Despite the sad end, the legislative session was productive and below are some of the key highlights. If you would like to hear more, please join the District 16 Team on Tuesday, April 30th at 7pm at Bethesda Elementary School for our post-session town hall.
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During the 2019 legislative session, I continued my work on the Appropriations Committee but took on new responsibilities as a member of the Transportation and Environment Subcommittee, member of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, and Chair of the Oversight Committee on Personnel. I was also proud to chair 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.
The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education recently released a series of interim recommendations on how to improve education in Maryland. These recommendations include additional funding for special needs students, expanded pre-kindergarten, a focus on high poverty schools in need of wraparound services, enhanced support and pay for teachers, and increased oversight of local education spending. I strongly believe that Maryland can and should be doing more to supply our students and teachers with the resources they deserve. That is why I supported The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (HB 1413), which would implement the recommendations made by the Kirwan Commission. This bill passed the House and Senate and now awaits action by the Governor. As discussed further below, the budget we passed this year also makes the necessary first investment in the Kirwan recommendations.
I also believe in returning control of the school calendar to each county’s school board. I voted in favor of the Community Control of School Calendars Act (SB 128), which would allow locally elected County school boards to set the basic school calendar for that jurisdiction (e.g., determine whether the school year would commence before or after Labor Day). Communities around the state have different scheduling needs and know what works best for their students. The legislation was vetoed by the Governor and that veto was overturned by the legislature.
Additionally, I co-sponsored Education - Students With Reading Difficulties - Screenings and Interventions (HB 690). The bill requires that starting in the 2020-2021 school year, county school boards must screen students to see if they are at risk for reading difficulties, which will allow earlier identification of special needs or other issues struggling students may face. The Senate version of the bill (SB 734) passed both chambers unanimously and is currently awaiting action by the Governor.
A significant issue the General Assembly addressed during the legislative session was school construction, an important issue for Montgomery County’s fast growing school system. The House voted in favor of the Build to Learn Act (HB 727), which would use funds generated by state casinos as a source to service bonds dramatically increasing our investment in school construction. Under the legislation, Montgomery County would have received more than double its current school construction funding allocation from state dollars—which are all your taxpayer dollars—for a period of four years. The Senate, unfortunately, declined to move the bill forward. As discussed further below, the annual budget did provide an increase in school construction funding for next year.
Addressing Our Transportation Challenges
Prior to the start of the legislative session, the Hogan Administration released a pre-solicitation report for the massive proposed public-private partnership (P3) to widen the Beltway and I-270 by adding toll lanes, an action that triggers the process of contracting with a private partner to undertake the next stage of the process. Significant concern was expressed that the project was commencing with private parties before the details of the project are known or understood including what homes, businesses or land would need to be condemned, the cost of the project, the range of the tolls that would be charged and further information.
In response, I cosponsored Public-Private Partnerships – Reforms (HB 1091). The legislation would ensure that environmental impact statements and independent credit assessments are completed prior to the commencement of a privatized infrastructure project. Those reviews are necessary so that the state can understand the contours of the projects being undertaken. The legislation passed the House but, unfortunately, did not proceed in the State Senate.
The General Assembly did include intent language in the state budget that the Administration should withdraw the pre-solicitation report until the legally required environmental impact statement is complete. Furthermore, the legislature expressed its intent that the state’s Board of Public Works—made up of the Governor, Comptroller, and Treasurer—vote on such P3s on a 3-0 basis for those projects to proceed. The language in the budget is another safeguard to ensure that these projects are sensible from an environmental and financial perspective and will actually solve the problem of congestion, a goal we all share.
Language in the budget was also included to require the State Highway Administration to update the state legislature on its smart traffic signalization plans. These plans were announced several years ago but the Administration is still on the same initial test corridors and has announced no plans to expand to other state roads.
I am a firm believer in investing in public transit and other transportation alternatives, to provide a necessary alternative to roads. Last year, we passed legislation I authored to create a dedicated funding source for the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) and the first tranche of funding was included in this year’s budget. We also transformed the WMATA-Metro Work Group I have co-chaired for the past four years into a broader Public Transit Caucus to bring attention to transportation alternatives throughout the state.
Additionally, I voted for Transportation - Bikeways Network Program - Funding (HB 1281). The bill codifies and funds the Bikeways Network Program which provides grants to support bicycle-friendly roads and trails. The bill passed both chambers and is on the Governor’s desk.
I was also proud to sponsor successful legislation—the Transit Benefit for State Employees Act (HB 201)—which codifies and expands an existing benefit for certain state employees to receive free transit on transportation systems operated by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA). The bill passed the House and Senate and awaits action by the Governor.
Protecting Our Environment
During the legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly worked to further the state’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and combating the effects of climate change. My colleagues and I worked to protect our environment from pollution by passing Expanded Polystyrene Food Service Products (HB 109), which prohibits the use of expanded polystyrene food service products, also known as Styrofoam, a policy that already exists in Montgomery County. The bill currently awaits action by the Governor. I also supported Single Use Plastic Straws – Use in Restaurants (HB 134), legislation authored by my District 16 colleague Delegate Sara Love, to limit the use of single use plastic straws while not banning them. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass.
I co-sponsored the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 1158), which would have expanded Maryland’s renewable portfolio standard—the percentage of electricity that comes from renewable sources—from 25% to 50%. The Senate version of the bill (SB 516) passed both chambers and is now awaiting action by the Governor.
Additionally, I sponsored several bills that will help lower emissions and protect our environment. The Regional Transportation and Climate Protection Act (HB 277), will keep Maryland at the table for regional negotiations on reducing climate emissions from the transportation sector in a program called the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), somewhat similar to our existing regional cap and trade program for power plants. The bill is currently pending a decision by the Governor.
