Release: Comptroller Henry Shares Priorities Ahead of Session

Crest of the City of Baltimore

Bill Henry
Comptroller,
Baltimore City
204 City Hall - Baltimore Maryland 21202
(410) 396-5410

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT
Geoff Shannon, Public Relations Officer
(410) 387-5704

geoff.shannon@baltimorecity.gov

 

Comptroller Bill Henry presented his priority list to the City Delegation for the 2022 Maryland General Assembly during the second annual Issues & Priorities pre-session hearing on November 15. You can watch the full meeting at this link.

Dear Chairwoman Smith and members of the City Delegation:

Thank you for your invitation to participate in the Baltimore City House Delegation’s Third Annual Issues and Priorities Hearing. I am pleased to share with you and with the people of Baltimore the City Comptroller’s legislative priorities for the 2023 General Assembly session. I look forward to a change in Administration in Annapolis and am optimistic the new year will bring a more supportive and collaborative approach to addressing the City’s issues on the part of the Governor.

The focus of the Comptroller’s legislative priorities in 2023, like those I put forward in the 2022 session, is on safeguarding City resources and striving for economic justice. Some of them reflect positions I have held throughout 15 years in elected office, and others have come to prominence more recently in my tenure as the citywide financial watchdog on the Board of Estimates.

In the 2023 session, I am proposing that the General Assembly put forward legislation to amend the State Riot Act, to remove obsolete provisions and reasonably limit the liability, under the Local Government Tort Claims Act, of a county or municipal government for damages caused by civil unrest. These are prudent revisions to a statute that has not been closely reviewed for more than fifty years. In tandem with that effort, I am working with subject matter experts and legislative leaders to explore statutory solutions to the challenge posed by property owners who receive insurance proceeds for property damaged by unrest or other causes and then reinvest that money elsewhere, leaving a structurally unsound and hazardous building that then becomes a costly problem for local government to address. At a minimum, the beneficiary of such insurance proceeds should at least leave their lot cleared of debris if they are not going to reinvest in their local economy.

Another new priority effort in 2023 involves correcting an anomaly in State law relating to collective bargaining agreements for the City Sherriff’s Office. I thank Senator McCray for his leadership and outstanding work in creating the structure for City sheriff’s employees to bargain for working conditions through SB 914 of 2021. I look forward to working with him on an amendment to that law to bring the duration of sheriff’s union contracts into harmony with those of other unions representing City employees.

Just as important as the new legislative initiatives are the urgent and pressing unfinished matters from the 2022 session. I will once again be supporting efforts to require that law enforcement officers who commit serious crimes or are convicted or plead guilty to offenses related to lying under oath or fabricating false evidence forfeit their pension benefits. Since 2017, Baltimore City government has paid more than $15.5 Million in legal settlements for three dozen cases relating to the Gun Trace Task Force. It is grossly unfair that the taxpayers should be financially liable for the willful misconduct of public servants with no hope of even a modest recourse. And to be clear, while most of the attention has been focused on police officers because of the actions of the Gun Trace Task Force, this attitude should be consistent for all public employees. Elected officials lose their pensions upon conviction of a felony in office; this should be true for all of those who breach the public trust.

I look forward to supporting the efforts of Senator Carter and others with data from the City Board of Estimates to help make the case for pension forfeiture; there is no better opportunity than the first year of a new legislative term to make real progress on this issue.

I also look forward to collaborating with tenants’ rights advocates and leaders in the House and Senate to enact legislation that prohibits a landlord from summarily evicting tenants unless the landlord has a valid rental license issued by the appropriate local jurisdiction. Last year, we came within a hair’s breadth of success on this issue; Senate Bill 563 passed both houses of the General Assembly, with robust debate and reasonable amendments, only to be vetoed by the Governor three days before the deadline to sign bills that passed in the 2022 session. SB 563 and its companion House bill were introduced to address an inequity that arose from a Court of Appeals case specifically relating to Baltimore City’s rental licensing laws, but neither bill had any cosponsors from the City. I respectfully ask that when these bills are introduced again this year, you sign on as co-sponsors and join the fight to protect our renters. With a new incumbent on the second floor of the State House, I am optimistic we can get this in the win column in 2023, and I urge the members of the City Delegation to engage on the issue as early in the new session as possible.

Finally, I will also continue to support legislation that makes auto insurance more affordable for City residents, who continue to pay the highest car insurance rates in the state. With allies such as the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, the Job Opportunities Task Force, and Consumer Auto, I will keep advocating for legislative solutions such as prohibiting the use of non-driving related factors in auto policy ratings and the establishment of low-cost “lifeline” insurance programs, as Delegate Bridges sought to do last year with House Bill 1421.

I would like to close by thanking every member of the City Delegation for their tireless work in advocating for the people of Baltimore. Your responsibilities are significant, and I thank you for your steadfast advocacy for the City in the face of what often was indifference or hostility from other areas of the state and from our Chief Executive for the last eight years. I am excited to continue my partnership with you to improve the ways we serve our constituents and build a better future for Baltimore, and thus for all of Maryland.

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