Adjournment: Weekly Update
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The 2018 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly—the last regular session of the term—has drawn to a close. We had a productive session as I continued my work in Annapolis to represent you and our District 16 neighbors. As a member of the Appropriations Committee and Education & Economic Development Subcommittee, I have been involved in making difficult decisions about the state’s spending priorities while preserving vital funding for education and infrastructure.
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 email@example.com.
Funding Metro and Enhancing Oversight
My colleagues and I achieved a historic victory this legislative session for the region by establishing dedicated funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA or Metro), which has lacked dedicated funding since the agency’s formation in 1967. As a result of months of negotiations with the Governor’s office, my colleagues in the General Assembly, and our counterparts in D.C. and Virginia, we were able to achieve consensus on funding WMATA.
I was the lead sponsor of the Maryland Metro/Transit Funding Act (HB 372), which passed the General Assembly. The Maryland Metro/Transit Funding Act establishes a new, permanent dedicated funding stream of $167 million per year for Metro from the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund, in addition to the existing state funding for Metro. This amount represents Maryland’s share of the additional $500 million identified by Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld as essential to keeping the system in a state of good repair, which is important to maintain and improve service. In early March, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation to provide their share of dedicated funding, and the D.C. Mayor and City Council have stated their intent to pass legislation to fund their share.
While this additional funding is needed, money alone will not solve Metro’s problems. Rigorous oversight and improved governance are essential to ensure that the agency is well managed. I introduced the Metro Board Member Act (HB 370), which will place the Maryland Secretary of Transportation or their designee on the Metro Board of Directors as one of Maryland’s two principal representatives. The bill further requires that the other principal Maryland Metro Board member be either a resident of Montgomery or Prince George’s County, alternating between the two. The bill passed the General Assembly unanimously. I also cosponsored the Metro Oversight Enhancement Act (HB 1089), introduced by my colleague, Delegate Erek Barron, which strengthens the WMATA Office of the Inspector General, Metro’s independent watchdog that is responsible for investigating instances of waste, fraud, and abuse within the agency.
Improving Metro has been a priority of mine since I was elected in 2014. Shortly after taking office, Delegate Barron and I formed the WMATA-Metro Work Group to create a group of legislators interested in improving Metro. The Work Group has met several times during each session since 2015, including an interim meeting in June featuring former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The legislation described above in many ways represents a culmination of the Work Group’s efforts, but our task is not complete. With more resources going towards Metro, it is essential that the Work Group keep a close eye on the agency going forward. The General Assembly must continue to hold Metro accountable as we do our state government agencies.
Addressing Traffic and Safety On Our Roads
I introduced Traffic Control Signal Monitoring Systems – Yellow Signal Compliance (HB 204), to make red light cameras in Maryland fairer for motorists. The Yellow Signal Compliance bill requires that a red light camera at an intersection may only issue tickets if the yellow light phase timing meets the State Highway Administration (SHA) standard. Presently, many traffic lights in the county and the state have phases that do not meet the SHA standard and are too short. The legislation will make automated enforcement fairer by ensuring that citations are only issued at traffic lights with sufficient yellow light time. The legislation passed the General Assembly unanimously.
In response to concerns from my constituents on the River Road corridor, I introduced State Highway Administration - Project Planning Documents - Public Access (HB 1281), to require the SHA to release a completed study of the intersection of River Road & Pyle Road/Braeburn Parkway, where residents have been seeking safety improvements for years. I am happy to report that the SHA is moving forward with improvements to the River Road intersection and has publicly released the requested materials.
Additionally, I am monitoring Governor Hogan’s proposed Traffic Relief Plan for the Beltway and I-270, which would widen the highways to add express toll lanes. My colleagues and I included language in the State budget requiring the SHA to submit an outline of the environmental issues to be examined in the draft environmental impact statement to the General Assembly, Treasurer, and Comptroller prior to the signing of any public-private partnership (P3) agreement. Responses from private sector infrastructure firms to the State’s request for information (RFI) can be found here: goo.gl/AYCdcX. The proposed project would have significant impacts on District 16 and Montgomery County. I will continue to keep my constituents up to date on the latest developments.
