Baltimore City’s Annapolis delegation voted to advance a bill Friday designed to protect homeowners, tenants and heirs from the annual tax sale list.

Homes with outstanding tax liens exceeding a certain dollar amount can be included on the tax sale foreclosure list, which allows buyers to purchase the liens. Homes with purchased liens can then be foreclosed upon if the homeowner fails to pay off — or “redeem” — the lien fees and interest.

State Del. Regina T. Boyce is sponsoring two tax sale-related bills in the Maryland House of Delegates, and state Sen. Cory McCray is sponsoring the companion bills in the senate.

The first of the two bills would allow Baltimore’s tax collector to withhold from the tax sale any property deemed as owner-occupied. Lobbyist and Baltimore-based attorney Frank Boston said this bill takes a narrower approach than last year’s attempt, which sought to give Baltimore leaders authority to remove any property from the annual list. The current proposals “protect grandma from losing her house after living there for 40 years,” he said.

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Boston said while an overwhelming majority of properties are redeemed, a small percentage are not, and that includes some vulnerable homeowners who may forget or not be able to pay their bills as well as vacant and abandoned properties with derelict or negligent owners.

The second tax sale bill, also heard Friday, would authorize the city to enforce an unpaid water or sewer lien on a home and put it on the tax sale list if the property is not occupied. Adam Shpritz, managing member of the Ashland Auction Group, testified in favor of the measure, calling it a “common sense” proposal that would allow the city to penalize and potentially seize property from those with delinquent water and sewer bills who have abandoned or neglected their homes. He also noted that since unpaid water bills were removed as a provision for tax sale, delinquency rates have increased, according to the city.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Odette Ramos testified in favor of the second measure with an amendment to restrict the measure to unpaid water or sewer bills in vacant or abandoned homes, which she argued would prevent renters, landlords and property heirs in the process of untangling a home’s title from falling through the cracks. Nina Themelis, representing Mayor Brandon Scott’s office, also testified in favor of the bill with the amendment.

Upon adjourning the meeting, Baltimore City Delegation chair Stephanie Smith said the second bill would be held for a later hearing.

— Hallie Miller

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Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson gives a briefing at the Miller Senate Office in Annapolis on Jan. 10, 2024. The 90-day General Assembly session convenes at noon Wednesday and will adjourn on Monday, April 8. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

More bills filed in Senate than this time last year

Both chambers passed their bill introduction deadlines this week. Maryland General Assembly members have filed more than 2,500 bills.

Ferguson said the high bill count in the Senate may affect how the session in his chamber functions.

”In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be constrained by time,” Ferguson said during a Friday news conference. “We would be able to take and receive all the possible, pertinent information before making decisions.”

But a 90-day session does not provide that time, he said.

Sen. Will Smith, chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said his committee has over 300 bills and they’re unwilling to sacrifice the quality of their work because of the quantity.

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This may mean fewer bills are voted out of committee, he said. The House of Delegates has filed a few hundred more bills than the Senate, but they also have more members.

Ferguson said each senator has a 25-bill cap, with an additional five if a member files early. Some senators may have taken the limit as a challenge, he said, and he’s considering lowering the cap in future sessions.

Brenda Wintrode

Johnny Olszewski Jr., a candidate for Congress, poses with lawmakers who endorsed him, as well as Duane "Shorty" Davis, to his left, on Lawyers Mall in Annapolis on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.
Johnny Olszewski Jr., a candidate for Congress, poses with lawmakers who endorsed him, as well as Duane “Shorty” Davis, who is next to Olszewski in a black hat, on Lawyers Mall in Annapolis on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. (Pamela Wood)

Johnny O. picks up a unique endorsement

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. stood outside the State House this week, celebrating the state lawmakers who endorsed his bid for Congress.

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The group included the powerful Democrat leaders of the General Assembly: House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones from Baltimore County and Senate President Bill Ferguson from Baltimore. He also picked up an endorsement from Comptroller Brooke Lierman, who served in the House of Delegates alongside Olszewski years before.

Olszewski said he was humbled to win the support of “leaders who are on the forefront of keeping our community safe from gun violence, keeping Maryland a beacon of hope and choices for women and leaders who are helping insure historic investments in our children, in our families and in our public schools.”

This being an event full of politicians from the Baltimore area, it was no surprise that activist and provocateur Duane “Shorty” Davis showed up. Davis is a regular presence at political announcements and press conferences, sometimes interrupting speakers and airing grievances about the criminal justice system.

