May 20, 2005

The Honorable Michael E. Busch
Speaker of the House
State House
Annapolis MD 21401

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution, today I have vetoed House Bill 111 - Baltimore City - Illegal Dumping - Surveillance Systems.

House Bill 111 allows Baltimore City to set up surveillance cameras in sites where illegal dumping is occurring and record a violation of the State litter law or a similar local law and the vehicle used to violate the law. Further, unless the person violating the law receives a citation at the time of the violation, Baltimore City may mail a civil citation with a penalty not to exceed $1,000 to the owner of the vehicle involved in the violation. An owner may pay the amount stated in the citation or elect to stand trial in the District Court. At trial a certificate sworn to by an agent of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works is evidence of a violation and liability is determined by the civil standard of proof by a preponderance of the evidence.

An owner can contest a citation by proving: (1) that the motor vehicle was stolen, provided a police report of the theft was filed; (2) that another was operating the motor vehicle, if the owner provides at a minimum the name and address of the other; or (3) any other issues and introducing any other evidence that the District Court deems pertinent. A violation may not be recorded on the driving record of the owner and may be considered a parking violation for purposes of registering or suspending a registration for an unpaid citation.

House Bill 111 is similar to House Bill 443 - Montgomery County - Vehicle Laws - Speed Monitoring Systems, which I have also vetoed today. Although I realize that illegal dumping and littering is a serious quality of life issue, I have the same due process and privacy concerns with House Bill 111 that I have with House Bill 443.

Specifically, House Bill 111 will allow the State to charge, try, and convict an individual solely through the use of a photograph of a vehicle. This bill takes what has traditionally been a violation of the criminal law, redefines a violation to be a civil offense, lowers the burden of proof to the civil standard, and abridges the right to confront the witnesses against the accused. Although purporting to be a civil offense, the bill adds these provisions to the Criminal Law Article. There is no procedure in the bill for a person charged to obtain the presence of a State's witness to testify regarding the surveillance equipment or the recorded image. I have serious due process concerns with this procedure.

House Bill 111 is another step toward the pervasive use of cameras by the government to monitor and regulate the conduct of its people. There may be times when this type of surveillance is appropriate. I am, however, reluctant to approve its use in the absence of extraordinary circumstances.

Although House Bill 111 applies only in Baltimore City, it has statewide implications. Similar to House Bill 443, the Montgomery County speed camera bill, Baltimore City would be the first jurisdiction in the State granted this authority. This would establish a precedent for other counties to seek this authority and, accordingly, is the first step to statewide implementation.

For the above stated reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 111.

Very truly yours,
Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.