At the beginning of the legislative session, the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education released its initial findings on how to improve education in Maryland. I voted in favor of Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (HB 1415), which includes several pilot programs recommended by the Kirwan Commission to improve education. The bill includes state support for capital costs for career and technical education programs, which was part of a bill I previously introduced, the Career and Technology Education Workforce Investment Act (HB 1098). Other programs supported by the bill include a comprehensive teacher recruitment and outreach program, the Maryland Early Literacy Initiative—which aims to help students meet certain literacy proficiency targets by the end of third grade—and the Public School Opportunities Enhancement Program—which provides additional support for students at high need schools. The Kirwan Commission will continue to meet after the legislature adjourns and is expected to make recommendations regarding our state education funding formulas.
In addition to improving our education programs, we are also working to improve our school facilities. This year, Montgomery County is the top beneficiary of a State funding program for schools with high enrollment growth. The program is typically funded at $40 million but this year's capital budget increases the program to over $60 million. $14 million of the additional dollars will flow to Montgomery County, on top of one quarter of the base portion of the program. Montgomery County also benefits from the traditional public school construction program that does not focus strictly on enrollment growth and is funded at over $300 million. I was also involved in a work group that reviewed the 21st Century School Facilities Act (HB 1783), legislation that arose from the bipartisan Knott Commission that includes numerous process improvements that will allow our public school system to build and expand schools more quickly, with fewer bureaucratic hoops to jump through.
To guarantee that our schools are receiving the gaming revenue promised to them bythe passage of casino gambling in Maryland a decade ago, I cosponsored Education - Commercial Gaming Revenues - Constitutional Amendment (HB 1697). The constitutional amendment, which will be on the ballot in the upcoming general election, requires the Governor to provide supplemental State funding for public education through the use of gaming revenues. Should the amendment pass at the polls, it will create a lockbox for education funding from casino revenue totaling over $500 million per year.
Protecting Our Environment
Protecting our environment has been a priority of mine in the General Assembly and this session I introduced two bills to ensure that our state is prepared for our changing climate. The Maryland Pension Risk Mitigation Act (HB 993) requires the State Retirement and Pension System to study risks to the pension’s holdings and risk mitigation strategies. Chief among those risks is the risk from climate change to our State’s investments because of physical risks (e.g., rising sea levels) or regulatory risks (e.g., effect on specific industries because of government rules). The bill was successfully passed.
Additionally, I introduced the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative Extension Act (HB 230), which will require that any current or future Governor obtain approval from the General Assembly before withdrawing from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI is an important interstate compact that aims to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and keep our air clean. In New Jersey, former Governor Christie withdrew his state from the RGGI unilaterally and without legislative input. The RGGI Extension Act will prevent such a unilateral action from occurring in Maryland and ensure that state legislators have a voice in any withdrawal decision. This legislation has already been signed into law by the Governor.
Along similar lines, I voted in favor of Environment - U.S. Climate Alliance – Membership (HB 3), a bill that requires the Governor to include Maryland as a member of the U.S. Climate Alliance by July 1, 2018, and stipulates that withdrawal from the alliance is conditional on statutory approval from the General Assembly.
To ensure that our coasts are protected in the event of a Deepwater Horizon-style oil spill, I voted in favor the Offshore Drilling Liability Act (HB 1456), which holds oil companies liable should any spill caused by drilling occur off the coast of Maryland. This legislation will require oil companies to cover the full cost of cleanup should such a disaster occur.
To protect our forests, I supported an update to the Task Force on the Forest Conservation Act Offset Policy (SB 610). The bill establishes a Task Force on the Forest Conservation Act Offset Policy to study and review issues related to changes in forested lands in the State. I am happy to report that the legislation passed both houses of the General Assembly by a significant margin.
