Attempt to add infractions, increase fines shot down in unanimous vote by Judiciary Committee members
(March 15, 2019) State legislators rejected Ocean City’s request for an expanded special event zone law Monday, after all 11 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted last week to issue an unfavorable report on the proposed measure.
Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38), and cross-filed with a bill by Del. Wayne Hartman in the House of Delegates, the bill would have boosted fines and added several traffic offenses to the current law that aims to curb rowdiness and recklessness during certain car-related events.
Mayor Rick Meehan and Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro testified before the committee last week, but failed to sway the committee’s seven Democrats and four Republicans.
In light of the Senate vote, Hartman (R-38C), withdrew his bill and canceled a House Environment and Transportation committee hearing scheduled last Friday
The current special event zone law, which was sponsored by then-Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) with cross-filed with legislation sponsored by then Del. Carozza, was passed last year after legislators watered down the original version.
Initially, the bill was intended to crack down on reckless driving, drivers burning rubber and making too much noise. It would accomplish that by authorizing the State Highway Administration to designate roads under its purview as special event zones that would function much the same as school zones, where state law permits stiffer penalties.
Objections to the harshness of some of the penalties, however, resulted in the passage last year of a law that focused on speeding offenses, rather than other bad behavior by drivers.
Apparently, legislator’s reluctance to impose the higher fines called for in this year’s measure scuttled it for this year.
“While I believe we made a strong case at the hearing for the need to expand the violations under the current law, the committee members were not inclined to increase penalties,” Carozza said. “We are disappointed … but we have left the door open to go back next session and push for the increased penalties.”
Speaking during a break on the House floor Monday, Hartman said after receiving word of the Senate committee vote last Wednesday night , he conferred the following day with Environment and Transportation committee leadership regarding HB 789.
Hartman said although the possibility of reducing the requested maximum fine for the additional driving offenses from $1,000 to $500 was discussed, he decided to retain the bill’s language and withdraw the measure this session.
“Looking at the mindset of the Senate, larger fines seemed to be unpalatable,” he said.