* This is the second is a series of articles previewing Potomac legislators’ plans for the 2006 General Assembly session in Annapolis. Additional previews will appear in January.
LAST YEAR, Del. Bill Bronrott found himself in the spotlight when he garnered bi-partisan support in the Maryland legislature for a package of bills aimed at curbing injuries and fatalities among teenage drivers.
Bronrott (D-16) was chief sponsor of three successful bills that restrict and phase-in driving privileges for young people. Gov. Robert Ehrlich added two similar bills of his own.
Teen driving was a hot topic, with the legislative session coming on the heels of a three-month period in which at least 18 young people died in a spate of crashes involving teenagers in the Washington area. Legislators came to town hall meetings to voice support for teen driving reforms. Bronrott was contacted to do interviews for state and national news outlets. Solving the teen-driving problem was en vogue.
But the bills were virtually identical to ones Bronrott had proposed in previous years. The tragedies had only mustered the political will to get them passed.
Bronrott’s colleagues may listen more closely to what he has to say this year.
His plans include another road safety measure: a law requiring that motorbike and moped operators wear helmets.
Currently Maryland law only requires motorcycle drivers to wear helmets, but moped usage has increased significantly thanks to risking gasoline prices, Bronrott said, and the dangers are the same.
A second road safety bill would require all Maryland drivers to use a hands-free device to talk on a cell phone while driving. New York was the first state to pass such a law in 2001 and New Jersey, the District of Columbia a numerous counties and cities have followed.
“There is more and more evidence showing that cell phone use is becoming the lead distraction in cars today,” Bronrott said. The bill will pass through the House Environmental Matters Committee, on which Bronrott serves.
Bronrott also plans to re-introduce a road safety bill that passed the Senate but failed in the House last year, the Driver Responsibility and First Responders Act. That measure would set up a system of state-issued fines for bad drivers in connection with the points on their drivers’ licenses. The money would go partly to the state transportation trust fund, which Bronrott called “woefully under-funded” and partly into a new fund to support “first responders” — police, firefighters, and rescuers.
“We hope that we can rev up the bill earlier in the session in 2006 and move it through both houses,” Bronrott said.
Bronrott has worked closely with Sen. Rob Garagiola (D-15) on that bill and will be the House sponsor of several bills Garagiola proposed aimed at increasing renewable energy usage and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Bronrott will introduce an additional bill requiring the Maryland government to purchase a percentage of its energy from renewable sources.
BRONROTT IS planning a bill to deter underage drinking. A person caught drinking underage would lose his driver’s license for six months. Another bill would limit judges’ ability to issue “probation before judgment” rulings, which are considered lenient, against repeat drunken drivers.
Potomac’s Ivymount School, which mainly serves special needs students, could get $170,000 from the state for renovations, thanks to a bond bill that Bronrott will co-sponsor. “They do extraordinary work,” he said.
“There's no doubt that election year politics will play a hand in the dealings of the General Assembly,” Bronrott said of the coming session. “[But] I believe that there will be plenty of time after the legislative session is over for the politicking and campaigning to take place.”
He said he hopes the legislature will pass a fiscally prudent budget, but doing so depends upon the will of the governor. Maryland’s constitution gives the governor more power in dictating the budget than in most other states. The legislature generally is only able to make cuts.
“Whatever surpluses that we have these are dollars that have already been dedicated to things like … the Thornton Commission and issues related to Medicaid,” Bronrott said. “We’re not deep in the black. We’re really cutting it very, very close this year.”
He added that he hopes the issue of slot machine gambling in Maryland won’t return this year but that there are already indications that it will.
Bronrott, 50, is serving his second term in the House of Delegates. He said he plans to run for reelection in 2006.