Washington Report From Annapolis Vol V No 5

Thank you for taking the time to contact me during the 2015 Legislative Session of the Maryland General Assembly about the issues that matter to you the most. I have returned home to the 43rd District and I look forward to continuing our work together in our communities.

This session, as the sole member of the Ways and Means Committee from Baltimore City, my focus was on education, finance, and revenues and how they impact the city. One major piece of legislation we worked on was SB 595 the Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015. This legislation, as introduced by the Governor, would have removed local oversight of charter schools, removed any certification requirements for charter teachers, and prevented charter teachers from one school from joining together with teachers from other schools to form a union (click here to read my longer critique of that bill). I and many of my colleagues in the House and Senate did not support these provisions. We were, however, interested in working together to make what we felt was a good charter school program better. We worked with education stakeholders across the state to amend the legislation to expand the lottery system for admission, establish that each local school district is the only authority to allow charter schools, and ensures that charters have to obey the same state standards with regards to unions and teacher certification as every other public school in Maryland. I support this version of the reform and it passed both chambers with unanimous support.

BUDGET

The budget, as introduced, would have cut $144,000,000 from education, removed thousands of pregnant women from Medicaid, and removed a recent 2% cost of living adjustment (COLA) for state employees. The House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to reverse these harmful cuts, and to modernize pension funding by getting the state into an actuarial system that is preferred by every expert and bond rating agency and insulates it from volatility in the stock market.

In Maryland, the Governor sets the spending caps and the legislature can only cut the budget further from there. They can also restrict the money’s use so that it can only be spent if certain conditions are met, for example earmarking money only for education, the red and purple line projects, and Medicaid reimbursement spending.

Unfortunately after the budget was passed unanimously in the Senate and with a 129-10 vote in the House, Governor Hogan decided to renege on his promise to restore the funding of our priorities if we found the money. In the 11th hour Governor Hogan publicly refused to restore the money even though that money can only be used for education and other priorities and will go unspent. It is now up to the Governor to not place the burden of his budget austerity on the backs of children. Please contact his office at 410-974-3901 or at governor.mail@maryland.gov to let him know how you feel.

MAJOR LEGISLATION

Below are the top three stand-alone bills that you contacted me about during the session:

  • SB 863 – Watershed Protection and Restoration Programs – Revisions .The stormwater runoff fee was established in 2012 to give the 10 jurisdictions with federal requirements a way to mitigate the trash, oil, sediment and feces that flow into local waterways and the Bay. This bill removes the mandate for counties to charge a fee but still requires the ten impacted counties to identify how they will address and pay for the stormwater problem in their respective jurisdictions. This compromise may make it more difficult to meet our requirements under the 2017 federal pollution mitigation plan for the Bay.
  • HB 605 Pollinator Protection Act of 2015 – This bill did not pass but if enacted would require that any plant seed or nursery stock treated with neonicotinoids include a warning label specifically indicating the negative impact to bees and would prohibit retail consumers from buying these pesticides by restricting their use to certified applicators such as farmers and veterinarians. This would have assisted in addressing the documented concern about the decline in the honeybee population and the severe environmental impacts such a decline produces.
  • HB 449 Environment – Hydraulic Fracturing – Regulations – Hydraulic fracturing, better known as ‘fracking,’ is subjecting communities across the country to drinking and ground water contamination, air, noise and light pollution, and the industrialization of our rural landscapes. This fracking moratorium bill passed and bans fracking in Maryland until October 1, 2017 and requires the Maryland Department of the Environment to adopt regulations for fracking. I am disappointed that it does not include a study on the health effects of fracking and it only lasts for 2 years.

During the last two years of my first legislative session, I focused on addressing issues related to youth homelessness, consumer protection and how our Department of Public Safety and Corrections and our judicial system treats the most vulnerable that find themselves in those systems. I decided to continue that work during my second term by submitting the following pieces of legislation. Two of them passed and others need additional work.

  • HB 439 Information and Services for Foster Children and Former Foster Children – This bill strengthens the discharge process for foster children to include a greater emphasis on housing, employment stability, and having identity documents at emancipation.
  • HB 297 Unaccompanied Homeless Youth Tuition Exemption – Modification – After establishing this tuition waiver last year, stakeholders wanted clarification within the law as to the verification process for youth and this bill addresses that issue.
  • HB 861 Public Health – Opioid Maintenance Programs – Licensing – I sponsored this bill to take into account the placement of methadone clinics in the licensure process and unfortunately it did not pass. Many community members from Old Goucher and Charles Village supported the legislation. Instead of this bill, the concept was folded into HB 896, which formed the Joint Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders which, along with the Governor’s Interagency Task Force on Heroin Addiction, will study the issue. We will continue to work over the interim to find the best solution to this problem as part of a broader focus on heroin addiction and treatment.

