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My third legislative session was active and productive as I continued my work in Annapolis to represent you and our neighbors in District 16. This past session saw some high-profile bills, along with other important legislative achievements that may not have received as much attention. 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 funding for education and infrastructure. Below is a synopsis of some of the key highlights from the legislative session.
Producing A Balanced Budget
I am pleased to report the 2018 budget for the State of Maryland was adopted by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 135-6. We funded all public school programs at the level required by State formulas. Two years ago, the Montgomery County Delegation in the legislature obtained a special grant for school districts with high enrollment growth of $20 million, approximately one quarter of which went to Montgomery County. Last year we doubled that grant and our County received more than a quarter (approximately $12 million) of $40 million. This year's capital budget includes an additional $22 million for that program, $10 million of which will go to our County. These additional dollars will not entirely solve school crowding, but it is certainly progress.
My colleagues and I on the Appropriations Committee were responsible for reviewing the budget and recommending necessary changes. Notable provisions in the budget include a cap on higher education tuition increases at 2% annually; rejecting the Governor's proposed cut to the reimbursement rate for those who work with our disabilities community and providing their full, previously agreed upon rate increase of 3.5%; and fully funding the State pension fund at the actuarially required level.
We were also able to secure $400,000 for Bethesda’s own wonderful arts institution, Imagination Stage. Other funding for our area includes money for local projects at the Bethesda YMCA, Gracefully Growing Together Center in Bethesda, and the Bender Jewish Community Center, as well as a watershed improvement project in Potomac. The budget also reaffirms our support for local higher-education institutions by securing State dollars for the Student Services building and Math and Sciences building at Montgomery College as well as funding the Universities at Shady Grove Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Building, all of which are important County priorities.
Additionally, I voted in favor of and led floor debate on the Income Tax Revenue Estimate Cap and Revenue Stabilization Account Act (HB 503). The bill will reduce the volatility in our State budgeting process and decrease the likelihood of unexpected budget deficits. By reducing the unpredictability of State revenues, the bill minimizes the need for the difficult budget cuts or tax increases that accompany unforeseen budget deficits.
Preserving And Protecting Our Environment
Expanding the adoption of renewable energy resources in the State has been a legislative priority of mine since I was elected. This session, I introduced the Energy Storage Technology Study Act (HB 773), which would require a study to be conducted of the market incentives needed to increase the adoption of energy storage devices in the State. Energy storage devices, such as batteries, can serve as back-up power or be paired with intermittent renewable sources such as wind and solar. Increasing the use of energy storage technology can help lessen our dependence on fossil fuel electricity sources by increasing the competitiveness of renewables. The bill is on its way to the Governor's desk.
The 2017 session saw several environmental legislative successes. Early in the legislative session, my fellow lawmakers and I voted to overturn Governor Hogan’s veto of the Clean Energy Jobs Act (HB 1106), which was introduced by my District 16 colleague Delegate Bill Frick and had originally passed the General Assembly during the 2016 legislative session. The passage of the Clean Energy Jobs Act has increased Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which commits the State to generating 25% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020. I was pleased to cosponsor the bill during the 2016 legislative session and vote for the veto override this past session.
The issue of fracking is one of great concern to my constituents, and I thank all of you who contacted me to advocate for a fracking ban. I voted in favor of the Hydraulic Fracturing Prohibition (HB 1325) in the House of Delegates and the Governor has signed the bill into law. Two other bills that the General Assembly passed—and I voted for—are the Oyster Management - Prohibited Actions Act (HB 924),which protects oyster sanctuaries from encroachment and over-fishing, and the Keep Antibiotics Effective Act of 2017, which prohibits the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals that are not ill.
Meeting Our Transportation Challenges
Two related pieces of Metro legislation passed this session. The Washington Metrorail Safety Commission Act (HB 119), a bill to create a new safety commission to oversee Metro, passed unanimously. The bill is identical to legislation passed by D.C. and Virginia to establish the new tri-jurisdictional safety commission to oversee rail safety at Metro. The new commission was mandated by the federal government to replace the inadequate Tri-State Oversight Committee that formerly oversaw safety at Metro. I introduced my own companion legislation, the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission Membership Act (HB 285), which requires that one of Maryland’s two principal board members on the new Safety Commission reside in either Montgomery or Prince George’s counties, alternating between the two. I think it is important that at least one board member of the new Commission reside in either county so that they understand the importance of the system to the region, and so that they know people in their communities who ride Metrorail.
My role in leading the Metro Work Group continued this past session with five oversight meetings, including discussions concerning Metro’s budget and governance, the powers of Metro’s Inspector General, and the new Safety Commission, which the General Assembly passed.
I worked with my Montgomery County colleagues on two pieces of legislation that aim to improve pedestrian safety in the County. Maximum Speed Limits Outside Urban Districts Act (HB 332) would have allowed the Montgomery County Department of Transportation to lower speed limits on neighborhood streets from 25 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour if a study finds that such changes are warranted. The bill--had it passed--would have made it safer for children to walk to school and will allow more appropriate speed limits to be set on narrow and windy streets. The Vehicle Laws - Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons Act (HB 578) would allow pedestrian hybrid beacons, better known as “HAWK beacons,” to be used on roads in the state. HAWK beacons have been proven to enhance pedestrian safety, and they can be found at many intersections in neighboring D.C. While the bill did not pass the Senate, we made some progress, as the State Highway Administration has recently agreed to adopt modified HAWK beacons at some intersections in the County.
