With Ocean City car events season reving up soon, bills still await action
With the beginning of spring and car events fast approaching in Ocean City, bills in the Maryland General Assembly that would create special event zones are awaiting action by their committees.
On Feb. 27, Sen. Mathias's version of the bill was heard before the Judicial Proceedings Committee, and on March 2, Delegate Mary Beth Carozza's version was heard before the Environment and Transportation Committee.
"It is brought to you as an emergency bill so that we have these tools in place for upcoming motor vehicle events in the spring," Carozza said during her bill's hearing.
Both bills now will be voted on by their respective committees. As of Tuesday afternoon, no vote had been set for either bill.
During both hearings, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro, Worcester County Sheriff Office's Lt. Ed Schreier, Cruisin' events organizer Bob Rothermil and Vice President for the Harrison Group Hotels G. Hale Harrison were present.
Ocean City Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Melanie Pursel and Donna Abbott, director of Ocean City Tourism Department, were also present for Sen. Mathias's hearing.
"We feel this bill would give more authority to police department and allied forces to enforce stricter penalties during special events," Pursel said before the Judicial Proceedings Committee. "These penalties would create a strong deterrent for individuals who may otherwise pose a threat to public safety."
The two bills co-filed with one another would allow the State Highway Administration to create designated zones during special road events similar to work zones. These zones could carry a lower speed limit and would carry with it higher fines and the possibility of points added to licenses.
For both bills, a "special event" includes a vehicle show, boat show or outdoor recreation show, a festival, fair or carnival, parades, circuses, concerts, block parties and fireworks displays. It would have special event zones marked by warning signs or other traffic control devices that designate a special event is in progress.
Both bills, too, would allow the State High Administration to — either on its own initiative or at the request of a local authority — designate an area on a state highway, such as Coastal Highway, as a special event zone and reduce established speed limits in the zone after a determination that the change is needed to ensure public safety.
Similar to the State Highway Administration provision, both bills would allow local authorities to designate an area on a highway under its jurisdiction as a special event zone and reduce established speed limits after it is determined the change is needed to protect public safety.
Both bills would ban reckless driving, aggressive driving, racing, spinning wheels and excessive noise.
For any person who breaks one of these laws, the bills call for one year in prison, a fine to not exceed $1,000 or both for the first offense and up to two years in prison, a fine not to exceed $1,000 or both for second offenses.
Any person who causes bodily harm to another person would face up to three years in prison, a fine not to exceed $5,000 or both.
Any accident in the special event zone that results in the death of another person would lead to imprisonment for up to 10 years, a fine not to exceed $5,000 or both.
"Those people are all behaving like idiots," said Sen. Justin Ready, R-Carroll County, after seeing a video presented by Buzzuro of the scenes on the streets at H2Oi. "I don’t know what the appeal is watching people burn out like that in the middle of the road."
Ready then asked what Ocean City currently can do to stop incidents such as the one in the video.
Buzzuro said, right now, burning rubber on the road carries a $70 fine, and the new law would allow Ocean City police and allied forces to better use resources to ensure something like that does not happen in the future.
"This bill will allow us in a very proactive public relations way to get the message out," said Mathias. "So just as we proceed through construction zones and school zones, when you come into the area and it has been declared a special event motorized vehicle zone, you know what to expect if you don’t abide by the law and act flagrantly."
When Carozza's version of the bill was being heard, Herb McMillan, R-Anne Arundel County, had some issues with the penalties laid out in the bill for rule violators.
Due to the increase in punishments for rule violators in the special event zone, McMillan wondered if the bill should go before the Judiciary Committee.
"I am not saying these penalties are wrong ... I am just saying in this committee, where we handle traffic violations, we don’t get into 10 years in prison or fines of this magnitude," he said. "And when I saw this, and this is brand new law, it does give me concern, and I wondered if, candidly, if we should be the only committee looking at this."