TRENDING LEGISLATION THAT I SUPPORTED

  • HB 105 Criminal Law – Drug Paraphernalia and Marijuana – Penalties This legalizes drug paraphernalia and doubles the amount of marijuana subject to civil possession penalties.
  • HB 244 The Second Chance Act Allows a person to “shield” certain convictions one time in one jurisdiction from public view three years after a sentence has been exhausted, except for domestically-related crime, if he/she petitions the court and a judge finds good cause to shield the record. If a person is convicted of a new crime during a specified time, no record would be shielded. The Task Force on Prisoner Reentry in 2011 recommended that certain crimes be shielded from public view in order to facilitate reentry after a criminal sentence is served, allowing for viable employment and housing options in the future. These records will still be available to both law enforcement and the courts.
  • HB 980 Election Law – Voting Rights – Ex-Felons Extends the right to vote to ex-felons who are out of jail.
  • HB 73 Voters’ Rights Protection Act of 2015 Voter suppression tactics, and fraudulent voting are already illegal, however, often the only remedy available comes after the election has been decided.  HB 73 allows a person to directly petition the Attorney General (or the State Prosecutor if the violation occurs in the Attorney General’s race) to seek an injunction.
  • HB 345 Flexible Leave – Use of Leave for Family Illness This legislation prohibits an employer from taking disciplinary or retaliatory action against an employee because the employee has requested paid leave due to an illness of a member of the employee’s immediate family.  Under current law, a private-sector employer who provides paid leave must allow an employee to use earned paid leave to care for immediate family members.
  • HB838 Fertility Services Equality This bill will prevent insurance companies from treating same-gender couples differently from straight couples in regard to fertility services and will ensure same-gender couples receive the same benefits for fertility services as straight couples.
  • HB 224, HB 390 and SB 477 Expanding protective order protections Each year, there are nearly 28,000 victims of domestic violence in the State of Maryland. Three new laws will help protect victims:
    • o HB 224 will allow domestic violence victims to consent to a two year final protective order in certain circumstances.
    • o SB 477 expands who can file for a protective order to include those in a dating relationship within one year of the filing for the order. This helps domestic violence victims in abusive dating relationships that do not currently have the protections given by a protective order, including removal of a firearm under a final protective order.
    • o HB 390 allows a victim of sexual assault to seek a protective order or a peace order if the act of abuse happened outside of Maryland.
  • SB 541 Baltimore City – Property Tax Credit – Supermarkets Enables Baltimore City to create a tax credit for supermarkets in food deserts.
  • HB 1087 Community Solar Energy Generating System Program Maryland has tremendous capacity to take advantage of solar energy generation. Community solar enables groups of Marylanders to share the cost of construction of solar panels in return for a share of the electricity generated by those panels.  This legislation will enable renters, people who live in homes that are shaded, or others unable to put solar panels on their home to invest in these community solar facilities. Community solar will encourage growth in generation of renewable energy and help us reach our 20% renewable portfolio goal by 2022.

STANDING ON THE WALL

This year, I made a concerted effort to track bills of concern and work closely with colleagues and advocates to amend or stop these bills from moving forward.

  • HB 101 Baltimore City School Police Force Carrying of Firearms would have allowed Baltimore City school police to carry firearms during the school day at any campus in the City. This was introduced without a public Baltimore City School Board hearing accessible for parents, and was not included in the legislative agenda sent out in December. Parents created a petition that received 1,770 signatures opposing the legislation on its merits and the opaque process that didn’t include parental input. In addition, many parents, social justice and education advocates and faith leaders testified before the Baltimore City Delegation against the bill. I pushed back on the legislation with others in the Delegation and was successfully able to get it withdrawn by its sponsor.
  • HB 222 – Heightened an overdose charge to felony level for heroin, a Schedule 1 drug, and fentanyl, a Schedule 2 drug. This is a problem because it increases charges for non-violent drug offenses and incarcerates more people based on two select drugs. This creates a disparity between heroin and fentanyl and all other Schedule 1 and 2 drugs. This bill was passed out of the House Judiciary Committee but was recommitted to the committee after I special ordered the bill on the House floor, drafted amendments to modify the bill, and worked with a coalition of lawmakers and advocates to oppose the legislation.

BOND PROJECTS

The 43rd District’s unique neighborhoods provide investment opportunities for all kinds of enhancements to our communities. We were successful in getting $125,000 for the St. Elizabeth School Indoor Playground construction project. This allows the school to build facilities for children with disabilities who have lung disorders and can’t be outside.

INTERIM WORK

After session I plan to continue work on the Youth REACH (Reach out, Engage, Assist, and Count to end Homelessness) Maryland project which I established last session and the Joint Committee on Homelessness which goes into effect June 1st. We secured $400,000 in this year’s and last year’s budgets to fund the project and are working with foundations for additional funding. Additionally, I plan to participate in the Joint Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders along with the Governor’s Interagency Task Force on Heroin Addiction. Over the summer and fall, I am interested in meeting with you about any legislation or policy that you want to propose. In addition, I am always looking for interns to work with me over the interim on the above issues.

I invite you to send ideas and concerns or additional questions to my district office where I will be available to you. I appreciate hearing from you and I hope that you will not hesitate to contact me at mary.washington@house.state.md.us. If you would like to stay updated on the work I am doing with our community, please visit www.electmarywashington.com.

In Partnership,

Delegate Mary Washington, Ph.D.

43rd District, Baltimore City