Left to right, Calvert County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Services Coordinator James Richardson and county fire companies presidents’ representative George Anderson present a request for modifying the county’s Length of Service Award Program.

Prince Frederick, MD – The annual meeting of the Calvert County Commissioners and members of the county’s delegation to Annapolis was held Tuesday evening, Dec. 2. The session started with an assemblage of firefighters and included a modicum of fireworks. The sharpest bursts were delivered by the three veteran members of the delegation.

For the second year in a row, Delegate Mark Fisher [R-District 27B] exchanged words with Calvert County Liquor Board Chairwoman Beth Swoap. This year, however, the back-and-forth did not involve a bill proposed by the Liquor Board but a measure that died in the Maryland Senate last session.

House Bill 1054 would have required Calvert’s Liquor Board to post a notice of a legislative proposal on the board’s web site and hold a public hearing on the proposal at least six months before submitting it to the county delegation. Fisher referred to the legislation as “the transparency bill.”

“Do you support this bill?” Fisher asked Swoap, who stated she did not.

“A number of very bad proposals came out of your office” last year, said Fisher, who then told Swoap, “you are not doing your job.” The delegate concluded by telling Swoap, “I hope you will support this [transparency bill],” adding that it would be resubmitted during the 2015 session.

Last year, Fisher’s bill was overwhelmingly passed in the House of Delegates—Democrats James Proctor and Joseph Vallario cast the only nay votes—but was killed in the upper chamber after a hearing at which Swoap testified against it.

The Calvert County Liquor Board submitted two legislative proposals for the 2015 Maryland General Assembly session. One measure would expand the county’s wine festival license to include beer and/or wine festivals, with the aim of attracting more visitors to Calvert.  The other bill is designed to correct last year’s legislation intended to outlaw “bottle clubs” in Calvert. After the measure became law Calvert County State’s Attorney Laura Martin [R] declared the legislation was unenforceable.

“We’re going to make darn sure that doesn’t happen again,” said Delegate Anthony J. “Tony” O’Donnell [R-District 29C].

Earlier in the evening, a large number of Calvert County’s volunteer firefighters were in the Calvert Pines Senior Center (CPSC) auditorium to observe and listen to the discussion about proposed changes to the Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP). Legislation submitted by the Calvert County Department of Public Safety would amend the county code to allow a qualified LOSAP recipient who is not married to appoint an alternate beneficiary for a period not to exceed 10 years, reduce LOSAP eligibility from 55 to 50 years-of-age, increase additional monthly payments and remove a maximum benefit provision.

“We hope to keep people working longer,” said George Anderson, representing Calvert’s volunteer companies’ presidents. “We thought this would be the way to do it.”

“I created the LOSAP program years ago with others,” said Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. [D-District 27]. “I certainly support this one.”

While the volunteers remained in the auditorium, O’Donnell assured them the delegation “has no desire” to scuttle Calvert’s volunteer system. He noted there were hints and allegations circulating last year, related to the LOSAP issue, that transitioning to a paid service was the local lawmakers’ aim.

A proposal presented by Calvert County Health Officer Dr. Laurence Polsky enacting civil penalties for the unlawful sale of tobacco products to minors also sparked discussion and some partisan wrangling about past and projected legislation on the legalization of marijuana.

Polsky said the measure was prompted by a recent survey indicating a higher than average use of tobacco by minors in Calvert County when compared to other state jurisdictions. O’Donnell asked if the bill would call for punitive measures to be taken against the youth trying to make the illegal purchase. Polsky indicated there were no provisions in the bill for such action. O’Donnell opined that most retailers selling tobacco products in the county had a sense of responsibility and “it seems as a matter of equity we would get the perpetrator.”

The discussion prompted Fisher to declare there existed a “hypocrisy” in Annapolis, with some government officials wanting to penalize tobacco users and retailers while simultaneously touting the legalization of marijuana. Of Polsky’s proposal, Fisher stated, “this is criminalizing tobacco retailers.”

Fisher’s declaration prompted a response from Miller, who said of the notion state officials were moving toward the legalization of marijuana, “it’s not going to happen anytime soon.” Miller stated that “medical marijuana” was approved during the last session. Under the measure, patients experiencing severe pain may obtain the substance provided they receive it from a licensed dispensary.

O’Donnell noted the legislature also “decriminalized” the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana, making it a civil offense.

Two bills submitted by the Calvert County Department of Public Works were not well-received. O’Donnell declared his adamant opposition to a measure to authorize a water infrastructure excise tax. The tax would be levied on property owners not on public water and sewer as a way to help fund the county’s fire suppression. “It’s not happening with this delegate’s support,” said O’Donnell, who noted the 2014 election was a clear message from the voters for no additional taxes.

The department’s request to amend the state constitution to give county officials ‘quick-take’ authority—the ability to condemn property for road construction and widening—met with a similar reaction from Fisher. “Property rights are sacrosanct,” said Fisher, who added he would never support such an initiative. “I don’t trust government. I trust property owners.”

“I am not saying your property is going to be taken away,” declared Department of Public Works Director Rai Sharma. “This is a safety issue.” Sharma had asked that the quick-take proposal be submitted due to protracted negotiations with property owners that have delayed at least three road safety projects. A countywide referendum would be needed if legislation were passed to amend the constitution.

One legislative proposal that garnered no support among the delegation was submitted by the Department of Community Planning and Building via the county’s Cliff Stabilization Advisory Committee requiring owners of property located in Calvert County’s Critical Area to provide potential buyers with a brochure outlining land use restrictions.

“It just seems like a bit much and unnecessary,” said Judy Szynborski of the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors’ Board of Directors. Szynborski stated Maryland has a very thorough Critical Area web site that allows potential property buyers to do research. She added “no other counties that we are aware of” has such a law on its books.

Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark [R] pointed out that the citizens’ committee recommended the measure based on the experience of homeowners who saw their properties imperiled due to eroding cliffs. O’Donnell concurred that the intent of the committee was good. He indicated the real culprits were species, such as the Puritan tiger beetle, whose habitat the federal government protects from projects that might shore up the eroding cliffs.  

Miller admitted at the end of the evening’s session that the Critical Area brochure legislation was the only proposal he could not support.

In addition to Miller, Fisher and O’Donnell, Delegate-Elect Michael Jackson, a Democrat, attended the meeting. State Senator-Elect Steve Waugh, a Republican, was unable to attend due to the orientation of new state senators in Annapolis.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com