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Legislature looking for an easier ride this year over last

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Published on: Thursday, January 10, 2013

By Christa Puccio

ANNAPOLIS – Some senators say this year’s legislative session will be less controversial than last year without same-sex marriage or immigration up for debate and the budget is supposedly looking “better.”

“We’ve gotten a hold of our budget problems and I think we’ll be in better shape this year,” said Sen. Jennie Forehand (D-17).

Among many other topics up for discussion during this year’s legislative session, the general assembly will be hearing about tax breaks for qualifying gas stations, septic system inspections for houses, antibiotics in animal feed, gun bills, the death penalty, human trafficking, transportation funding, seat belts, smoking in cars, voting by mail and windmills on the Chesapeake.  

“The number one issue I think will be before the senate will be with the windmills out in the bay,” said Forehand.  “It sounds like it’ll be a good payoff in the long run and I know it has worked very successfully in places in Europe.”

While windmills may be a big topic, Forehand said her personal priority will be on transportation funding.  “The county and municipalities especially need the highway user funds that they got cut back on last year,” said Forehand.  “In fact, I think they completely cut them completely out last year.  So, we really want to make sure that comes back in.  Of course, that’s a budget thing we don’t always get, unless you’re on the budget committee, you don’t have that much say in it, but we’re certainly working with members of the budget committee to get that.”

Forehand said the City of Rockville and Gaithersburg have really pushed for this funding.  “They had plans to do certain improvements and so forth and without this money they earned and it’s something that’s always been there and this last year they cut back on it,” said Forehand.  “But now, we’ve got a large deficit we really cut it way back down and I’m hoping we can get that highway user revenue.”

In regards to weather, the “derecho” storm and “snowpocolypse” have raised some concerns with Montgomery County residents when it comes to getting gas when there’s no power. “There’s a bill to give a tax break for up to $20,000 for gas stations that put in a generator to keep two pumps on for at least two days.  I think that’s a really good idea frankly because that’s a problem.” said Sen. Karen Montgomery (D-14).

According to Montgomery, there are a lot of houses in Montgomery County that have a septic system and there have been problems with them failing.  “When people buy a house when a septic system, and there still are plenty in Montgomery County, they suddenly were told it was pumped out but it was only partly pumped out or the septic system is in the process of failing,” said Montgomery.  “So, when the house is sold or remolded there has to be an inspection of the septic system.”

Montgomery said there will also be a bill on antibiotics in animal feeds.  “They fatten [the animals] up quicker, I don’t think that’s a good idea for when we go to the hospital,” said Montgomery.

Forehand said one of things she’s really taken the lead on is the human trafficking issue.  “There’s a lot of it going on everywhere and we want the public to know more about this,” said Forehand.  “For people who are caught who are the traffickers some of the penalties for that are similar to those who are drug dealers except for the asset forfeiture.  So what that really is, is that someone who is in the act of selling drugs and they’ve got their pockets full on money like $1,000 or however much money, and the police catch them, the police can take that money.  But, with human traffickers there are stories, I haven’t gotten any from people directly in Maryland, but in New Jersey they caught some traffickers and this guy had $20,000 in his pocket.  So, I want to be sure we pass that this year because that’s the only way we’re going to be able to stop this.”

In addition, she wants there to be a law against smoking with underage kids in the car.  “I think quite frankly there should be no smoking in the car anyhow,” said Forehand.  “I have a person thing.  My father died of emphysema and lung cancer.  He never smoked, but he worked in offices where people did and he went out on jobs and was with people who smoked and I just can’t in all honesty let that happen to anybody’s mom or dad or anybody.”

A member of the Montgomery County Police Department raised concern with seatbelts to Forehand as well.  “Everybody in the car needs to be buckled up,” said Forehand.  Some people think only for people who in the front seat, but we’ve had testimony from a lot of people and particularly one of them is a member of the Montgomery County Police Department whose son was in a car accident and the person behind him was not buckled up and the front impact, the person in the back seat was catapulted over and broke the neck of the person in front of him.”

In addition, she thinks voting by mail for special elections will strengthen voter turnout and said a bill will be introduced on that, she said there will be a bill for greater penalties for those who violate domestic violence orders from the court and a new bill to help people whose spouse dies.  “When someone’s husband or wife dies and the car is registered jointly, as the law is now they have to go and get a new license for the car and has to pay $150,” said Forehand.  “It’s bad enough that someone’s under that much strain and stress at that time and so this would try to take care of that.  Maybe they can just notify the MVA and drop a note or something.”

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