The Washington Report from Annapolis: Vol 3, #1

Dear Friend,

Happy New Year and greetings from Annapolis! Yesterday, January 9th marked the first official day of the 431st session of the Maryland General Assembly.

2012 was a particularly exciting year for many of my colleagues and me; I was able to introduce and pass several important bills, Maryland proudly joined the ranks of states who have legalized civil marriage for all couples and in-state tuition for undocumented residents and President Barack Obama was elected for a second term.

As this excitement carries into 2013, I am looking forward to grappling with the issues that come before us over the next 90 legislative days. In particular, I’m eager to begin working with my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee to consider the fiscal year 2013 budget. There’s also news to report that I’ve been reassigned to the Education and Economic Development subcommittee. While Maryland’s economy is slowly improving, we still have a long way to go to close the structural budget gap and ensure adequate, sustainable funding for essential programs and services. I’m prepared for long hearings and voting sessions to keep Maryland moving forward.

Initial 2013 Legislative Priorities

Education Funding: Block Grants

Our most important investment is in our young people. I have been a consistent advocate for distributing Baltimore City’s school construction funding as block grants rather than Maryland’s current system in which capital money is limited to particular construction projects. Block grant funding will create a steady and flexible revenue stream for school construction wherein the school system can leverage funding to best suit its needs. Last session, I cosponsored HB 304: Baltimore City- School Construction- Block Grant and although the measure did not pass, we will be revisiting the matter with a carefully-crafted plan of action and broad coalition of supporters including public officials, education advocates and parents and students of the Baltimore City Public Schools’ system.

The Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners has now released its plan, “21st Century Buildings For Our Kids: Baltimore City Public Schools’ Proposes 10-Year Plan Recommendations.” This was a united effort to help consolidate and improve the schools in Baltimore City. Currently, too many Baltimore City students are being asked to focus and learn under deplorable conditions in substandard structures. Right now, Baltimore City needs more than $1 billion to fix and improve its facilities. Last year, the city received a total of $32 million in capital funding for school construction. Without the ability to leverage that money in non-traditional funding sources, we will never catch up and our students will continue to suffer the consequences of substandard educational facilities. We believe the implementation of this plan will help alleviate many of the current pressing issues and change the course of our school system for years to come. Our coalition has a shared commitment to the next generation of leaders from Baltimore City and will be working as a team during the 2013 legislative session to ensure their futures.

It is vital that we give our children the support and environment necessary to succeed. Only together will we be able to harness the momentum to make substantial changes in our school system.

Death Penalty

I have long been a strong supporter for the elimination of capital punishment. As the United States is one of the only developed nations still using the death penalty, I am hopeful that our great state of Maryland will take on this important social issue and join the 17 states and the District of Columbia in abolishing this form of punishment.  To learn more about our progress toward this goal, please contact Maryland Citizens Against State Executions.

Baltimore New Youth Detention Center

In past session updates, I have talked extensively about the proposed detention facility to house youth charged as adults. As many of you are probably aware, community members have continued to meet and speak in opposition of this proposal. On November 8, 2012, Reverend Jesse Jackson was a keynote speaker at the Youth Jail Rally, sponsored by a number of advocacy organizations, including the Baltimore Algebra Project and Safe and Sound. His presence helped bring community stakeholders and Governor O’Malley to the table during a rally to discuss shared concerns about the economic and social efficacy of a new youth detention facility. Activists have been opposing construction of a new jail for months, and I support their efforts against the construction of a new detention center for delinquent youth.

The Baltimore City Delegation and the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus have drafted a proposal to Governor O’Malley to suspend the efforts to construct a new 120-bed secured facility for youth charged as adults and to find alternative ways to house youth charged as adults and meet their programmatic needs. I will continue my active advocacy as the session progresses. If you would like more information on this topic, please contact my office in Annapolis at: 410 841 3476

Transportation Infrastructure

As a resident of Baltimore City, I understand the importance of local infrastructure; especially transportation networks. I am pleased that Baltimore City has begun to refocus on the need for improved mass transit infrastructures and other alternatives. I have met with leaders of the Red Line initiative and I am hopeful about the future of this project. The transportation efforts in this city need to be given a holistic, statewide approach. The recent reorganization of the Regional Transportation Funding Summit Stakeholders has been a positive force in progressing transportation needs. The summit has emphasized that by mid-2013 the State must submit a finalized financial plan showing how it intends to pay for projects like the Purple Line and the Red Line extension of the Baltimore Metrorail system in order to be eligible for federal funding. Lacking a revenue increase or federal aid, it is unlikely that these transit lines will be constructed. During these hard financial times, the importance of coalition building and group efforts will be increasingly important to making sure these goals are met.

