May 21, 2019

2019 Senate Session Highlights – Senator Will Smith

he 2019 General Assembly Session ended at midnight on April 9th, capping an eventful legislative session for Senator Will Smith (District 20 – Montgomery County). In his first session as the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Vice Chair, Smith would be directly involved with some one hundred sixty-nine pieces of legislation and serve as the lead sponsor of forty  meaningful bills (you can find a link to each of these bills by clicking here). Of the forty bills that he carried, thirteen passed both Chambers of the General Assembly and are now poised to become Maryland law.

Senate Bill 196 – Vehicle Laws – Licenses, Identification Cards, and Moped Operator’s Permits – Indication of Applicant’s Sex

This bill requires that an application for a license, identification card, or moped operator’s permit allow an applicant to identify as (1) female; (2) male; or (3) unspecified or other. If an applicant identifies as an unspecified or other sex in the application, the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) must ensure that the license, identification card, or moped operator’s permit displays an “X” in the appropriate location. The bill prohibits MVA from (1) requiring an applicant to provide proof of the applicant’s sex or (2) denying an application because the sex selected by the applicant does not match the sex displayed on another document associated with the applicant.

Senate Bill 290 – Public Health – Cottage Food Products – Definition and Sale

This bill expands the definition of “cottage food product” to include food sold, in accordance with State law and regulations adopted by the Maryland Department of Health (MDH), to a retail food store, including a grocery store or a food cooperative. Prior to selling a cottage food product to a retail store, the owner of a cottage food business must submit to MDH (1) documentation of the owner’s successful completion of an MDH-approved food safety course and (2) the label that will be affixed to the product. The label must include the phone number and email address of the cottage food business and the date the cottage food product was made. By December 30, 2020, and annually thereafter, MDH must report (1) the required documentation and labels submitted by cottage food businesses and (2) any complaints received by MDH related to a cottage food business or cottage food product to specified committees of the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 327 – Justice Reinvestment Act – Diminution Credits – Sentencing

This bill clarifies that changes to the application of diminution credits as a result of Chapter 515 of 2016, also known as the Justice Reinvestment Act (JRA), must be construed prospectively to apply only to inmates who are sentenced or committed to custody on a finding of violation of probation on or after October 1, 2017. The bill may not be construed to result in a recalculated release date for an inmate that is prior to October 1, 2019, or create a cause of action for false imprisonment against the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) or a local correctional facility.

Senate Bill 328 – Labor and Employment – Noncompete and Conflict of Interest Clauses

This bill establishes that a noncompete or conflict of interest provision in an employment contract or similar document or agreement that restricts the ability of an employee who earns equal to or less than the State minimum wage or the applicable local minimum wage, whichever is greater, to enter into employment with a new employer or become self-employed in the same or similar business or trade is null and void as being against the public policy of the State. The bill does not apply to an employment contract or a similar document or agreement with respect to the taking or use of a client list or other proprietary client-related information. The bill applies regardless of whether or not the employer and employee entered into the employment contract or similar document or agreement in the State.

Senate Bill 330 – Public Buildings – Diaper–Changing Facilities

This bill generally requires a diaper-changing facility to be installed in at least one public restroom within a public building constructed on or after October 1, 2019. The requirement also applies to a public restroom (in an existing public building) that is built or substantially renovated on or after October 1, 2019. Exceptions are established. The Board of Public Works (BPW) must develop standards for public buildings, specified State agencies must enforce the bill’s provisions for specified State projects, and local governments must enforce the bill for specified local projects.

Senate Bill 521 – Veteran Suicide Prevention – Comprehensive Action Plan

This bill requires the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) to develop a comprehensive action plan to increase access to and availability of professional veteran health services to prevent veteran suicides. By July 1, 2020, MDH must report to the Governor and the General Assembly on any statutory, administrative, and budgetary changes needed to implement the action plan. The action plan must include (1) short-term initiatives and reforms and a plan for implementation beginning no later than July 1, 2021, and (2) long-term initiatives and reforms and a plan for implementation beginning no later than July 1, 2023.

Senate Bill 527 – Correctional Services – Inmates – Labor

This bill expands the information that must be included in the Commissioner of Correction Annual Report and the Division of Correction (DOC) Financial and Operational Report to include information relating to inmate employment and wages.

