Category Archives: Policy

Guest on Conduit Street podcast: “Liberty in Trying Times”

I joined hosts Michael Sanderson and Kevin Kinnally on the Maryland Association of Counties’ popular Conduit Street Podcast, which has a large circulation among civically-minded Marylanders and national reach as well. Our talk ranged widely over legal and governmental aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, including government’s emergency powers, and how they sometimes don’t go away when the emergency ends; the role of the courts, both during the emergency and after it ends, in enforcing and restoring constitutional norms; contrasts between the state and federal handling of the crisis; and the opportunity this provides (and has already provided) to re-examine the scope of regulation, which has been cut back in many areas so as to allow vigorous private sector response in areas like medical care, delivery logistics, and remote provision of services.

Their description:

On a special bonus episode of the Conduit Street Podcast, Walter Olson joins Kevin Kinnally and Michael Sanderson to examine the role of state and local emergency powers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C. A resident of Frederick County, Olson recently served on the Frederick County Charter Review Commission. Olson has also served as the co-chair of [the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, created in] 2015.

MACo has made the podcast available through both iTunes and Google Play Music by searching Conduit Street Podcast. You can also listen on our Conduit Street blog with a recap and link to the podcast.

You can listen to previous episodes of the Conduit Street Podcast on our website.

You can listen and download here (40:04).

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In search of Kirwan cash, legislature passes nation’s first digital ad tax

It’s of doubtful constitutionality and a practical mess, argue Randolph May and Andrew Long [Free State Foundation] More: Patrick Gleason/Forbes, Eversheds Sutherland podcast.

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Easing license burdens for the duration

I’ve got a new post at Cato on steps taken by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to ease licensing burdens for the duration of the COVID-19 emergency. Baker announced that a state board would shorten to one day the approval needed for medical professionals licensed in good standing in other states to practice in Massachusetts. On the Maryland steps, I summarize thus:

Meanwhile, as part of a group of emergency measures in Maryland yesterday, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an executive order providing that all renewals of expiring licenses, permits, registrations and the like — including driver’s, business, and other licenses, not only occupational — would be extended to until 30 days after the state of emergency ends, whenever that is. The step will protect state employees and other users of public buildings from unnecessary contacts, as well as sparing many members of the public the fear that they will need to break isolation and social distancing in order to keep their licenses current.

Other states should follow on both measures.

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“Democrats To Propose Sales Tax Expansion To Fund Kirwan”

KIRWAN:

Keep
Increasing
Revenues
Without
Actual
Necessity

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Don’t suspend drivers’ licenses over fines/fees unrelated to road safety

Sometimes the attorney general of this state takes positions I agree with. WTOP:

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh joined state lawmakers in Annapolis to call for an end to the practice of suspending people’s driver’s licenses because they failed to pay a court fee or fine.

Using drivers’ licenses as leverage to collect other moneys owed can be self-defeating as well as harsh, since it will often cut off debtors from holding the jobs by which they could secure the means of repayment. Glad to see Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore County), as well as several leading Democrats, co-sponsoring this important bill:

Republican Sen. Chris West said drivers who do commit traffic infractions and can’t pay “would not get off scot-free” under the legislation. West said the state could recover the fees with civil action.

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Talking gerrymandering in Pennsylvania

I participated as both a speaker and a panelist in the November event “Getting It Right: Weighing the Options for Reform,” hosted by Fair Districts PA in Harrisburg. You can watch here.

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Montgomery County’s unwieldy racial lens

As promised, Montgomery County has followed through on enacting a so-called racial-equity bill, following the lead of Fairfax County, Va. and other jurisdictions. The main impacts are likely to be 1) reports, reports, reports and 2) an even higher volume of self-congratulation than is usual among MoCo elected officials. David Lublin at The Seventh State doesn’t expect it will do much for genuine social justice.

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Latest mandatory-Section-8 push in Baltimore County

Last year I wrote:

In principle, the federal housing-voucher program known as Section 8 ought to win points as a market-oriented alternative to the old command-and-control approach of planning and constructing public housing projects. While allowing recipients wider choice about where to live, it has also enabled private landlords to decide whether to participate and, if so, what mix of voucher-holding and conventionally paying tenants makes the most sense for a location….

For landlords, participation in the program has long carried with it some significant burdens of inspection, certification, and reporting paperwork. So long as participation was voluntary, these conditions were presumably worth it in exchange for the chance to reach voucher-holders as a class of potential tenants. When accepting Section 8 tenants stops being a voluntary choice, however, the balance is likely to shift. And one of the big policy pushes of the past decade — zealously promoted by the Obama administration — was the local enactment of laws and ordinances prohibiting so-called source-of-income discrimination, which in practice can mean making it a legal offense for a landlord to maintain a policy of declining Section 8 vouchers.