Davis strolled around the event on Lawyers Mall, yelling his trademark phrase: “Mic check!”

Olszewski and the others rolled with it, and Olszewski joked: “Shorty, thank you for your endorsement and your vote as well.”

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Davis shot back: “Oh, I’m gonna vote for you! And I’m going to be down in Congress, making sure you’re doing your job.”

When the event was done, the collected politicians posed for two sets of pictures: One without Davis in them, and another with him grinning and holding a “Johnny O” campaign sign.

— Pamela Wood

Sen. Antonio Hayes is just messing with you

No, state Sen. Antonio Hayes is not running for mayor. Or for the City Council. Or for Congress.

The Democratic senator from Baltimore had people talking on Thursday, when he posted a picture of himself on social media at the Maryland State Board of Elections with the vague caption: “I am proud today I filed to officially appear on the May 2024 ballot! Let’s Go! #VoteTeamHayes”

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He got plenty of calls and text messages asking just what exactly he was running for.

The answer: He’s running to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention this summer.

Hayes seemed to relish the speculation.

“I just wanted to stir it up a little bit,” he said with a chuckle on Friday.

— Pamela Wood

Politicos still nursing football loss

The Baltimore Ravens didn’t make it to this weekend’s Super Bowl, and some politicos still aren’t over it.

During his weekly news conference on Friday, Senate President Bill Ferguson, who has M&T Bank Stadium in his district, pointedly mentioned “the Usher concert” happening, but not the big game itself.

A little while later, though, he asked senators to weigh in with a vote on who would win, just for fun. He put the question on the digital vote boards in the chamber.

Maryland state senators voted on who they think will win the 2024 Super Bowl. Twenty-one picked the Kansas City Chiefs, 17 picked the San Francisco 49ers and seven opted not to vote. The informal vote was taken on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024.
Maryland state senators voted on who they think will win the 2024 Super Bowl. The result, from those who participated: 21 picked the Kansas City Chiefs, 17 picked the San Francisco 49ers and seven took a pass and picked neither. The informal vote was taken on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (Pamela Wood)

The result, from those who participated: 21 senators predicted a Kansas City Chiefs win, 17 pulled for the San Francisco 49ers and seven senators took a pass and picked neither.

Gov. Wes Moore, meanwhile, chose to focus on Lamar Jackson — the Baltimore Ravens quarterback who just won NFL MVP for the second time — on Friday.

Moore issued a proclamation declaring Sunday as Lamar Jackson Day in Maryland. The proclamation praised Jackson, saying he “has given his all to his play on the field, to his team, to the people of Baltimore and to the State of Maryland.”

“Lamar Jackson is a generational talent and this Sunday across Maryland we will recognize him for his accomplishments, both off and on the field,” Moore said in a statement.

— Pamela Wood

Megan Pullins helps a customer at Far & Dotter on July 1, 2023, the first day of recreational cannabis legalization in Maryland. (Dylan Thiessen/The Baltimore Banner)

Cannabis agency moves hundreds of applicants to next step

Hundreds of entrepreneurs on Friday secured their slot in Maryland’s cannabis business license lottery.

The Maryland Cannabis Administration notified over 1,400 people that their applications passed through a key phase of the approval process, according to the agency’s acting director.

Maryland is the first state to reserve a first round of licensees for social equity applicants.

Social equity applicants must hold a 65% share in their business and show that they lived or went to school in areas overpoliced during cannabis prohibition. Another qualifier is having attended a college where more than 40% of students were eligible for a Pell Grant.

Will Tilburg attributed the large number of successful applicants to the trainings that the Office of Social Equity held in the fall. The office is responsible for ensuring a diverse business landscape for the state’s cannabis industry and providing technical assistance to entrepreneurs.

Applicants had to include detailed plans showing how they would run and operate their business and ensure they had a plan to hire a diverse staff.

Ensuring the more than 1,700 applications met the minimum requirements was “a tremendous effort” by his staff, Tilburg said.

“I’m very proud of the agency’s work,” he said.

The license lottery date and time will be announced in early March after the Cannabis Administration has had a chance to talk with the roughly 200 applicants that didn’t make it through. Not answering a question was one of the most common reasons for having an application rejected, Tilburg said. Rejected applicants can try again in future licensing rounds.

Last year, Maryland opened its recreational cannabis marketplace. In the first six months, the industry earned $331.8 million in revenue.

Brenda Wintrode