On Monday night, the 2016 legislative session came to a close. In the final hours, quite a bit was accomplished as described below. The major issues left on the table, however, included a tax cut package; earned sick leave; and some gun control measures related to those convicted of certain crimes turning in their firearms and gun-free higher education zones. I expect these issues to return in future meetings of the General Assembly. This email newsletter will be a bit longer than usual. Until the next session begins, this newsletter will only arrive in your inboxes once a month (although there could be other, occasional emails from me).
My second legislative session was busy and productive as I continued my work in Annapolis on behalf of you and all of our neighbors in District 16. As a member of the Appropriations Committee and the Education and Economic Development Subcommittee, I worked with my colleagues to make tough choices about the state’s spending priorities while protecting our commitment to providing quality education and a modern transportation network suitable for a 21st century economy. Below is a synopsis of some of the key highlights from the legislative session.
The 2017 budget for the state of Maryland is balanced and does not raise taxes. In the operating budget, we funded all programs at the level required by state formulas, including our public schools. Additionally, we succeeded in finding $6.1 million dollars in state money for Montgomery County to help pay for teacher pension costs. It will be up to the Governor to release the funding. The operating budget also holds higher education tuition increases to 2%—much lower than the national average—and provides funding for important healthcare, public safety, and transportation programs. We also passed legislation regarding the repayment of County income taxes under the Wynne Supreme Court decision. The legislation will allow taxpayers owed refunds to be repaid immediately, but allow the County to slow its repayment to the state for those refunds and ease the burden on the County budget.
We have also made major progress on school construction, an important issue for our over-crowded classrooms. This year we doubled the grant for school construction in high growth jurisdictions—like Montgomery County—to $40 million. Our county receives approximately 25% of those funds, bringing our total school construction funding from the state to more than $47 million. The state’s budget for construction programs also includes $100,000 in funding for the Friendship Heights Village Center, $500,000 for renovations at the Bethesda Library, and $36.7 million in funding for the Biomedical Sciences Building at the Universities at Shady Grove – University of Maryland, all of which are important County priorities.
I believe that transparency is essential to holding government accountable to the people. Therefore, I was very proud to author and pass into law the Board of Public Works Transparency Act (HB 368). The Board of Public Works (“BPW”) is a powerful three-member body that has the authority to reduce the budget when the legislature is out of session. Before passage of this legislation, such reductions could be made with no public notice. Under the provisions of my bill, the BPW must now give public notice of three business days when it is considering such cuts. This will allow the public and stakeholders the opportunity to weigh-in and improve the BPW’s work.
During this session, I supported a number of initiatives designed to protect our environment. A major priority for me has been energy storage, which improves the use of renewable energy sources. For example, a windfarm may generate significant energy overnight when consumers are not using it, but instead of foregoing that generated electricity, storage allows it to be held until it is needed. To promote this innovation, I authored the Storage Technology and Electric Power (STEP) Act (HB 787). Had this legislation passed, it would have required utilities such as Pepco to procure a certain amount of electricity from storage, thus incentivizing the use of the technology in our state, supporting clean energy, and stimulating a new and growing industry for our state’s economy. I am currently working with energy storage stakeholders to prepare a bill for the next legislative session to keep this important issue at the forefront. I also introduced a bill to reform the Public Service Commission, the state regulator of public utilities such as Pepco. Although the bill did not pass, I continue to believe we need to strengthen the regulation of under-performing utilities.
We did succeed, however, in passing HB 1106—a bill to increase the state’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (the amount of energy we get from renewable sources) from 20% of all generated electricity in 2022 to 25% by 2020. We also passed the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act (HB 610), which increases Maryland’s goal of greenhouse gas emission reduction (we have already achieved the existing goal). In addition, I supported The Pollinator Protection Act (HB 211), which would restrict the sale of neonicotinoid pesticides by 2018 to improve the health of our bee, bird, and butterfly populations.
I continued my work as co-chair of the WMATA-Metro Work Group to try and improve our Metro system. Unfortunately, Metro’s challenges remain significant. But I am working with my legislative colleagues from around the state to try and improve oversight of this complicated, multi-jurisdictional transit agency.
I authored HB 118, which required that the public must be notified if the State Highway Administration (“SHA”) authorizes a sidewalk closure along a state road (such as Wisconsin Avenue or Old Georgetown Road). I was pleased that SHA agreed that such legislation would improve walkability in some of our more urban communities and has enacted the policy administratively without a statutory change.
The legislature also passed, over the Governor’s veto, the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act (HB 1013). The legislation would require a new system of greater transparency in how the Maryland Department of Transportation ranks projects for state funding.
Criminal Justice and Public Safety
I was very proud to be a supporter of Noah’s Law (HB 1342). The legislation is named after Officer Noah Leotta, who tragically died in the line of duty after being hit by a drunk driver, and strengthens participation in the Ignition Interlock Program for those caught driving under the influence of alcohol.
We also passed the bipartisan Justice Reinvestment Act (HB 1312), which restructures how we punish and treat certain non-violent offenders, directing more resources to evidence-based supervision and treatment in the community. This legislation will reduce our over-reliance on incarceration for non-violent offenders, allowing them to remain healthy and productive members of society while receiving effective treatment instead. This, in turn, will spare the state both the cost of incarceration and the economic drag of relegating large numbers of people to prisons.
We passed HB 1378, which establishes a Maryland retirement trust savings program for employees at businesses without such plans, setting up procedures for payroll deduction and other employee protections. The goal of the voluntary program is to encourage more Marylanders to save for retirement. We also passed HB 1003, legislation to strengthen the state’s equal pay for equal work laws. The House passed the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (HB 580), legislation that would require employers with at least 15 employees to provide paid sick leave (already the law in Montgomery County). The legislation did not proceed in the Senate.
This summary only scratches the surface of the 90 legislative session. If you have any specific questions or concerns, please email me anytime at email@example.com(or just reply to this email).
Metro has been working on a project to address water leakage on the Red Line between Grosvenor and Friendship Heights. It was recently announced that the project is being reevaluated because of costs. The work would required several weekend station closures but kept the system running on weekdays. Bethesda Beat ran an article on the issue.
Partisan rancor gets the press, but the truth is a lot of what is done in Annapolis is bipartisan. The Governor signed numerous bills yesterday and has multiple other bill signings scheduled in April and May.
District 16 Notes
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