During the 2021 legislative session, I continued to chair the Transportation and Environment Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee and served as a member of the Capital Budget Subcommittee and the Oversight Committee on Personnel. I was also proud to continue to serve as chair of the 24-member Montgomery County House Delegation, a role which allowed me to advance our County’s shared priorities while also working on local legislation that only affects Montgomery County.
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 email@example.com.
COVID Response and Relief
For the past year our lives have all been significantly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the legislature reconvened, our top priority was providing relief and assistance to those struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic. My colleagues and I passed—and the Governor has signed into law--The RELIEF Act (SB 496). Among its highlights, the legislation increased the refundable earned income tax credit, exempted current unemployment insurance benefits from the income tax, and allowed small businesses to keep some short-term sales tax collections to bolster their bottom line. The legislation also converted numerous assistance loans to grants and targets needing funding to food banks, utility assistance, non-profits, restaurants, and the hospitality industry. Also included in the bill are additional funds to help businesses transition to telework, support state and local transportation departments to off-set their revenue losses, and resources for the Department of Labor to hire more staff to process unemployment claims.
The House of Delegates also took historic steps to protect housing rights in the face of the current economic hardship. HB 18 passed both chambers and was sent to the Governor. The legislation provides access to counsel in certain eviction actions to assist tenants.
The issue I heard about the most from constituents throughout the legislative session was access to COVID vaccines. As many of you have experienced firsthand, Maryland's initial vaccination roll-out was unacceptably slow and confusing. Throughout the rollout, my office was in regular contact with the state and county departments of health on behalf of constituents. In addition, my colleagues and I advocated with the Hogan Administration to address Montgomery County’s vaccine needs. We sent a letter to the Maryland Department of Health urging the state to allocate a larger share of vaccines to areas with high COVID spread such as Montgomery County. We also requested a mass vaccination site be set up in Montgomery County, which led to the establishment of the Germantown vaccination site. Navigating the vaccines is still more difficult than it should be and if you require assistance, please call or email my office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In response to the unprecedented level of unemployment, I joined my colleagues in passing a package of bills to modernize the unemployment insurance system that so many have become painfully familiar with this past year. The package includes measures to implement flexible payment plans for employers; improve customer service; increase allowable part-time work while still obtaining unemployment benefits; and more. The Governor has agreed to let these changes become law without his signature. If you need assistance with your unemployment claim, please call or email my office at email@example.com.
I serve on the Capital Budget Subcommittee in the House which deals with the state’s construction budget. The capital budget funds the construction of K-12 schools; buildings at our institutions of higher education; public safety facilities; hospitals; and more. Among the highlights:
As part of the leadership of the Appropriations Committee, I take an active role to secure vital education funds. The budget bill passed by the Appropriations Committee fully funds K-12 education formulas and restored funding the Governor had proposed to cut for community colleges. At the start of the legislative session, I joined my colleagues in overriding Governor Hogan’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. We then passed revisions to the Blueprint legislation (HB 1372) which provides additional support for pandemic-related learning loss; increases access to technology for students; and expands behavioral and mental health resources, among other provisions. Additionally, both chambers approved legislation I authored (HB 1365) which raises special education teacher pay.
Police Reform and Public Safety
This past year, the importance of accountability for law enforcement officers became abundantly clear. House Speaker Adrienne Jones formed a work group to address systemic racism and injustice in our law enforcement system. I am proud to have supported the work group’s legislative package which is now becoming law. The Police Reform and Accountability Act of 2021 (HB 670) addresses several topics related to policing issues in our state, including:
While most of the police reforms were encompassed within the Police Reform and Accountability Act, there were others pieces of legislation to expand protections for Marylanders. Anton’s Law (SB 178) ensures that Marylanders who file complaints of police abuse can find out how their complaints are handled, and allows for officer misconduct information to be made available to the public. SB 600 creates a process to investigate deaths caused by police officers by establishing the Task Force on Independent Investigations Involving Deaths Caused by Law Enforcement Officers.
Gun violence is also an issue that continues to grip our state, and nation. At the start of the legislative session, I joined my colleagues to override the Governor’s veto of HB 4 from 2020. The bill requires background checks for all sales and transfers of rifles and shotguns. The House also voted on legislation to regulate ghost guns (SB 190).
