The Washington Report from Annapolis: Vol. 3, #2

Dear Friend,

 

Like Rip Van Winkle, I feel as though I just blinked my eyes a day ago and awoke this morning to find that since my first (and most recent) Washington Report from Annapolis, we are 1/3 of the way through our 90-day session of the General Assembly, over 1300 bills have been filed and the Baltimore Ravens have won the Super Bowl!

Unlike Mr. Winkle, I have not grown a beard. I hope that there are still many of you on this list who remember who I am, and while there is a new Delegate Washington (Alonzo from Prince George’s County), I have not had the luxury of sleeping through the emerging challenges presented during the first 30+ days of session. Please know that while I have been a bit absent with my usual correspondence, I have been very much engaged in the House of Delegates, helping to set the priorities of the Baltimore City Delegation and am meeting with constituents and fellow members to learn more and to address the issues you care about most.

As you might recall, this year the House Appropriations Committee has the first crack at reconciling the Governor’s Proposed FY 2014 Operating and Capital Budget with the priorities of the State and our constituents. We make many of the initial and tough decisions and then pass them on to the Senate for concurrence, or in some cases (as last session), when there are areas where we won’t agree, negotiations begin and alternative combined solutions have to be made. As part of that responsibility, we listen to testimony from all of the state agencies, organizations, educational institutions, local jurisdictions and other entities who represent those who do business with the state. In addition, we hear other bills which have significant budgetary consequences or affect the operations of state-funded agencies or institutions.

Fortunately, this year Maryland’s economic outlook is better than it has been in many years, and because of the revenue and expenditure decisions that we have made over the last several sessions, there are no major cuts recommended in this Budget. There are, however, pieces of legislation that should be of particular interest to residents of Baltimore City and you other good progressives.

 

Critical Statewide Issues.

I am working very hard with larger coalitions to support the passage of these important measures:

  • Baltimore City School Construction Program – HB 860, is a package of four bills sponsored by the Baltimore City Delegation that address the problem of aging and archaic educational infrastructure in Baltimore City. I will describe these bills in more detail in a supplemental update, but generally, these bills will authorize the State to issue an annual block grant for school construction projects in Baltimore City, will create a dedicated fund for the City’s contribution to school construction, and will create an independent school construction authority. This measure will also guarantee an annual minimum of $32 million from the State toward school construction projects in Baltimore, which Baltimore may use to leverage up to $1.6 billion in school construction bonds. To keep up-to-date on the process of this bill package, and to get involved, connect with the ACLU-Maryland and Baltimore Education Coalition’s Transform Baltimore Project.

 

  • Fire Arms and Gun Violence Control – Because there is more support in the House for this type of legislation, the Senate will hear these bills first. Nearly 4000 people signed up to speak against gun control reforms; please let your Senator know how you feel about these bills. You can find your legislators at: http://mdelect.net/

 

  • Death Penalty Repeal –Currently, at the request of the O’Malley Administration, the Speaker of the House, Michael Busch, has sponsored legislation to repeal the death penalty in Maryland and reappropriate funds set aside for the death penalty into providing aid to homicide victims. Under the new law, the highest punishment meted out by the state of Maryland would be imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole. Again, because there is more support in the House for this legislation, the Senate is taking this up first.

 

I have been enjoying my new subcommittee work (I was reassigned to the Education and Economic Development subcommittee) and have also been elected Parliamentarian of the Legislative Black Caucus. In the Legislative Black Caucus, I am working on addressing the systemic underfunding of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) through supplemental budget allocation of a minimum of $14 million this fiscal year and strongly encouraging the administration to settle the lawsuit. In addition to that and my work on the Appropriations Committee, this session the Speaker Busch convened a special committee he has called the “Regional Revitalization Work Group” and asked me to join 8 other Delegates to study the Baltimore Region and make recommendations for economic revitalization strategies for both the 2013 and 2014 legislative sessions. We will be meeting during session and also during the interim.

It’s also hard to believe that I am now a little more than halfway through my first four-year term and getting a handle on the type of Delegate that I want to be. Toward that end, it appears that I am developing a legislative interest and agenda which centers in the areas of environmental and public health, consumer protection and advocacy, public justice (in terms of both our juvenile and adult correctional systems) and economic and educational stabilization and revitalization.

