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Reform continues under Byron’s leadership; latest brings $250,000 in savings to Maryland families

Byron has made it his mission to undo an anachronistic rule that requires the Registers of Wills to send out notices by certified mail. Through research, he determined the total cost for these notices to Maryland families is approximately $250,000 per year. As most people know, a certified letter rarely brings good news and thus many of these notices are returned unclaimed, and the return of a certified letter postcard does not actually prove the intended recipient received the notice. Therefore, Byron worked with his colleagues, the Estates & Trusts Section of the Maryland Bar Association, and pursued this reform relentlessly for the past three years. He is pleased to announce that the Maryland Court of Appeals approved a change to the Maryland Rules which will allow the Registers to send all notices by first-class mail rather than certified. This will, again, bring about $250,000 in savings to Maryland families each year.

This is yet another example of common sense reform that Byron has made the hallmark of his tenure as Register of Wills. As a member of the County Council, the people of Howard County can expect the same steadfast stewardship of our local government, ensuring that it runs in a way that is cost effective, modern, and responsive to the community’s needs.

Byron Marches in Baltimore Pride Parade with U.S. Sen. Van Hollen, Del. Mary Washington

Baltimore’s Pride celebrations were covered in the Washington Blade. Click the screenshot to read the full story.

On Saturday, June 17, 2017, Byron marched in the Baltimore Gay Pride Parade, which traveled from the neighborhoods of Mt. Vernon to Old Goucher. This was Byron’s 11th Baltimore Pride as an out gay man. “I remember my first Pride, how exhilarating it was to be out of the closet, and how amazing it was to see and meet so many people like me. Experiencing the love and solidarity in this community made coming out easier, has made being out exciting and enriching, and has made the battles we’ve waged for our right to be out and free and equal ones where we’ve succeeded over and over again. Our work goes on and we’ll continue to prove that love and equality will win.”

The Grand Marshals for the parade were U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, a longtime ally of the LGBT community, and State Delegate Mary Washington, one of the first African-American lesbian legislators in America. Other LGBT elected officials marching included State Senator Rich Madaleno, the first openly gay state Senator in Maryland history and a candidate for governor, College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, and Delegate Luke Clippinger. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and Delegate Brooke Lierman were other allies who marched.

Paper Reduction Initiative Signed Into Law

On Tuesday, May 10th, Governor Larry Hogan signed House Bill 472 into law. This bill, introduced by Delegate Christian Miele of Baltimore County, will reduce the volume of documents stored by the Registers by over 90%. For almost 20 years now, the Registers of Wills have been scanning and imaging all papers they receive. Using these high-resolution, secure images, documents can be easily reproduced. This legislation would allow the Registers to dispose of the original paper files, except any wills or codicils (amendments to wills). This enormous reduction will save the state – Archives and the Registers – and local jurisdictions – which are required to house the Registers in their courthouse – time and money in terms of storage, equipment, and maintenance.

Byron is grateful to Delegate Miele for sponsoring this legislation and for his colleagues’ support in this endeavor. Together, this simple, good government bill, is now law.

Register’s Office Receives Exemplary Review in Recent Report

The Office of Legislative Audits, in a routine review of the operations of the office of the Register of Wills for Howard County, has concluded that the office has no “significant deficiencies in the design of operation of the Office’s internal control,” nor does it have any “significant instances of noncompliance with applicable laws, rules, or regulations.” Byron and his dedicated staff have worked diligently over many years to ensure that this office’s fiscal operations are conducted with precision and integrity. This report demonstrates that Byron’s leadership has produced a highly efficient, fiscally sound public office that Howard County residents can be proud of. Byron’s office generates between $2.5 and $3 million in revenue each year, the vast majority of which is placed into the state General Fund to support public health, primary and higher education, transportation, and public safety.

For more information, the full audit report can be found here.

Registers Push 2016 Legislative Agenda

In the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly, the Maryland Register of Wills Association is pushing three pieces of legislation that will benefit the public:

1. Paper Reduction Initiative

This bill, introduced by Delegate Christian Miele of Baltimore County, would reduce the volume of documents stored by the Registers by over 90%. For almost 20 years now, these offices scan, image, and archive all papers they receive. Using these high-resolution, secure images, documents can be easily reproduced. This legislation would allow the Registers to dispose of the original paper files, except any wills or codicils (amendments to wills). This enormous reduction will save the state – Archives and the Registers – and local jurisdictions – which are required to house the Registers in their courthouse – time and money in terms of storage, equipment, and maintenance.

2. Ending Use of Certified Mail in Probate

For many years, state law requires that notices given to interested persons in estate matters be sent by certified mail. In Fiscal Year 2015, the Registers of Wills collected over $230,000 in certified mail charges from estates that could have otherwise gone to a decedent’s loved ones. This legislation would allow for these notices to be given by first-class mail, like most other legal notices, saving Maryland families hundreds of thousands of dollars and saving the Registers countless hours of staff time compiling and mailing these notices.

3. Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act

As we manage our finances and actually have assets that exist in the digital world, the law must adjust to this trend and enable the fiduciaries – personal representatives, trustees, guardians, etc. – to be able to access these assets. Often when a loved one passes away, the family feels powerless or lost when dealing with the decedent’s online profile – bank accounts, assets, social media, and more. This legislation would provide explicit statutory authority for personal representatives (ie. executors) to be able to access the decedent’s assets and manage their affairs appropriately.

Byron Reflects on Five-Year Anniversary as Register

Five years ago today I was sworn in as Register of Wills for Howard County. As I think back, I’m reminded of my family and friends who were with me from the beginning and the new friends and supporters I’d met during that campaign. We proved that a grassroots campaign inspired by compassion and service to others could defy the odds, overcome prejudice and win.

Today I also reflect on what I’ve done with this tremendous opportunity. Five years ago I hit the ground running and haven’t slowed down. My goal has been to provide the people of Howard County with the kind of government they deserve – efficient, caring, and progressive. With the support of the dedicated professionals I am fortunate to work with, my office provides just that. We ensure that grieving families get the answers and guidance they need when they need it most, and leave here knowing that we care. I speak with public employees, seniors, college students, church groups, and civic organizations to give them the tools to plan for the future and protect their families. I have led and continue to lead efforts to implement statewide reforms to make probate in Maryland faster and fairer. And I have been committed to making this office operate – from accounting to communication, procurement, technology and otherwise – at peak efficiency.

Going forward, there’s a lot of work to be done to better serve the people of Howard County and the state of Maryland. And there is a lot of work to be done to restore confidence in government. I’ll keep doing my part by working hard and delivering results.

Byron Re-Elected With 73,537 Votes

Facing no primary or general election opponent, Byron was officially re-elected as Register of Wills for Howard County with 73,357 votes – one of the highest vote totals for any candidate in Howard County history. “I am extremely grateful for the confidence the people of Howard County have placed in me to serve them in a second term as Register. There is much more work to be done to enhance our technological capabilities and improve the legal framework for probate to make this process easier, fairer, and less expensive for all Maryland families. I intend to continue to lead the efforts to accomplish these goals.”

Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund Endorses Byron for Re-Election

In early December 2013, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to  electing committed and qualified LGBT candidates to public office, endorsed Byron for re-election as Register of Wills for Howard County. The Victory Fund previously endorsed Byron in his first race for this office in 2010.

“I am honored and humbled to have the endorsement of the Victory Fund as I pursue re-election this year. This is an organization with a simple mission: ensuring that the LGBT community has a seat at the table. The past three years, I have been a steadfast advocate for equality for LGBT Marylanders. In the years to come, I will continue to give voice to this vibrant community.”

In 2012, Byron was a leader in the ballot referendum on marriage equality, better known as “Question 6.” With the support of fellow Howard County officials like County Executive Ken Ulman, nearly 60% of county voters came out to the polls to support marriage equality, the second-highest vote percentage of any jurisdiction in Maryland.

Fall Fundraiser with County Executive Ken Ulman Draws Big Crowd

On Wednesday, October 9, 2013, joined by Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Byron thanked a large crowd of family, friends, and supporters who came to boost his campaign for re-election. More than 75 guests attended, including State Delegates Guy Guzzone and Frank Turner (District 13), County Council Members Calvin Ball (District 2) and Jen Terrasa (District 3), Sheriff Jim Fitzgerald, candidates for state delegate Tom Coale (District 9B), Clarence Lam and Terri Hill (District 12), and George Zokle (District 20), along with former Democratic Party Chairs Carole Fisher and Tony McGuffin. Below are some photos from the event:

FALL FUNDRAISER WITH COUNTY EXECUTIVE KEN ULMAN DRAWS BIG CROWD
Byron with County Executive Ken Ulman and local blogger Claire Bolden McGill.
FALL FUNDRAISER WITH COUNTY EXECUTIVE KEN ULMAN DRAWS BIG CROWD
Byron with community activist Sherman Howell.
FALL FUNDRAISER WITH COUNTY EXECUTIVE KEN ULMAN DRAWS BIG CROWD
Byron with supporters Andrew Woods, Dan Furman, and Roswell Encina.

Byron Elected President of the Maryland Register of Wills Association

On Thursday, September 17, 2013, Byron Macfarlane was elected President of the Maryland Register of Wills Association. Receiving the unanimous support of his colleagues to take on this leadership post, he was sworn in immediately. The Association’s mission is to form collaborative relationships among the Registers of Wills from Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions, to improve services, establish uniform procedures, advocate for legislation that will benefit the public, enhance services through new technology, and to partner with other government agencies to best serve the public. Byron’s goals for his term include technological advances for the Association and the Registers’ offices, moving the Registers closer to e-filing, and continuing to build relationships with stakeholders across Maryland.

Byron had previously served as Vice President from 2012-2013. He also served on the Personnel and Automation Committees since 2010 and chaired the Legislative Committee from 2011-2013.

Byron being sworn in by Assistant Attorney General David Hayes. To Byron’s right are Karen Lemon (Wicomico County), Loraine Hennessy (Charles County), and Rita Watson (Garrett County), who were sworn in as Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary, respectively.