Senate Bill 697 – Family Law – Parentage and Adoption

This bill makes numerous changes to statutory provisions regarding parentage and adoption to address the parental rights of same-sex couples and couples who conceive by means of assisted reproduction. To this end, it alters presumptions of parentage for purposes of inheritance and specified legal proceedings. The bill also establishes an expedited adoption process for an individual who (1) is married to the prospective adoptee’s parent at the time of the prospective adoptee’s birth or (2) consented to the conception of the prospective adoptee by means of assisted reproduction, as specified.

Senate Bill 767 – Criminal Procedure – Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits – Analysis

This bill requires a sexual assault evidence collection kit to be submitted to a forensic laboratory for testing unless specified requirements are met. The bill requires (1) a law enforcement agency to submit a sexual assault evidence collection kit and all requested associated reference standards to a forensic laboratory within 30 days of receipt and (2) a forensic laboratory to process a sexual assault evidence collection kit and all requested associated reference standards in a timely manner. The bill also requires (1) the Attorney General to adopt implementing regulations by January 1, 2020 and (2) the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee to establish an independent process to review and make recommendations relating to when a law enforcement agency may decide not to test a sexual assault evidence collection kit.

Senate Bill 770 – Vehicle Laws – Electric Low Speed Scooters

This bill establishes a definition for an “electric low speed scooter” under the Maryland Vehicle Law, expands the definition of “bicycle” as it applies to the Maryland Vehicle Law to include an electric low speed scooter, and specifies that the operator of an electric low speed scooter may ride by standing on a platform designed to carry the operator. The bill specifies that an electric low speed scooter is not considered a motorized minibike, motor scooter, or motor vehicle for purposes of the Maryland Vehicle Law. In addition, the bill alters the definition of “scooter” to exclude motorized vehicles.

Senate Bill 773 – Health Care Malpractice Qualified Expert – Qualification

This bill makes multiple changes to statute related to the qualification of an expert in a health care malpractice action. The bill (1) defines “professional activities”; (2) increases, from 20% to 25%, the limit on the amount of an expert’s professional activities that may directly involve testimony in personal injury claims during the 12 months immediately before the date when the claim was first filed; (3) specifies that, once a health care provider meets the requirements to qualify as an expert, the health care provider must be deemed to be a qualified expert during the pendency of the claim; and (4) establishes additional standards and procedures related to the dismissal and filing of an action based on the failure of an expert to comply with the bill’s requirements. The bill’s provisions apply to any proceeding filed on or after the bill’s October 1, 2019 effective date.

Senate Bill 774 – Correctional Services – Restrictive Housing – Reporting by Correctional Units and Requirements Relating to Minors

This bill expands the entities required to submit specified information relating to inmates in restrictive housing to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) and repeals the requirement for the information to be submitted directly to the General Assembly. Instead of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), each correctional unit must submit that information to GOCCP, and when GOCCP has received the information from every correctional unit, GOCCP must promptly submit the information in a report to the General Assembly. In addition, the bill prohibits a correctional unit from placing a minor in restrictive housing, with specified exceptions. A minor placed in restrictive housing must be provided specified conditions and privileges and, if those conditions or privileges are not provided, the managing official or the managing official’s designee must record the reason in the minor’s file.

Senate Bill 816 – Property Tax Credit – Surviving Spouse of Veteran

This bill alters the eligibility criteria of a local option property tax credit for specified members of the U.S. Armed Forces and surviving spouses by requiring the surviving spouse to be at least 65 years old to be eligible for the property tax credit. In addition, the bill enables a surviving spouse who is under age 65 to continue to receive the property tax credit if the surviving spouse qualified for and received the property tax credit before June 1, 2019. The bill takes effect June 1, 2019, and applies to taxable years beginning after June 30, 2019.

Because of the profound impact of the legislation that she carried, Senator Smith was called a “Winner” of the 2019 legislative session by both the Maryland Matters publication. The publication stated: “Brewer. Patriot. Well, he’s not a brewer, but he is a patriot, having deployed recently to Afghanistan to do Naval intelligence work for eight months. And he did have a predeployment farewell in a brew pub in his district after running a series of public forums last fall in another brew pub in his district. But even before he was deployed, he put together an impressive list of legislative wins, including bills on family law, criminal justice reform and gender-neutral driver’s licenses for nonconforming individuals. And while one high-profile bill, which would have created a legal aid-in-dying law in Maryland, fell short following a bizarre turn of events, Smith won plaudits for how he promoted the legislation and his magnanimous reaction after its defeat. There’s recent precedent in Maryland for military heroes enjoying political rocket rides (see Brown, Anthony).”

After a successful 2019 legislative session, Senator Smith now looks ahead to the 2020 session when he’ll bring with him the experience of another productive and effective year in the Maryland Senate.