Photo above: Two bills recently passed by the General Assembly will impact police. People who sue local governments, including police departments, could get paid higher awards, and a police drug seizure bill would require proof before property like cash or vehicles are seized. Photo by reynermedia, Creative Commons.
By Rebecca Lessner
Editor’s note: The fate of many bills was determined Monday, the last day of Maryland’s legislative session, known as Sine Die. Below, we examine the last-minute passage of several bills written about by MarylandReporter.com throughout the 90-day session.
Counties that have been successfully sued can expect to be writing checks double the amount they paid for tort claims previously, as the $200,000 cap increases to $400,000 in October.
Proponents of the new law argued people harmed by agents of local government like police officers should be fairly compensated. They originally wanted to increase the cap to $500,000, and the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee agreed.
However, county leadership including The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), objected, arguing the increased cap would be too large a burden for smaller counties to bear.
An amendment made to the bill in the House of Delegates would have set the new cap at $300,000. In order to resolve disputes, members of the House and Senate created a conference committee to hash out a compromise.
Those favoring a higher limit said inflation over the years has caused the original $200,000 cap, decided back in the 1987, to only equal out to $90,000 now.
Chaired by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore, and Del. Samuel Rosenberg, D-Baltimore City, the conference committee reached the $400,000 per individual claim compromise, with $800,000 capping total claims awarded for the same incident.
The bill would also align any county laws that currently require claims to be filed in a six-month period to change to a one-year overall state law.
HB113 awaits the governor’s signature, passing the House 89-45 and the Senate 33-14.
Police will face higher burden of proof in drug, gambling seizures
Also reaching the governor’s desk is SB528, a police seizure and forfeiture bill that gives citizens more protection from permanently losing property like cash or cars to police departments.
The bill shifts the “burden of proof” from the owners of the property to law enforcement.
Before, if police seized property, the owner would be charged with the task of proving items “innocent” of involvement in the drug trade.
Now, the police must treat items “innocent until proven guilty.”
Police will be unable to seize cash under the amount of $300, unless they have reason to believe the cash or items are “in violation of the Controlled Dangerous Substances law.”
The bill passed 89-51 in the House and 47-0 in the Senate.
Film credit extended
Maryland film lovers also have reason to rejoice, as legislators passed a bill that will extend the state’s film tax credit, which popular shows such as “VEEP” and “House of Cards” rely on.
As the General Assembly considered the extension, its own analysts in the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) suggested the tax-credit investment was not worth the return.
DLS opined that the General Assembly should “allow the film production activity tax credit to sunset” as scheduled this year.
However, legislators decided that while the economic impact was not significant, the job creation was worth it.
“If this is sustained, it will surely lead to the creation of a cluster of related industries, which has a ripple effect in job creation, larger consumer base, and revenue collection,” said the Maryland Film Office in the bill’s fiscal note.
In order to scale back, while not completely ending the credit, the governor is allowed to award a capped amount of $7,500,000 in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.
For 2017, the governor will decide the amount awarded after reviewing an analysis by DLS.
That is much less than the previous amount, which totalled $25 million in fiscal year 2014.
The revised credit received a vote of 43-4 in the Senate and 84-53 in the House.