I am co-chair and co-founder of the Maryland Transit Caucus, a group of bipartisan and bicameral legislators who support transit. The Transit Caucus made progress on several of our priority bills. The P3 Oversight & Reform Act (HB485 / SB361) strengthens Maryland’s P3 laws to ensure oversight and predictability to protect the financial and environmental health of the state. The legislation passed the House, but unfortunately did not advance in the Senate. The Transit Safety and Investment Act (HB114 / SB199) provides annual funding increases for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA)’s capital needs for the next six years and provides two years of financial assistance to small businesses impacted by Purple Line construction. The bill passed both chambers and has been sent to the Governor.
I also introduced the Maryland Department of Transportation Promises Act (HB 67) to put into law the promises made by the Governor and Department of Transportation regarding the I-270/I-495 private toll road expansion project. It passed the House on a bipartisan basis but, unfortunately, languished in the Senate.
Transparency and Reform
One silver lining to this strange legislative session during a pandemic was that the General Assembly was more accessible to the public virtually. For the first time, all subcommittees and voting sessions were streamed online and witnesses could sign up for hearings remotely. Going forward, I believe we should continue some of these changes that allow access to the legislature’s work more easily, even as we return to a more traditional session in future years.
One of my other priorities during the legislative session was government reform and accountability. I introduced the Maryland Environmental Service Reform Act (HB 2) which addresses some of the significant failings we learned about transparency and accountability at this quasi-state agency in 2020 when the former Director of MES left the agency to become the Governor's Chief of Staff and it was revealed that he took an improper severance payment; had benefited himself with luxurious travel; and had reimbursed expenses far surpassing his predecessors. The legislation revamps the agency's board and leadership and makes other reforms to address a systemic culture of waste, fraud and abuse at MES. Another bill of mine, the Board of Public Works Budget Reduction Clarification Act (HB 133), improves the process and transparency for budget cuts when the legislature is not in session. Both of these bills passed and have been sent to the Governor.
This year I was proud to continue my work to protect our environment and promote renewable energy. The Electric Vehicle Recharging Equipment for Multi-Family Units Act (HB 111) will establish a process for a Homeowners’ Association or Condo Board and the EV owner to collaborate on getting an EV charging station installed. The bill will make it easier for many Maryland residents who have, or are considering buying an electric vehicle to get a charging station installed in their residence. The bill passed with bipartisan support in both chambers and is now in the Governor’s hands.
Another bill I sponsored is the Office of People’s Council Environmental Reform Act (HB 30), which requires Maryland’s Office of People’s Counsel (OPC) to pursue an environmental mandate as part of its mission to represent residential ratepayers before the state's utilities regulator, the Public Service Commission (PSC). The legislation extends OPC’s advocacy efforts to environmental issues those issues have a voice in utilities’ decision-making. The General Assembly also passed legislation (HB 768) from the Montgomery County Delegation—championed by Delegate Charkoudian—to create a community choice energy aggregation pilot program in Montgomery County that will allow increased use of renewable energy.
I also introduced the Zero-Emission Bus Transition Act (HB 334) to transition the Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) transit bus fleet to 100% zero-emission vehicles over time. The Senate version of the bill (SB 137) passed both chambers and has been sent to the Governor.
At a time in which other state legislatures are enacting laws to suppress the vote, I am proud that Maryland has made strides to protect the integrity of our elections and make voting more accessible for all eligible voters. HB 745 increases the number of early voting centers across the state and mandates that local boards of election take into account historically disenfranchised communities, access to public transportation, and proximity to dense populations when determining the locations of voting centers.
Two other bills enhance mail-in voting. HB 1047 sets standards for use of drop-boxes, expands ballot notifications so that voters can better track their ballots and provides for ballot-curing in the case that a voter’s signature is called into question. HB 1048 makes voting easier and more convenient by creating a permanent mail-in ballot option. Marylanders who want to vote by mail in future elections will no longer need to request a ballot for every election. All three of these election bills have been passed and sent to the Governor.
My Office Outside Of The Legislative Session
Thank you again for contacting me during the legislative session. 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 we continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, my office will be a resource to help connect you to the appropriate state and local officials.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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