The 2020 legislative session—a session that has been unlike any other—has come to a close. As you may be aware, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the decision was made to adjourn the legislature early for the first time since the Civil War.
Response to COVID-19
The COVID-19 global pandemic has significantly disrupted daily life in Maryland and around the world. In addition to the major public health issues, the economic implications of the necessary response to the pandemic are profound and severe.
Since the beginning of the crisis, the Maryland House of Delegates and the State Senate have been united in their support of the Governor and his efforts to respond to the outbreak. Prior to our early adjournment, the legislature took immediate action and passed bills related to the present emergency. SB 1079 (State Budget - Revenue Stabilization Account Transfers - Coronavirus) provides the Governor with up to $50 million from the State’s Rainy Day Fund to help respond to the public health threat. COVID–19 Public Health Emergency Protection Act of 2020 (HB 1663) allows the Governor to take specific actions to expand healthcare benefits and protect workers in response to the public health threat. These actions include requirements that the Maryland Department of Health cover the cost of COVID–19 testing, a vaccine (should one become available) and any associated costs not paid for by insurance or another third party. The legislation also includes protections against price gouging, expands telehealth services and expands unemployment insurance benefits to workers who are temporarily out of work or quarantined due to the virus. For more information on unemployment insurance, please visit https://www.dllr.state.md.us/. No doubt, further action will be required later to support our working families, small businesses, and others significantly impacted by the pandemic and the public health response.
The General Assembly has also created a Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup to provide oversight and support to the Administration in the coming weeks and months. Please also visit https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/, which is regularly updated with information regarding COVID-19 and the current rules in Maryland to try to limit its spread.
* * *
Despite the early adjournment of the legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly was still able to make progress on many key issues. During the 2020 legislative session, I took on a new role as Chair of the Transportation and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. I was also proud to return as chair of the 24-member Montgomery County House Delegation, a role which allowed me to advance our County’s shared priorities while also dealing with local legislation that only affects Montgomery County. I also continued my work on the Appropriations Committee and as a member of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, as well as the Oversight Committee on Personnel.
Below is a synopsis of some of the key highlights from the legislative session. If an issue you care about is not addressed here, please email me about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Improving public education in Maryland has been one of my top priorities as a Delegate and during the 2020 legislative session, my colleagues and I worked on several bills to ensure that we supply our students and teachers with the resources they deserve. As you are aware, overcrowding in public schools has continued to be a problem across the state and especially in Montgomery County. The Built to Learn Act of 2020 (HB 1) passed on a bipartisan basis and addresses this issue by dedicating Maryland casino revenue to back construction bonds for public school construction. Under the bill’s framework, Montgomery County will be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
I also worked with my colleagues to pass a significant piece of education legislation: The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (HB 1300). The bill codifies many of the recommendations made by the so-called Kirwan Commission regarding education in five policy areas: (1) Expanding pre-k; (2) Improving teacher quality; (3) Targeting resources to those who need them most, such as special needs students and those in high poverty schools; (4) Improving college and career readiness; and (5) accountability. My colleagues and I on the Appropriations Committee worked diligently to pass The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and these actions will help put our public schools back at the top nationally. That said, the Blueprint requires significant public investment and because of the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, certain provisions were added to the legislation to ensure it is sustainable financially for the state.
Transportation and Infrastructure
As chair of the Transportation & Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and a co-chair of the Transit Caucus, I have spent significant time on issues related to transportation and infrastructure. I am pleased to have authored two pieces of legislation heading to the Governor’s desk on these topics.
The first of these bills is the Pedestrian Access Act of 2020 (HB 194). The legislation requires the State Highway Administration (SHA) to work to maintain pedestrian access at work sites that are within one mile of Metro and MARC stations. The purpose is to ensure that in communities where we encourage Marylanders to walk or ride bikes, that access to do so be maintained, particularly during construction projects.
The Maryland/Metro Funding Act-Alterations (HB 86) makes changes to the law that established dedicated funding for Metro. Specifically, it adds further exceptions to an arbitrary operating subsidy cap that limited how much government support the Metro system could receive.
The General Assembly also passed—in fact it was the last bill the House considered—legislation I cosponsored to pilot expanded commuter rail service between Virginia and Maryland, HB 1236.
Unfortunately, many important bills I introduced in this area did not pass. The Electric Vehicle Recharging Equipment for Multi-Family Units Act (HB 111) would have established a process for residents who live in communities governed by a Homeowners’ Association or Condo Board governing body to collaborate on getting an electric vehicle charging station installed. I believe that it is necessary that we start to transition towards electric transportation options. The bill would have made it easier for many Maryland residents who have, or are considering buying an electric vehicle, to get a charging station installed in their community. The bill passed with bipartisan support in the House.