 

My 2013 Legislative Agenda

Below are updates on the bills I am currently working on, as well as information on how you can get involved and track the progress of the issues that matter to you:

 

HB0334: Consumer Protection: Rental Purchase Agreements

Heard: 2/06 in Economic Matters

Link to bill

As I mentioned in my previous report, last year’s General Assembly passed HB997: Commercial Law- Rental-Purchase Agreements- Disclosures, a bill that I authored to increase the transparency of rent-to-own businesses in their transactions. This session, I seek to extend the consumer protections afforded by the previous bill by requiring businesses to further deconstruct the rental purchase agreement for consumers and to clearly explain all terms and payments owed. The new bill will see that businesses explain the payment schedule to consumers, and make consumers aware of the difference in price between purchasing an item at full price and purchasing an item at the end of the rental period. These details will be presented in an easy-to- understand tabular format and will be required as a part of every rental purchase agreement.

These clarifications will serve to alert customers to important details about their agreements and make it less likely for a customer to miss a payment and have to see his or her property repossessed after months of regular payments.

 

HB0128: Homestead Tax Credit Extension

Hearing date: 2/14 at 1:00pm in Ways and Means

Link to bill

This bill extends the application deadline by which homeowners must file for the Homestead Property Tax Credit from December 31, 2012 to June 1, 2013. This important program provides an opportunity to cap the  real property taxes for owner-occupied residential properties. Currently, the State requires the cap on assessment increases to be set at 10% for State property tax purposes; however, local governments have the authority to set their caps between 0% and 10%. The cap in Baltimore City is currently set at 4%.

Upon examination on the utilization of this program, Senator Carter Conway and I discovered that only 1/3 of eligible Baltimore residents had filled out the required paperwork. Additionally, constituents told us that up to a week before the deadline, there were several problems with accessing the relevant State office through the phone or the internet, making it difficult for people to even file or know the status of their applications. We hope that by extending this deadline, more people will be able to take advantage of this important opportunity. If you had problems with this tax credit in any way, please email my office immediately so that we have an accurate record and your story to tell.

 

HB0829: Pregnant Detainees and Inmates – Restraint Restrictions and Reporting

Hearing date: 2/26 at 1:00pm in Judiciary

Link to bill

This session, I have drafted legislation to bring an end to the cruel and inhumane practice of shackling female inmates during the process of labor and childbirth. Most current restraint and shackling policies were designed for primarily male violent offenders and have not been updated to accommodate for female convicts, particularly those who may be in the latter trimesters of pregnancy. There have been no reported escape attempts by pregnant inmates during childbirth, and most incarcerated women tend to be nonviolent, first-time offenders. The existing policies need to be updated in order to preserve a woman’s dignity and, more importantly, to provide adequate medical care for incarcerated women during childbirth.

My proposed legislation would make it mandatory for security officers to maintain detailed logs of instances in which restraints are used to control an inmate in her 2nd or 3rd trimester of pregnancy, particularly during transport to or from a birthing facility during childbirth. Leg and waist restraints would be prohibited from use on pregnant inmates, and all restraints would have to be removed if a supervising medical professional deems them dangerous to the patient in any way.

 

HB0823: Task Force to Study Housing and Supportive Services for Unaccompanied Homeless Youth

Hearing date: TBD in Appropriations

Link to Bill

In Maryland, between 1.6 and 1.7 million youth are homeless and on their own. Many of these youth have outgrown the foster care system, are fleeing abuse and/or have been ostracized from their communities and families due to their gender or sexual orientation. These individuals are increasingly likely to become victims of crime, develop mental health problems, and engage in delinquency as a means of support. Our current network of support for homeless youth is insufficiently equipped to handle the size and variety of issues presented by these children.

This legislation proposes the formation of a task force comprised of members of the General Assembly and representatives from state agencies, the Governor’s Office for Children, the Baltimore Homeless Youth Initiative, the Maryland Affordable Housing Coalition, and the Prince George’s County Homeless Youth Work Group. At least two members of the task force will be youth or young adults who have experienced homelessness. The Task Force will be charged with:

  • Identify the needs of unaccompanied homeless youth between the ages of 13 and 25 and evaluate programs in both the public and private sectors to meet those needs
  • Collect data on the number of unaccompanied homeless youth throughout the state
  • Make recommendations on legislation and budgetary priorities related to homeless youth

 

HB0893: Equality for Maryland Caregivers Act of 2013

Hearing date: TBD in Appropriations

Link to bill

This legislation extends collective bargaining rights to employees of the University of Maryland Medical Center who are not administrators, faculty members, student employees, temporary or contractual employees, or employees whose regular place of employment is outside of Maryland.