Advancing Sensible Firearm Safety
Horrific shootings in the United States—including in our own St. Mary’s County—and the ensuing inspirational activism from our students has renewed our efforts to make Maryland’s already-strong gun laws even stronger. I cosponsored Criminal Law – Firearm Crimes – Rapid Fire Trigger Activator (HB 888), which will make devices known as “bump stocks” illegal in Maryland. Bump stocks allow a semiautomatic rifle to simulate an automatic rate of fire and were used in the Las Vegas shooting. The devices have no legitimate purpose and they do not belong in our communities. The legislation is awaiting action by the Governor.
I cosponsored Public Safety - Extreme Risk Prevention Orders (HB 1302), also known as “red flag” legislation that allows for a temporary court order to confiscate an individual’s firearms if the individual poses a serious safety risk to themselves or others. To protect domestic violence survivors from gun violence, I cosponsored Criminal Procedure - Firearms – Transfer (HB 1646), which requires those convicted of domestic violence to surrender their firearms and bans them from purchasing new ones, closing a loophole in the law that has left too many at risk.
To prevent individuals from easily obtaining handgun wear and carry permits on specious grounds, I cosponsored Public Safety - Handgun Permit Review Board – Appeals (HB 819). The bill modifies the procedure for appealing a denial of a wear, carry, or transport permit to allow appeals to the Office of Administrative Hearings, rather than solely to a politically-appointed review board.
We still have much work to do in Maryland to strengthen our gun laws, but I am pleased that our state has been forward-thinking in this policy realm and I will work to continue that progress.
Ensuring Economic Security and Healthcare Access
My colleagues and I began the legislative session by overturning the Governor’s veto of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (2017 HB 1), which extends sick leave to 700,000 Marylanders. Although it is important for the state as a whole, it actually does not affect Montgomery County because we maintain our own earned sick leave program.
To ensure that working Marylanders make a living wage, I was proud to cosponsor the Fight for Fifteen legislation (HB 664) this session. As the title suggests, the legislation would raise the State’s minimum wage to $15 an hour incrementally by 2024. Earning a living wage will help employees afford the cost of living in our county and improve their quality of life. Unfortunately, the legislation did not advance out of committee. As with sick leave, however, the legislation would not have affected Montgomery County directly because our County maintains its own $15 minimum wage law.
Premium costs in the individual health insurance market have seen unsustainable growth in recent years. One proposal to try to keep those cost increases in check is "reinsurance," whereby the most costly patients are covered through another mechanism. I voted in favor of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange – Establishments of a Reinsurance Program (HB 1795), which requires the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to submit a State Innovation Waiver application for a federal Section 1332 waiver to establish a program for reinsurance and specified federal pass-through funding. I also voted in favor of the Maryland Health Care Access Act of 2018 (HB 1782), which establishes a health insurance provider fee assessment on specified entities, equal to their tax reduction because of the federal tax changes in order to pay for the reinsurance program. Both pieces of legislation passed the General Assembly.
To protect our disabled working constituents, I introduced Maryland Department of Health – Enrollees in the Employed Individuals With Disabilities Program – Demonstration Program (HB 1280/SB 660), which was cross-filed by District 16 Senator Susan Lee in the Senate. The bill requires the Maryland Department of Health to apply to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for an amendment to the State’s HealthChoice Demonstration Waiver for working people with serious disabilities. In short, it allows working individuals with serious disabilities to continue receiving the care that they require to meet their daily needs.
Producing a Balanced Budget
The budget for the State of Maryland passed the House of Delegates with a large, bipartisan vote. The operating budget fully funds the educational formulas as directed by law and sets aside a $200 million reserve for new education programs. Along with funding education, the operating budget rejects the Administration's proposed cuts to behavioral health services and support services for the disabled, fully funds the actuarial required contribution to the state pension plus an additional payment of $75 million, and maintains a Rainy Day Fund of 5% of general fund revenues.
