2021 Maryland General Assembly Update Week 11: Wade’s Law Passing, Budget Clears Senate, and Celebrating Maryland Farmers
Crossover Day, the deadline for bills to clear their original chamber to be considered in the opposite one has come and gone, and the work of the Senate of Maryland continues. Senator Carozza’s legislation to increase penalties for criminally-negligent driving causing life-threatening injuries passed the Senate, along with legislation to help restaurants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. During a Senate Floor debate on March 24, Carozza also spoke out against legislation that would decriminalize drug paraphernalia and jeopardize public health. The Senate also passed the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, and celebrated Maryland agriculture.
Wade’s Law Clears Senate, House before Deadline
The Senate of Maryland unanimously approved Senator Mary Beth Carozza’s legislation, Senate Bill 17 Criminal Law – Life–Threatening Injury Involving a Vehicle or Vessel – Criminal Negligence (Wade’s Law) on Monday, March 22. Senator Carozza has championed this legislation since she first introduced it in 2017.
“I am so grateful to my colleagues in the Senate for passing this commonsense public safety legislation,” Senator Carozza said after the vote. “This legislation provides a just penalty for survivors like Wade Pusey and Je’Ani Lyles who have suffered life-threatening and life-sustaining injuries as result of criminally-negligent driving.”
This legislation would establish the offense of a life-threatening injury by motor vehicle or vessel as criminal negligence. A violator is guilty of a misdemeanor and if convicted is subject to a maximum of 18 months imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine. The current penalty for criminally-negligent driving causing life-threatening injuries is a $500 motor vehicle citation.
This legislation was prompted from a violent crash involving two Worcester County road workers, Scott Tatterson and Wade Pusey, who were struck by a criminally-negligent driver. The violent crash occurred on February 22, 2016, and left Mr. Tatterson dead and Mr. Pusey with several life-threatening and life-sustaining injuries. This case was brought to Senator Carozza’s attention by Wicomico County Deputy State’s Attorney Bill McDermott, who has continuously advocated for the passage of this legislation and first brought Wade’s case to Carozza’s attention when he worked for Worcester County. Mr. McDermott emphasized the fact that Senate Bill 17 is simply building on existing law to create a more just penalty for the crime of criminally-negligent driving causing a life-threatening injury.
Also joining Senator Carozza at the hearing this year was Je’Ani Lyles, who also suffered both life-threatening and life-sustaining injuries as the result of a criminally-negligent driver on June 18, 2018. Je’Ani’s mother, Carla Ortiz, described not only the horror of the crash with Je’Ani suffering a severing of her T8 vertebrae, multiple surgeries, and paralysis from the chest down but pleaded for a more just penalty to hold those who are criminally-negligent responsible for their actions.
“Let this be the year that we see Wade’s Law all the way through to final passage… My parents always taught me that if you believe in a just cause or action, then you keep working it, not for yourself, but for people like Wade Pusey and his family, Je’Ani Lyles and her mother, Carla, and for all the unnamed victims. We are completely committed to seeing this through for the sake of future victims. You keep fighting the good fight.”
The crossfiled version of this legislation, House Bill 855, was introduced by Delegate Wayne Hartman and passed the House of Delegates on March 22 by a vote of 130-4.
Restaurant Relief Bill Passes
On Crossover Day, the Senate also passed Senate Bill 205—Alcoholic Beverages - Sale or Delivery for Off-Premises Consumption which authorizes restaurants, bars, and taverns to sell and deliver certain alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption or delivery with the purchase of food after the Governor’s Emergency Order is lifted. This option has served as a lifeline to restaurants throughout Maryland during the COVID-19 pandemic and Senate Bill 205 extends it until 2023.
“I grew up in the restaurant business. Throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic, I have been working with our local restaurants on their very survival and keeping jobs in those restaurants,” Senator Carozza said when speaking out against amendments that would limit the timeframe of this relief initiative, noting that other states are moving forward with making alcohol to-go with food purchases permanent, which she supports.
“This legislation is essential to our Maryland restaurants’ long-term COVID-19 recovery,” Carozza added.
The crossfiled version of this legislation, House Bill 12, passed the House of Delegates on March 18, 2021 by a vote of 128-4.
Senate Passes FY 2022 Budget
The Senate of Maryland unanimously approved of Governor Larry Hogan’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget on Thursday, March 25. Included in this Senate-approved budget is $1.1 billion for the Rainy Day Fund; $572 million of federal funding provided for COVID-19 testing, contract tracing, and vaccinations; $371.5 million for community colleges; and $22 million for critical maintenance projects at State parks. Shore priorities include $2.8 million for the Ocean City Convention Center; and $2 million for Ocean City beach maintenance.
“The Senate-passed budget keeps the focus on COVID-19 recovery while funding key Shore priorities,” said Carozza.
Carozza Speaks Out in Opposition to Drug Paraphernalia Legislation
On Wednesday, the Senate voted to legalize drug paraphernalia over Republican opposition. Senate Bill 420—Criminal Law – Drug Paraphernalia for Administration – Decriminalization would decriminalize the possession of items such as syringes, spoons, needles and scales used to use and distribute heroin and other controlled dangerous substances.
“Given the opioid epidemic in our State, which has seen a resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senate Bill 420 sends the wrong message and also removes an important tool for law enforcement to shut down drug dealers and identify those that would benefit from addiction counseling and treatment,” Senator Carozza said, noting her involvement with local opioid intervention teams. Carozza also mentioned that after marijuana paraphernalia was decriminalized in 2014, there was an uptick of public marijuana smoking on the Ocean City Boardwalk, impacting businesses and visitors in the community.
“I will continue to oppose any bills that have a negative public safety impact and hurt Ocean City and the Shore’s family image,” said Carozza.
Celebrating Maryland Agriculture
This week members of the Maryland General Assembly participated in the Rural Maryland Council’s Maryland Day event honoring the farming and seafood industry. Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford and Department of Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio spoke about these industries’ importance to the State of Maryland and its economy.
During the Eastern Shore Delegation meeting, the members received an update from Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder on the farming industry as a whole, emphasizing the important work that farmers are doing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are grateful to our Shore farmers for stepping up during this critical time,” Senator Carozza said.
SOMERSET PAGE RECOGNIZED IN SENATE
The Maryland General Assembly Student Page program is virtual for the 2021 legislative session to keep the participating students safe and healthy. Senate Pages are responsible for providing vital services to the legislature and have the opportunity to work directly with elected officials. This week, Xavier King, a senior at Washington High School in Princess Anne, served as a Senate Page.