used by the public for pedestrian or vehicular traffic.  Penalties would include a $50 fine for the first offense, $100 for the second, and $150 for the third and any subsequent offense.  The bill would also have required police officers to disperse educational materials about the measure and the proper use of a helmet while riding a horse to those charged with the offense. Again, thanks to the diligent work of the Maryland Horse Council, the bill sponsor agreed to change the language to ASTM/SEI helmet approved.   In the end, this bill died in committee.

HB 149, Estates and Trusts – Trust for Care of Animal.  HB 149 was introduced by Delegates Kach and Olzsewski.  This is the first bill of its kind to get anywhere in the General Assembly because it is not the kind we’ve all heard about in the past in which a person can leave an outrageous amount of money to a pet.  In this bill, the trust only lasts for the lifetime of the animal(s) and may be enforced by a person appointed under the terms of the trust, or if no person is appointed, a person appointed by the court.  The property of the trust may only be used for the intended purpose of the trust, unless the court determines that the value of the trust exceeds the amount required for the intended use.  Unless otherwise provided by the terms of the trust, property not required for the intended use is distributed to the person who created the trust, or if that person is deceased, the person’s successors in interest.  HB 149 passed both houses of the General Assembly and has been signed into law by the Governor.

HB 166,  – Maryland Estate Tax – Exclusion for Qualified Agricultural Property. 
Sponsored By: Delegates Kullen, Bartlett, Beitzel, Bohanan, Bromwell, Cane, G. Clagett, Conway, DeBoy, Eckardt, Haddaway, Hecht, Jameson, Krebs, Levy, Mathias, Murphy, O’Donnell, Rudolph, Shewell, Stull, Weldon, and Wood .  This bill would have excluded from the value of the gross estate the value of real or personal property that is used primarily for farming purposes by an individual who enters into an agreement to use that property for farming purposes after a decedent’s death. This bill was introduced last year as HB 333 in 2008 had a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee and there it died.  HB 166 died in committee.

HB 375,  Vehicle Laws – Off-Highway Vehicles – Titling and Registration.  This bill would have established the Off-Highway Vehicle Fund within the Department of Natural Resources, an Off-Highway Vehicle Trails Advisory Committee, and registration requirements for Class O (off-highway) vehicles.  The money for the Fund would have  been generated from fees paid for the registration, minus the administrative costs incurred by the Motor Vehicle Administration and would be used to build and maintain trails for the use of off-highway vehicles.  ATVs owned by a farmer and used in the daily business of farming are exempt from registration requirements.   There was a provision in the bill requiring riders of off-highway vehicles to obtain written permission from private property owners and to carry it with them while on such property.  After its February 10 hearing was cancelled, the sponsor withdrew the bill.

HB 663, Baltimore County – Deer Hunting on Private Property – Sundays, would have allowed bow hunting on the last three Sundays in October and the second Sunday in November.  This bill was introduced by Delegates Boteler, Aumann, Bartlett, Bromwell, Dwyer, Eckardt, Frank, Impallaria, Jennings, Myers, Norman, Schuler, Smigiel, Sossi, Stull, and Weir and was given an unfavorable report by the Environmental Matters Committee.  Because this bill was not a Baltimore County Delegation bill, it was not considered to be “local courtesy.”

HB 1065, Calvert and Prince George’s – Deer Hunting on Private Lands – Sundays, was introduced by Delegate O’Donnell (Calvert County) and Delegate Ross (Prince George’s) and would have allowed bow hunting in Calvert County on the last three Sundays in October and the second Sunday in November but, more importantly, would allow Sunday gun and bow hunting in Prince George’s County on those Sundays.  What’s interesting with this bill is that it was not a Prince George’s Delegation bill.  That is significant because bills like this would be considered local courtesy bills and would carry extra weight to pass.  After Prince George’s County was amended out of this bill, it passed the House and had a hearing in the Senate where it died.

My favorite bill of the year was HB 1009, State Government – State Walking Stick of Statesmen and Gentlemen – The Shillelagh. For those who don’t know what a shillelagh is, it is an Irish walking stick that comes from the village of the same name in County Wicklow, Ireland.  A shillelagh can also be used as a club or cudgel.  Unfortunately, this bill was given an unfavorable report by the committee.  If it had passed, the shillelagh would have joined a host of other state symbols like the State bird, boat, cat, crustacean, dessert, dinosaur, dog, drink, exercise, fish, flag, flower, folk dance, fossil shell, gem, horse, insect, reptile, seal, song, sport, theaters, and tree!