In response to the recent changes to the federal tax code, the General Assembly passed several pieces of legislation meant to protect Marylanders from unexpected tax hikes. The full effect of the federal tax changes on Marylanders remains unclear. Most analyses show that the vast majority of Maryland taxpayers will have a net decrease in their combined federal and state taxes, but we want to insulate as many taxpayers as possible from any negative impacts. This will likely require future legislative action, but this year I cosponsored and voted for Income Tax - Personal Exemptions - Alteration (HB 365), a bill which clarifies that for State income tax purposes, an individual can deduct a personal exemption for the taxpayer, the their spouse, and eligible dependents under the federal code, a move that restores Maryland’s long standing personal exemptions. I also voted in favor of Income Tax – Standard Deduction – Cost-of-Living Adjustments (HB 570) and Income Tax – Standard Deduction – Alteration (SB 318), which indexes, based on the annual change in the cost of living, the value of the standard deduction for tax year 2019 and beyond and also increases the standard deduction. Additionally, negotiators in the General Assembly reached a deal that includes several different tax cuts and credits intended to mitigate the impact of rising state tax bills, including legislation expanding access to the earned income tax credit (SB 647) and income tax deductions for first responders and veterans (SB 996).
In my role on the Appropriations Committee and the Education and Economic Development Subcommittee, my colleagues and I are responsible for reviewing the state’s budget, including components such as school construction funding and economic development initiatives. As described previously in the Education section, I am pleased that we were able to secure several million dollars in additional school construction funding for overcrowded schools in Montgomery County.
We were also able to secure funds for programs and facilities that will specifically benefit District 16 and Montgomery County residents. The budget includes the State's last investment in the construction of the Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Education Building at the Universities at Shady Grove, as well as a miscellaneous grant of $500,000 provided to A Wider Circle for their Community Service Center in Bethesda. Along with Senator Lee, Delegate Frick, and Delegate Kelly, we secured funds for local projects in District 16, including $200,000 for the Josiah Henson Park in North Bethesda, $75,000 for security upgrades at the Bender JCC of Greater Washington, and $75,000 for the National Center for Children and Families.
Ensuring an Inclusive and Welcoming Community
The #MeToo movement that has gained prominence over the past year has reminded all of us of the work that must be done to ensure that all are treated fairly and respectfully in the workplace. Sexual harassment has no place anywhere, and it certainly should not be tolerated in the halls of the General Assembly. My seatmate, Delegate Ariana Kelly, has been a leader on this issue for years, and during the legislative session she introduced Legislative Branch of State Government - Sexual Harassment (HB 1342), which enacts best practices for prevention, reporting, enforcement, and accountability in the Maryland General Assembly. I believe that we need to lead by example at the General Assembly, and I was happy to cosponsor and vote for the bill, which unanimously passed the House and Senate.
In further support of sexual assault victims, I was proud to cosponsor Higher Education – Sexual Assault Policy – Disciplinary Proceedings Provisions (HB 913), which requires the governing body of each higher education institution to adopt and submit a revised sexual assault policy that includes a disciplinary proceedings policy by August 2019, and the Rape Survivor Family Protection Act (HB 1), which authorizes courts to terminate the parental rights of individuals convicted of nonconsensual sexual conduct.
To support our immigrant communities, I cosponsored the SAFE Act (HB 1461), which would have helped to maintain community trust in Maryland law enforcement by clarifying the parameters of state and local participation in federal immigration enforcement efforts. We are safer when the community is comfortable interacting with the police, including to report crimes and serve as witnesses. If immigrants view local police as a deportation force, it will be difficult for law enforcement and the community to cooperate. The SAFE Act would have prevented our local police from being deputized to enforce federal immigration law, but would not prevent the police from reporting violent criminals who happen to be undocumented to federal officials upon completion of their sentences should those individuals have outstanding immigration detainers. Unfortunately, the legislation was not brought up for a vote.
I also cosponsored Higher Education - Tuition Rates – Exemptions (HB 1536), which allows more Dreamers to qualify for in-state tuition. The bill would have expanded access to college for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, a policy ratified by the voters during the 2012 election that helps them access higher education. Access to higher education is proven to improve quality of life and earning potential. While I voted for the bill and it passed the House, unfortunately it was not approved by the Senate.
Finally, I co-sponsored and voted in favor of the Youth Mental Health Protection Act (HB 902), which bans “conversion therapy,” an abhorrent and discredited practice that attempts to change who a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered individual is. I am pleased that this bill was passed by both the House and Senate.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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