By David Anderson
Even with two freshman senators and three freshman delegates, the 11 members of Harford County’s legislative contingent finished a productive 2015 General Assembly session that ended in Annapolis Monday night, several members said.
Among their successes in the 90-day session were the passage of three state bond bills for Ripken Stadium, Ladew Topiary Gardens and the Susquehanna Hose Company of Havre de Grace. Also approved was a bill permitting the refilling of wine growlers in the county.
But on the losing end, bills to provide some toll relief for commuters using the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge across the Susquehanna River between Harford and Cecil counties.
“We all worked together and just really made a lot happen for the people of Harford and Cecil counties,” Republican Sen. Wayne Norman, of Bel Air, said Tuesday. Norman was elected to the Senate in November after serving in the House of Delegates for seven years.
“It was kind of difficult in the first couple of weeks, trying to communicate with everybody, but we got it straightened out pretty quick, and the last month of session just flew by,” Norman said.
Norman’s first bill passed as a senator was signed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan Tuesday.
Senate Bill 97 allows an absentee ballot cast by a voter who died before the absentee canvass to still be counted. Freshman Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, of Havre de Grace, the only Democrat in the Harford delegation, sponsored companion legislation on the House side, HB-884, which also passed.
Prior state election law allowed boards of elections to reject absentee ballots cast by voters who died before Election Day or before the canvass, and Lisanti petitioned the Harford County board to count the absentee ballot cast by her late mother, Nellie, even though she died a few days before the June 2014 primary election.
Lisanti’s bill authorizing $100,000 in bond funding toward the Susquehanna Hose Company’s purchase of a new fire and rescue boat was also passed, as was her bond bill authorizing $500,000 for safety, security and maintenance improvements to Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen.
“That is good news for the City of Aberdeen and Aberdeen taxpayers,” Lisanti said Tuesday of the stadium funds.
A bond bill sponsored by the full delegation, granting $100,000 for capital expenses to the nonprofit Ladew Gardens in Monkton, also passed, Lisanti said.
“It was a productive session,” she said. “I had the opportunity to work in a bipartisan matter with delegates and senators from all over the state, and its been a rewarding experience.
Norman was not as successful with his bill to allow people applying for a handgun permit to give self defense as a reason to wear and carry a firearm.
He said his bill was “stuck” in committee, and no gun-related bills moved to the full Senate this year.
Norman’s bill to give commuters traveling across the Route 40 Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge a discount also did not make it out of committee.
Norman said he has heard Hogan plans to announce how he will deal with tolls in the coming months.
“I’d love to know what his agenda is on tolls,” Norman said of the governor Wednesday.
Norman’s bill would have provided a variable toll rate of half the normal rate for commuters crossing the bridge between 5 and 7 a.m., provided the vehicle registered with the Maryland Transportation Authority that operates the bridge.
Shareese Churchill, Hogan’s press secretary, confirmed the governor plans to “address what he believes are exorbitant toll rates,” but he has not shared details yet.
Churchill said Hogan expects to make an announcement before the next legislative session begins.
“Governor Hogan has long stated his priorities of restoring fiscal responsibility to our state and providing tax relief to Maryland’s citizens, which includes lowering Maryland’s tolls,” she added.
Overall, Norman said, he was able to get legislation passed as a senator he was unable to get passed as a delegate.
“It’s a lot more work in the Senate, but there are fewer [legislators] you’re competing with,” he said.
Del. Rick Impallaria, of Joppa, the Harford House delegation chairman, said four local alcoholic beverage bills, including the one allowing the filling of personal containers, or growlers, with wines purchased at licensed businesses, passed and were signed by Hogan Tuesday. The refilling of beer growlers already is permitted.
Another bill gives operators of a brew pub the option of not serving food along with beer. They also would have to obtain a portion of their ingredients, such as barley and hops, from local farmers.
“You want their overall goal to be making beer, not running a restaurant,” he said.
Impallaria said anyone who is seeking a liquor license will no longer have to get signatures from at least five registered voters, since there are “too many” other ways to notify neighbors that a liquor establishment will be opening nearby.
Another bill reinstates a requirement that at least one holder of a liquor license be a Harford County resident.
“The county’s a big county, and it has a lot of qualified people, and those jobs should go to people in Harford County,” Impallaria said. “And, if there’s a problem, that person should be close by.”
“Our new delegates did a fantastic job and really stepped up to the plate in getting legislation through,” he said. “We worked really well as a team.”