Since then, battles over whether landlord participation in Section 8 should remain voluntary have continued to flare around the country. While progressive litigators have thus far failed to derive an obligation to participate from the “disparate-impact” branch of housing discrimination law, they have persuaded the American Bar Association to endorse laws along these lines. Among the many local battles is a long-running controversy in Baltimore County, Maryland, the subject of this useful opinion piece in yesterday’s Baltimore Sun by local businessman Ben Frederick III.

It is sometimes claimed that to not participate in the program is to “discriminate” against voucher-holders, and suggestions of proxy racial discrimination are often not far behind. But as Frederick notes, landlords (many of whom are minority themselves) object above all to the strings:

There is nothing discriminatory about a person who has invested their life savings in a rental property deciding that they do not want to lose two month’s rent while waiting for a voucher holder to be approved and move in before they begin seeing rent; or from refusing to sign a federally mandated 12-page lease addendum; or from being subject to the whims of government funding for approval for how much rent might be paid; or from being subjected to annual inspections that are unpredictable and inconsistent, where the government will stop paying rent if the rental unit needs repairs, even if tenants abuse and damage the property.

Johns Hopkins study last year for HUD of low-rent housing markets in Baltimore, Cleveland, and Dallas found that among landlords who chose not to participate in the voucher program, “the primary reasons stated were negative experiences with the program itself, including frustration with the inspection process, general bureaucracy, and disappointment when the PHA [public housing authority] did not take the landlord’s side in conflicts between landlord and tenant.”

Frederick notes that other landlords can and do build a business model around serving Section 8 users. That might involve developing standardized procedures, hiring and training staff with an eye to compliance know-how, and cultivating relationships with government actors. This is all more easily done at scale by adequately capitalized entrants in the rental property market. As it happens, however, the ranks of real-world landlords — perhaps especially in less affluent communities with older housing — include many mom-and-pop landlords short on the skill and inclination needed to pull this off.

Other government voucher programs, Frederick points out, get along with voluntary provider participation. “According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 72% of physicians accept Medicaid, the government-funded health care program for the poor; 75% of food retailers, including grocery stores, convenience food stores and farmer’s market retailers, accept SNAP, more commonly known as food stamps.” In both cases, shouldering the regulatory burdens gives them access to valuable customer markets. But when they don’t find the burdens worth it, no one compels the doctors and food retailers to participate (at least not yet.)

“As business owners,” Frederick writes, “landlords should be free to make the same choice.” Indeed. [cross-posted from Cato at Liberty; earlier)

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Baltimore begins nullifying nearly 800 bad-cop convictions

Baltimore continues to pay a high price for the sorts of police corruption and misconduct on display in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal. Part of that price is that convictions need to be thrown out, even in cases where a real crime may have been committed and not all the evidence was tainted. From the Sun:

“When you have sworn police officers involved in egregious and long-standing criminal activity such as planting guns and drugs, stealing drugs and money, selling drugs, making illegal arrests, and bringing false charges, our legal and ethical obligation in the pursuit of justice leaves us no other recourse but to ‘right the wrongs’ of unjust convictions associated with corrupt police officers,” Mosby wrote in an email.

And if you think maybe we could get fuller disclosure of police disciplinary proceedings so that problems might be headed off before they reach the stage of massive scandal, well, good luck with that.

More from the Abell Foundation: “Baltimore Police Department: Understanding its status as a state agency”:

The Baltimore Police Department became a State Agency 158 years ago in response to the rise of the Know-Nothing Party in Baltimore City. By 1860, the Know-Nothing Party had taken complete political control of Baltimore City, relying on violence and coercion. The Maryland General Assembly reached the conclusion that the City and Mayor had proven themselves incapable of maintaining order in the City of Baltimore and accordingly enacted Public Local Laws making the Baltimore Police Department a State Agency.

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Got no use for logical cops

Sentences worth pondering, from coverage of the U.S. Department of Justice’s employment-practices suit against Baltimore County: “The exams tested reading, grammar, logic and other skills that the suit alleges are not related to the job of being a police officer or police cadet.” Critics take heart, however: “County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. issued a statement saying the police department has discontinued the test.” [Pamela Wood and Wilborn P. Nobles III, Baltimore Sun] (cross-posted from Overlawyered)

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