Currently, employees of several large Maryland state institutions are provided collective bargaining rights under State Law. This legislation will provide employees of the University of Maryland Medical Center with collective bargaining rights comparable to those afforded to employees of these other state institutions.

 

HB0917: Property used for Methamphetamine Production – Disclosure and Quarantine

Hearing date: TBD in Health and Government Operations and Environmental Matters

Link to bill

I am proud to have sponsored a bill that addresses the phenomenon of harmful residues and toxic chemicals being left behind in vacant properties after seizure and destruction of clandestine drug labs. 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 after clandestine labs are shut down, and the fumes produced 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.

My proposed legislation will protect future tenants of homes that housed drug labs by requiring the disclosure form of a real estate agreement to specify whether a property is known to be previously used for the illegal production of any cooked drugs. In addition, law enforcement authorities will be authorized to quarantine a property known to have housed meth labs until the property is declared contaminant-free by a certified industrial hygienist. My hope is that this bill will reduce the inadvertent exposure of homeowners to toxic residues and establish higher standards for the cleanup and decontamination of clandestine drug labs.

 

HB1086: The Community Cleanup and Greening Act of 2013

Hearing date: TBD in Environmental Matters and Economic Matters

Link to bill

This session affords me with another opportunity to continue my pledge to the environment and reintroduce The Community Cleanup and Greening Act. This bill seeks to reduce the amount of non-biodegradable plastic bags present in the solid waste stream. Of the nearly 3 billion plastic bags issued by stores to package customer purchases in Maryland, many are disposed of improperly and end up littering our roads, polluting our waterways, and threatening the wellbeing of our wildlife. Even when disposed of properly, plastic bags occupy space in our landfills and do not decompose for up to 20 years.

The Community Cleanup and Greening Act of 2013 would take a page out of the book of legislators from the District of Columbia who voted in 2010 to impose a $0.05 fee on each plastic bag provided to customers for the purpose of packaging purchases. The revenue generated by the fee would benefit the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund and environmental efforts undertaken by local jurisdictions. Between January 2010 and July 2012, the plastic bag fee in the District of Columbia has generated nearly $5 million for the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Fund and there has been a significant decrease in the amount of plastic bags being used. Implementing such an incentive in Maryland would not only discourage the continued use of plastic bags in retail transactions, but also benefit the care and maintenance of the Chesapeake Bay.

 

HB1195: Individual Exceptions to Limitations on Rentals of Condominiums

Hearing date: TBD in Environmental Matters and Economic Matters

Link to bill

Warning: This bill really gets into the weeds of complicated condominium financing and association board regulation legislation! But the point is, while state and federal governments have done much to reduce the number of foreclosures for single-family homes, nothing has been done at the state level to address the similar needs which owners of condominium units face. This legislation allows for condominium unit owners to qualify for an individual exemption to condominium board association rules which prohibit the renting of condominium units under one or more of the following circumstances:

  • A reduction in household income that exceeds 50%
  • An increase in household expenses of 33% or greater
  • The death of the unit owner or the owner’s spouse
  • A change in location of the unit owner’s permanent employment or the employment of the owner’s spouse that is 50 miles or farther from the unit
  • Military deployment of the unit owner or the owner’s spouse for 12 months or more
  • Divorce of the unit owner

If you or anyone you know is currently in this situation, please email my office. I need your story to help prepare for the committee hearing.

 

It’s looking to be a very busy session in Annapolis this spring, and I have lots of issues and bills to keep me busy! If you are interested in keeping track of the progress of these or other bills as they move through the General Assembly, the Legislation Tracker and the MD General Assembly website make it easy to stay up-to-date on the issues that you care about.

 

As always, I encourage you to contact me with the issues that matter most to you at mary.washington@house.state.md.us  or 410-841-3476

In partnership,
Delegate Mary Washington