The Governor’s plan to widen I-270 and I-495 with toll lanes will have a significant impact on District 16. Since the project was first announced, my colleagues and I have attempted to provide increased oversight and scrutiny of the project. While I may have differing views about how I would like the project to proceed, it is important that the Administration be held to the promises they have made. My bill, the Maryland State Department of Transportation Promises Act of 2020 (HB 1249), would have statutorily required the Administration to keep the promises they have made regarding designated funds for transit; no taxpayer costs; toll setting hearings in the affected jurisdictions, and more. The bill passed the House, but did not have enough time to proceed in the Senate. Unfortunately, other legislation on this topic brought forth by other Delegates also did not make it through the legislature including HB 1220, which would require elected official approval of private toll plans; and HB 1424, a bill to reform the Public-Private Partnership process in the state of Maryland. As the Governor’s planned project moves forward, I will continue to push for transparency and accountability every step of the way.
Maryland has made great strides in passing common-sense gun safety legislation over the past few years. Moreover, it is a positive sign that our partners in neighboring Virginia have begun to follow suit. This year, we passed HB 4 into law, which regulates the sales, rentals, and transfers of rifles and shotguns by requiring background checks. Unfortunately, my own legislation, the Firearms Dealer’s Safety Act (HB 1257) did not succeed. The bill would have set statewide standards and best practices for firearm dealer security to limit the ability of firearms stolen from dealers to enter the black market.
The abbreviated session did not allow time for many significant pieces of environmental legislation to get through the process. However we were able to pass SB 300 to ban the pesticide Chlorpyrifos, which is used in the agricultural sector but has many, safer substitutes on the market. Unfortunately, most of the significant environmental bills that passed the House did not get through the Senate prior to adjournment. These included the Plastic Bag Reduction Act (HB 209), which would have phased out the use of single use plastic bags; Community Choice Energy (HB 561), which would have allowed a county or municipality to aggregate its residents’ purchasing power for clean energy and HB 1452 to create new markets for recycled materials.
In addition, my own bill, the Zero-Emission Bus Transition Act (HB 432) would have transitioned the Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) state bus fleet to 100% zero-emission vehicles over time. The legislation was a major step towards achieving our state’s aggressive emission reduction goals. It would also reduce air and noise pollution while being more cost-effective than diesel buses in the long term. The bill passed the House of Delegates with bipartisan support, but the abbreviated session prevented it from passing the Senate. Similarly, legislation I introduced regarding a regional cap and trade program for transportation-related climate emissions, the Transportation Carbon Fund Act (HB 1526) did not come up for a vote.
The budget for the State of Maryland passed the General Assembly with bipartisan support. It included full funding for K-12 education under the state’s funding formulas and we were able to find the money to reject cuts proposed by the Governor for community colleges and providers of critical services, such as those for behavioral health and the disabilities community.
Although not formally a part of the budget, successful legislation I authored called the County Tax Fairness Act (HB 621) addressed the obligation of counties and municipalities to repay the state for certain income tax refunds already received by taxpayers pursuant to the Supreme Court’s Maryland v. Wynne ruling. The bill extends the length of time the counties have to make the repayments, improving the cash flow for our local jurisdictions. This installment plan repayment costs the state and taxpayers nothing, is consistent with bond rating agency expectations, and benefits Montgomery County and its taxpayers significantly.
In the budget, my District 16 colleagues and I were able to secure funds for many local projects that are also being supported by county and private funding. These projects include support for the Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA, the Willet Branch Greenway, Charles E. Smith Life Communities, and Imagination Stage. The budget also includes funds for important Montgomery County institutions such as Round House Theatre and A Wider Circle, a critical provider to those most in need at this difficult time. The state’s capital budget also included significant extra funding for Montgomery County’s school construction needs for next year.
I also had the opportunity to lead the floor debate on a potential constitutional amendment that will be on your ballot in November. SB 1028 would allow the Maryland legislature to subtract funds in line items of the budget introduced by the Governor and add the funding elsewhere, a power afforded to virtually every legislature except Maryland.
My Office Outside Of The Legislative Session
I am proud to represent you alongside State Senator Susan Lee; Delegate Ariana Kelly; and Delegate Sara Love. I strongly value the input of my constituents on the issues before the General Assembly. While the state legislature only meets for 90 days each year in Annapolis, I am working for you 365 days a year. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, my office will continue to be a resource to help connect you to the appropriate state and local officials who can provide assistance.
If you have any questions about the material in this letter, other questions about the recently concluded legislative session, ideas regarding policy issues, issues with a state agency that require constituent services, or are interested in my office’s legislative scholarship, please contact me any time. I can also be reached by phone at 301-858-3649, or 1-800-492-7122, extension 3649, or by email at email@example.com.