My Legislation

Consumer Protection: Rental Purchase Agreements

During the 2012 session, I sought to shed light on the rent-to-own industry, which many consumer protection advocates consider predatory in nature because of its misleading and manipulative business practices. Last year I introduced and the General Assembly passed HB997: Commercial Law- Rental-Purchase Agreements- Disclosures, which increased transparency requirements for rent-to-own businesses. As enacted, the bill requires rent-to-own businesses to maintain financial records for 3 years and to provide written receipts to all customers. In addition, it requires the Attorney General to post a sample rental-purchase agreement on their website so that consumers can better educate themselves on the terms and conditions of these agreements.

Throughout the interim, I focused on strategies for developing legislation to further improve rent-to-own industry protection for Maryland’s consumers. This session, I am proposing specific, targeted legislation that will not only provide consumers with a full receipt of their purchase agreement, but also give a detailed rate at which the business is leasing the product to the consumer. Such disclosures afford much-needed clarity in these trying financial times, when it’s especially important for consumers to remain informed about their financial options. I look forward to working with the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition and other past partners to ensure improved consumer protections for this industry.

Anti-Shackling Legislation

In October 2012, the National Women’s Law Center and the Rebecca Project for Human Rights released a report entitled “Mothers Behind Bars: A State-by-State Report Card and Analysis of Federal Policies on Conditions of Confinement for Pregnant and Parenting Women and the Effect on their Children”. The report explored the inhumane practice of shackling incarcerated women during childbirth and other important issues confronting pregnant and parenting women behind bars. The report reveals that the vast majority of women affected by these policies are non-violent, first-time offenders. According to their report card, Maryland’s policies and procedures regarding the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women receive a failing grade. This practice needs to change and I have drafted legislation to condemn this practice.

Bags: Recycle, Reduce and Reuse!

Last legislative session, I championed the “Community Cleanup and Greening Act” which unfortunately was not successful. I look forward to taking up this effort again over the next 3 months. The purpose of this bill to reduce trash from plastic bags not being reused or recycled, and being left instead to accumulate in landfills, along highways, and in water resources. These bags do not decompose naturally, and threaten wildlife by entrapment or suffocation. The funds currently going toward sustainability initiatives are simply not enough to keep up with all the work that needs to be done. This session I will participate in a renewed effort to consider effective ways to address this environmental issue in our community. In collaboration with organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund and local jurisdictions, I am writing legislation that can reduce pollution, decrease cleanup costs, and benefit environmental programs statewide.

Clandestine Drug Lab Disclosure

Far too often we are reminded of the impact and consistent presence illicit drugs have had in our cities and rural areas. As we enter into a new session, we must continue to push for legislation that not only protects our communities and promotes growth but also the health of the people living within them. As of today, only 28 states compel home sellers or real estate agents to tell potential homebuyers of previous clandestine drug contamination, such as methamphetamine or cocaine/crack. When home sellers are not required to inform nor remediate residual contamination that clandestine drug labs may have caused to their home, unsuspecting homebuyers purchase former clandestine drug labs and are put at risk. Such negligent actions harm the individual, community, and environment. Estimates indicate that for each pound of methamphetamine produced, between five and six pounds of highly toxic waste is generated. This toxic waste is often left behind when producers of methamphetamine move out, and fumes may be absorbed into furniture, air vents and upholstery. Breathing in these residual toxic fumes produced by cooking methamphetamine can cause significant and irreparable harm to the respiratory tract, brain and overall health of future tenants.

Currently, Maryland does not have any regulation that requires state and local government to notify the general public that a removal of hazardous materials from a home resulting from a clandestine drug lab has been performed; nor that there may be potential residual contamination still in the home. We must change the status quo.  I am drafting legislation that mandates home sellers and realtors to disclose if a home contained a clandestine drug lab and to stipulate the procedures to be implemented to decontaminate these homes.

Other Priorities

Social Media and Privacy   

Last session, I was proud to have passed two bills that responded to developments in electronic communication. HB964: Labor and Employment- User Name and Password Privacy Protection and Exclusions  prohibited employers from requiring employees to disclose their usernames, passwords or other login information for personal accounts such as email or Facebook. HB 8: Crimes- Electronic Communications- Harassment expanded Maryland’s existing electronic harassment statute to include emails, text messages and direct messages sent through social networking sites. Both of these bills were designed to protect citizens dealing with the impacts of developing technology. The level to which social media has infiltrated our everyday lives has brought increasing concerns about the rights to privacy and freedom of speech. I would like Maryland to be on the forefront of this public policy debate and ensure that we can protect our children, families and ourselves.

This session, I will be looking into more opportunities to develop the laws of Maryland in order to meet the growing evolution of electronic communication.

It is going to be a busy spring! As always, I encourage you to contact me with the issues that matter most to you at mary.washington@house.state.md.us [410 841 3476]

In partnership,
Delegate Mary Washington