Numerous Cecil bills set to pass
Slots parity for Hollywood Casino did not make it
— Now that the end of the Maryland General Assembly is less than a week away and the crossover date has passed, legislators know what has a chance of being passed this session.
Bills that do not make it out of committee in order to be heard by a larger chamber before the March 21 cross- over day have virtually no hope of passage.
Perhaps most notable of the local bills that will not pass this year is one that sought parity for Hollywood Casino Perr yville’s slots tax. The bill, which saw Hollywood Casino executives hire a Baltimore lobbying firm, ultimately did not make it out of either its House of Delegates or State Senate committee after hearings in midMarch.
On Monday, Delegate Kevin Hornberger (R-Cecil) said that the bill will likely be a two or threeyear effort after talking with committee members this session.
“They want to see how the new National Harbor Casino performs after it opens this year, and what other casinos will seek in readjustments,” he said, noting there is talk of
Rocky Gap Casino and Casino at Ocean Downs also joining Hollywood Casino Perr yville is seeking a more competitive tax rate for the state’s three smallest casinos.
Another of Hornberger’s bills, seeking to fund a study on the potential viability of elk in Cecil County, which was opposed by county officials, also did not make it out of its House committee before cross- over day. He had hoped that such a study, potentially funded by a nonprofit, would prove a financial windfall for ecotourism and hunting in the county, but the bill was opposed by farmers who feared damage to their crops and county officials who saw needless danger from new large wild animals.
“The elk bill was put in late so it wasn’t able to get a vote, and the committee said that they would really like to see a letter of support from the county,” Hornberger said. “With a regime change coming next year in the county, we’ll have some new conversations then and see where we stand.”
After further research and conversation, the delegate also said a study might not have to be done though legislation either, but could be funded by a nonprofit through the Department of Natural Resources without oversight by the General Assembly.
Meanwhile, several other bills of local interest are well poised to pass before the legislature adjourns on Monday, also known as “Sine Die Day.”
Among those bills are some seeking to increase the sheriff’s salary, start Arabian horse racing at Fair Hill, allow microbrewies in the county, and end the requirement of having both parties appear together to apply for a marriage license.
House Bill 816, which aims to raise the Cecil County Sheriff’s salary about 22 percent to a more competitive $ 100,000 starting after the end of Sheriff Scott Adams’ first term, was unanimously approved by the House. It received a hearing in the Senate on March 29, in which it received no opposition.
House Bill 1071- Senate Bill 958, which seeks to allow Class 7 micro- breweries to operate in the county, is on pace to be approved this session after being unanimously approved in the House and given a favorable report in its Senate committee Monday.
House Bill 832- Senate Bill 715, which aims to make obtaining a marriage license easier for a couple by repealing a requirement that both individuals appear together at the clerk of the court’s office, sailed through both chambers, being already approved unanimously in the House and Senate. It awaits Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature.
House Bill 815- Senate Bill 1116, which seeks to allow Arabian horse racing at Fair Hill along with Thoroughbreds and quarter horses, also received strong support and is on track to be passed both chambers.
“The Arabian horse racing bill really caught fire after its passage in the House,” Hornberger said Monday, noting that every member of the Senate Finance Committee wanted to cross- file it after it was heard there.
The delegate’s commercial snakehead bowfishing license measure — House Bill 1387-Senate Bill 1054 — also fared well with near unanimous passage in both chambers. Hornberger said that bill, which had dozens of cosponsors including lead cosponsor State Sen. James Mathias ( R- Lower Shore), also helped him build coalitions for future support.
“That bill was a huge bridge builder,” he said. “We made some in- roads on both sides of the aisle with it.”
One local bill with an uncertain future late in the session, however, is House Bill 824, which seeks to increase the allowance for traveling expenses for judges of the Orphans’ Court for Cecil County from $780 to $1,600, and making judges who have completed 12 years of service eligible for a pension. The measure was passed unanimously in the House, but, in a Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee hearing last week, came under some questioning.
State Sen. Justin Ready ( R- Carroll) questioned why judges of the orphans court needed a travel expense, a thought echoed by Hornberger’s delegation colleague, State Sen. Wayne Norman ( R- Harford/ Cecil).
Hornberger replied that the judges are paid a nominal amount — $7,500 a year — and a bigger travel budget is a way to help augment their compensation for the duties of the office, adding that other similar- sized counties have the same appropri- ation. He also said that orphan court judges sometimes have to travel to adjudicate an estate.
Norman, who is a practicing attorney, said he’s handled many estates and has never had to do so outside of his office, raising some questions about how the travel expenses would be paid out.
Committee Chairman Bobby Zirkin ( D- Baltimore) asked Hornberger to confer with the Cecil County Senatorial Delegation before his committee would vote on it, noting that it has no state fiscal impact and would be borne by Cecil County entirely.
A number of local bills are set to pass the General Assembly this year, but slots tax parity will not be one.