Another one of my bills, the Electric Vehicle Recharging Equipment for Multi-Family Units Act (HB 826), would have made it easier for those in multi-unit housing to access electric vehicle charging infrastructure by establishing a process by which homeowners associations and condominium boards must process applications to install recharging equipment. The bill passed the House but the Senate committee of jurisdiction did not take up the legislation.
I also sponsored the Energy Storage Pilot Project Act (HB 650), which will jump-start energy storage projects in the state by requiring the Investor-Owned Utilities (such as Pepco) to establish electric storage pilot programs. Energy storage can be helpful to support the deployment of intermittent renewable energy sources (e.g., wind and solar), which contributes to our efforts to reduce emissions. The bill has been passed by both the House and the Senate and is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.
Advancing Sensible Firearm Safety
In recent years, Maryland has made great progress in strengthening our gun laws, but there is still much more work to be done to protect our residents from gun violence. This year, I co-sponsored Firearms – Computer–Aided Fabrication and Serial Number (3–D Printed Firearms) (HB 740), which will make 3-D printed firearms illegal in Maryland. These firearms are a danger to our community by allowing individuals to possess a firearm without a background check. These devices also lack a serial number, rendering them untraceable. The legislation passed the House but did not proceed in the Senate.
I also voted for the Handgun Permit Review Board – Repeal (SB 1000), which eliminates the politically appointed appeal board in favor of using Administrative Law Judges to rule on appeals of parties seeking handgun permits. The bill passed and awaits a decision from the Governor.
I also co-sponsored Rifles and Shotguns – Secondary Transactions (HB 786), which would have closed loopholes in our gun laws related to rifles and shotguns. The bill did not pass.
I have been inspired by the passionate activism of so many of our neighbors, especially from students and parents, on the issue of gun safety. We still have a lot of work to do, but we are headed in the right direction to protect Marylanders from gun violence.
Ensuring Economic Security and Healthcare Access
To ensure that working Marylanders are able to make a living wage, I was proud to co-sponsor the Fight for Fifteen legislation (HB 166) this session which incrementally raises the state minimum wage to $15.00 an hour by 2025 (an existing policy in Montgomery County). Earning a living wage will help employees afford the cost of living in our state and improve their quality of life. I joined my colleagues in voting to override Governor Hogan’s veto and the bill is now law.
My seatmate, Delegate Ariana Kelly, introduced Income Tax - Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit - Alterations (HB 810), which will increase the number of recipients eligible for a child care deduction on their state taxes. The old $50,000 income cutoff will be replaced with a new starting limit of $92,000 for individuals and $143,000 for married couples. I supported this initiative because working families deserve access to affordable childcare and am pleased it is now on the Governor’s desk.
I also sponsored the Graduate Assistants Collective Bargaining Fairness Act (HB 270), which would expand collective bargaining rights to graduate employees at Maryland’s public institutions of higher education. The bill passed the House, but unfortunately did not advance out of the Senate Finance Committee.
With the rising cost of prescription drugs, too many Marylanders are facing financial hardship simply by accessing required medication. That is why I supported Health - Prescription Drug Affordability Board (HB 768), which creates an expert board to review prescription drug costs for those who are enrolled in a healthcare plan through the state of Maryland or County governments. The bill passed the House and Senate is now awaiting action by the Governor.
I supported several bills that will protect and strengthen the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). I co-sponsored Health Insurance – Consumer Protections and Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Act (HB 697), which establishes a working group to ensure that the consumer protections established by the federal ACA—such as no discrimination on the basis of pre-existing conditions—are followed even if the Trump Administration succeeds in its efforts to undermine the ACA. I also voted for Individual Market Stabilization – Provider Fee (HB 258), which extends a program passed last year to stabilize premiums in the Maryland healthcare exchange established under the ACA. Both of these bills passed the House and the Senate and are currently awaiting action by the Governor.
Another bill I co-sponsored was the Patient’s Bill of Rights (HB 145), which requires that hospitals provide patients with a Patient’s Bill of Rights, a document that outlines the legal rights available to anyone seeking medical treatment. The bill passed the House and Senate and is on the Governor’s desk.
Producing a Balanced Budget
The budget for the State of Maryland passed the General Assembly with a bipartisan vote. The operating budget fully funds the educational formulas as directed by law and sets aside $255 million in funding for the Kirwan Commission recommendations described above, on top of the almost $7 billion in state aid for K-12 education already required by statute. The budget also establishes a framework for $500 million in school construction funding for next year. Additionally, the budget fully funds the actuarial required payment of $1.6 billion to the state pension fund plus an additional payment of $75 million, and expands the Rainy Day Fund to include 6% of general fund revenues.
My District 16 colleagues and I were also able to secure funds for many local projects that are also being supported by county and private funding. These projects include support for Cornerstone Montgomery—a leading behavioral health non-profit in the county, the Josiah Henson Park, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase YMCA, Imagination Stage, and the KID Museum.
Increasing Government Transparency and Accountability
I sponsored the State Board of Elections Transparency Act (HB 71), which will require video webstreaming of the state board meetings to ensure that this important agency is accessible and transparent to the public and the county boards of elections. The bill passed both chambers and is currently awaiting the Governor’s signature. I also voted in favor of Maryland Transportation Authority – Video Streaming and Archiving (HB 21), legislation to video webstream the Maryland Transportation Authority’s meetings, something that will be important if the P3 project described above moves forward, as the Authority will set the applicable toll rates. The legislation passed the House but not the Senate.
I also voted for Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability and Maryland Program Evaluation Act (HB 1113), legislation that establishes an Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability in the Department of Legislative Services. This office will perform evaluations of state agencies to ensure those agencies are effective and accountable. This bill passed both the House and the Senate and is awaiting action from 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. 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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