DELEGATE HOLMES IN THE NEWS

House Debates Public-Private Partnerships; Approves Over 100 Bills In Saturday Session

1090AM WBAL on March 26, 2012
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The House of Delegates on Saturday gave an initial nod to Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed policy governing public-private partnerships on big projects like roads and public buildings, but some lawmakers heatedly objected to a new provision ensuring speedy legal proceedings for participants in such a partnership.

The change would allow legal appeals to be heard on an expedited track before the Court of Special Appeals, the state's intermediate appellate court. It was not part of the initial proposal by the O'Malley administration, but was added by a House panel.

The measure would be retroactive, so it would impact a lawsuit filed by more than a dozen downtown office building owners against the proposed State Center project.

Delegate Luiz Simmons, D-Montgomery, argued that the provision could confer special legal benefits on a "special group of fat cats."

"In my opinion, what we are about to do is to become legislators in a banana republic, where they routinely interfere with the judicial process on behalf of special friends and special interests, and we are not covering ourselves in honor by doing this," Simmons said.

But supporters of the change say time is money, and companies that want to take part in large partnerships with the state to build expensive infrastructure should have speedy legal review of matters of law. Public-private partnerships are known as P3s. Supporters also underscored that the appeals would involve the rule of law, not disputed facts.

"Maybe they are special projects," said Delegate Doyle Niemann, D-Prince George's. "That's why we have a category for P3. It's a way to get things done that builds upon the success of the private sector."

An amendment offered by Simmons that would have taken the expedited process out of the bill was rejected on a 25-100 vote.

The P3 projects would apply to infrastructure initiatives such as roads, transit, ports, hospitals, courthouses and education.

Maryland departments overseeing capital projects have found that additional P3s in the state could contribute between 6 and 10 percent of Maryland's $3.1 billion annual capital budget while creating as many as 4,000 jobs, according to the O'Malley administration.

The legislation would better define what a public-private partnership is. It also would create a process for the state to receive and review unsolicited project proposals from the private sector and create a framework for an improved review and coordination process.

The House of Delegates gave the bill preliminary approval.  The House will take a final vote on the bill Monday.

More Than 100 Bills Approved Saturday

The House of Delegates approved more than 100 bills on Saturday, as it faces a Monday night deadline to approve bills it wants the Senate to approve in the remaining two weeks of the session.

Delegates will return to session at 3 p.m. Monday, which is earlier than usual for a Monday, in order to pass more legislation ahead of the deadline.

Bills can still be introduced in the final weeks of the session, but Delegates and Senators would have to suspend their rules in order to consider them.

Click Here to read the list of bills (Third-Reading Bills) approved by the House of Delegates on Saturday.

Delegates unanimously approved a bill that would require the operators of motor scooters to wear a helmet.  The Senate has already approved a similar bill. The House bill approved by a vote of 132-0 is sponsored by Anne Arundel County Democrat Pam Beidle.

By a vote of 129-0, the House also approved a bill to move Baltimore City's elections, now held in the year before a presidential election, to the same year as the presidential election starting in 2016.  The bill is designed to boost turnout, but critics say it would allow city officials to run for statewide office in gubernatorial election years without having to give up their current office.  All 23 counties in Maryland hold their elections during the same year as the gubernatorial election.  The Senate has approved a similar bill.  If it is approved by both chambers, current Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the current city council would remain in office until 2016.

By a vote of 102-29, the House of Delegates approved a bill that gives prosecutors the option of charging someone possessing less than 14 grams of marijuana with a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail.  Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein testified in favor of the bill last month. He says the bill allows these cases to be prosecuting in district court, and eases the backlog of cases in circuit court, where most criminal cases are heard.  He does say the legislation allows prosecutors to pursue charges under the existing law, which mandates a one year jail term.  Those cases would continue to be heard in circuit court.  The Senate is considering a similar bill.  However, the Senate bill remains in committee.  Baltimore City Democrat Delegate Luke Clippinger sponsored the bill.

By a vote of 98-34, the House approved a bill that would allow an employee to take a full day off from work for jury service, even if the jury duty doesn't last all day.  It also allows second and third shift workers to take the day off from work, and bars employers from penalizing workers who take time off for jury duty.  Prince George's County Delegate Marvin Holmes and Baltimore City Democratic Delegate Cheryl Glenn co-sponsored this bill.

By a vote of 131-0, the House approved "Justice's Law." It's a bill that would increase the sentence for child abuse resulting in death from 30 years to life in prison.  The bill is named for a Hagerstown infant who was killed in 2007 by his mother's boyfriend.  The boyfriend was sentenced to 30 years in prison.  The baby's relatives said the sentence was too lenient and convinced lawmakers to sponsor the bill.  The Senate has passed a similar bill.  The House bill is sponsored by Washington County Republican Delegate Neil Parrott.

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