In order to meet some of our other traffic challenges, I supported legislation (HB 1050) to re-start the multi-modal corridor study examining traffic improvements for I-270. I also supported highway user revenue funding as part of the State budget, which is money given to our counties and municipalities from the State gas tax to fund local road improvements.
Improving State Government
A few of the bills I introduced this legislative session are aimed at improving transparency and bringing the State government into the 21st Century.
The State Board of Elections Transparency Act (HB 169) was intended to increase the public’s access to the Maryland State Board of Elections. The legislation would have required that the State Board of Elections make archived audio recordings of its open meetings accessible to the public. While the legislation did not pass the full General Assembly, the State Board of Elections has adopted the provisions of the bill as policy, and will now make audio recordings of Board meetings available to the public on their website.
Another one of my bills that achieved the desired result without passage is the Assisted Living Transparency Act (HB 387). The bill would have required assisted living facilities to post their disclosure statements on their websites. These disclosure statements, which assisted living facilities are already required by the State to complete, include basic information about their services, accepted payments sources, and so on. Access to these forms will make it easier for prospective residents and their families to find the assisted living facility that is best for them. Although the bill did not pass, these provisions are being adopted as a regulation by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
The Maryland Manual Modernization Act (HB 78) is a bill to update our State code for the modern age by formally shifting the law to reflect the online publication of the Maryland Manual. The Manual is now continuously updated online and serves as a vital resource for all Maryland residents. I’m glad to report that the legislation passed both the House and the Senate unanimously and will be signed into law.
Ensuring Economic Security
The General Assembly passed several bills pertaining to the economic success of Marylanders. I was happy to support the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act (HB 1), which requires employers in the State to provide their employees with earned paid sick leave. I also supported the Home Act of 2017 (HB 172), which would have prohibited rental buildings from discriminating against potential tenants on the basis of the potential tenants using housing assistance vouchers. Both of these are actually existing policies in Montgomery County and these statewide bills would have simply expanded what we already do to the rest of the State. While the Healthy Working Families Act passed the full General Assembly, the Home Act unfortunately did not pass the Maryland Senate.
I also cosponsored the Fight for Fifteen legislation (HB 1416). The bill would have increased the State’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024 and linked future increases to inflation. While it did not make it out of committee this time around, I was pleased to cosponsor the legislation.
Adjusting To A New Political Reality In Washington
Several pieces of legislation introduced during this past session reflect the new national political climate in which we find ourselves. I cosponsored the Maryland Trust Act (HB 1362). The Trust Act is intended to provide a sense of trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement so that members of these communities will feel comfortable interacting with the police, including reporting crimes and serving as witnesses. If immigrants view local police as a deportation force, it will be difficult for law enforcement and the community to cooperate. The Trust Act would prevent our local police from being deputized to enforce federal immigration law, but will 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. The bill ultimately did not pass.
In another effort to protect the State from potentially harmful federal actions, I voted in favor of the Maryland Defense Act (HB 913). The Maryland Defense Act and accompanying Resolution provide Attorney General Brian Frosh with the discretion and resources needed to engage in offensive or defensive action to protect citizens of Maryland from harmful federal efforts. These added powers will allow our Attorney General to sue the federal government to protect Marylanders should such action be necessary. We want our State government to have all of the resources necessary to defend Maryland residents from potential harm, such as the new Administration’s efforts to cut Chesapeake Bay clean-up funding.
In Maryland, over 400,000 of our State’s residents rely on the Affordable Care Act for their health insurance. To preserve the healthcare of these Marylanders, I voted in favor of the Protection of the Federal Affordable Care Act (HJ 9), a resolution introduced to strongly encourage our Congressional delegation and Governor Hogan to oppose any efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I am dismayed that Congress has attempted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and while I am not a federal lawmaker, I will continue to do what I can as a State Delegate to protect every Marylander’s right to affordable healthcare. I also voted in favor of the Family Planning Services - Continuity of Care Act (HB 1083) which ensures continuity of care if the federal government withdraws funding for those who receive services from Planned Parenthood and other women’s healthcare providers. The bill establishes a Family Planning Program within the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Closer to home, I co-signed a letter with my District 16 House of Delegates colleagues encouraging Governor Hogan to speak out against proposed funding cuts to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the upcoming federal budget. Located here in Bethesda, NIH provides groundbreaking medical research that has saved and continues to save millions of lives in the U.S. and around the world. The myopic cuts to NIH proposed by the new administration would inhibit this critical research mission, and they would have a direct negative effect on the 20,000 NIH employees who work in Bethesda, many of whom are our neighbors here in District 16.
My Office Outside Of The Legislative Session
Thank you again for contacting me this 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 inquiries about the recently concluded legislative session, ideas regarding policy issues, difficulties 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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