Sunday, February 12, 2017

I Need Your Input

      When you elected me you gave me the authority to vote on issues that come before the General Assembly. Many issues are not very controversial, at least in terms of our district, and I have a good idea how people want me to vote. But here are some of the issues where I would like to know how you feel.  To let me know your answers, click on the survey link at the end of this legislative report, and fill out the survey.

      If you would like to know more about any of the bills, you can go to the MD General Assembly website ( http://mgaleg.maryland.gov ) and look up the bill; or send me an email.  If you have a strong interest in any of these bills and want to know more about them, I encourage you to come to Annapolis and attend hearings. You can also watch hearings online at the state legislative website (look for the headphone icons and “On Air” buttons on the right side of the mgaleg home page).
  1. Should we ban fracking in Maryland or just extend the existing moratorium for two more years?  (HB 1325)
  2. Do you support increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2021? (HB 1416)
  3. Do you support legislation that would prevent local jurisdictions from raising the minimum wage above the state minimum wage? (HB 317)
  4. Do you support “Death with Dignity” legislation?  (This would allow terminally ill patients above the age of 18 to request medication to end their life. The patients must have six months or less to live, and must provide oral and written consent from at least two doctors.) (HB 370)
  5. Do you support bail bond legislation that eliminates the need for cash bail using a Pretrial Services assessment, when the defendant is not a flight risk, is not accused of a violent crime, and is not a danger to the community? (There are two different bills that propose similar measures, HB 1390 and HB 1218)
  6. Do you support putting the issue of the legalization of marijuana on the ballot?  (Allows an individual in the State who is at least 21 years old to use marijuana, possess up to 2 ounces of marijuana, and cultivate up to 6 marijuana plant) (HB 665)
  7. Should employers be required to provide paid sick days for employees?
  8. There are actually two bills on the issue of paid sick days.  The Administration has a bill which would only cover employers with 50 or more people. (HB 382)   Another bill introduced by Delegate Clippinger would cover employers with 15 or more employees. (HB 1) Which one is preferable?
  9. Do you support the expansion of vouchers from $5 million to $7 million to send disadvantaged students to private and parochial schools? [Included in the Governor’s budget.]
  10. Should all the members of the Prince George’s School Board be elected (currently, 9 out of 14 members are elected, and the remaining are appointed)? PG 402-17 [This is a local bill and does not have a state number yet – you can look it up on this link: www.princegeorgeshousedelegation.com ]
  11. Do you support the Maryland Trust Act? (HB 1362) [You can read more about it below]
Click on this link:  
https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/B639YZ3

Legislators Introduce Trust Act
           

In response to the actions of the Trump Administration, state legislators in Maryland have introduced the Trust Act.  It does some of the following
  1. Prevents a government agent from using public resources to enforce civil immigration enforcement
  2. Prevents law enforcement officials from stopping, arresting, searching or detaining an individual simply to find out immigration or citizenship status
  3. Prevents a government agency from creating a registry or database for the purpose of immigration enforcement or investigation
  4. Prevents state and local law enforcement officers from being deputized as immigration officers
I am happy to be a co-sponsor of this bill.
 

District 47 Night in Annapolis
Monday March 13th from 6 PM -8 PM


What's better than a night out in Annapolis? Join our District 47 Legislators in Annapolis on Monday March 13th; we've got your dinner plans and civic duty covered!

Feel free to ask your elected officials about the local and state issues that you care about. Best of all, enjoy good food and great conversation with us.

RSVP at (301) 858-3745
or victor.ramirez@senate.state.md.us
 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Democratic Legislative Leadership responds to

Recent Actions of Trump Administration

There is a lot happening in Washington and lots and lots of people are protesting the activities of the Trump Administration. This week the Democratic leadership in Annapolis has started this process, putting forward an initial package of bills to respond to the recent activities of the Administration in DC. These bills are likely to pass.
  • Maryland Defense Act of 2017  – Legislation to provide the Attorney General with the directive and the resources to engage in offensive or defensive action to protect citizens of Maryland from harmful efforts of federal policies. The bill is modeled on similar legislation in some other states. In the words of the Baltimore Sun, “The measures include expanding the authority of Maryland's attorney general to take legal action against federal government actions without receiving the governor's permission. The legislation would free Democratic Attorney General Brian Frosh to more aggressively fight Trump administration policies in court.”

  • Repeal of the Affordable Care Act Resolution – The Affordable Care Act (ACA) provides or helps to provide health insurance to over 400,000 Marylanders, assists seniors with prescription drugs, eliminates pre-existing condition barriers and allows children to stay on their parents’ health insurance. In addition to the problems this would create for citizens and to health care institutions, Maryland is at risk of losing $7.7 billion over the next 4 years should this happen. As reported by the Baltimore Business Journal, these losses relate to Medicaid funding, matching grants for Maryland Children’s Health Program, and other costs.  This Resolution calls on the Congressional Delegation and the Governor to strongly oppose and resist any repeal of the ACA.
 
(You can also sign an  on-line petition asking Governor Hogan to oppose the repeal of the ACA by clicking:  https://www.change.org/p/gov-hogan-strongly-oppose-repeal-of-the-affordable-care-act )
 
  • Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Act  – Marylanders should have access to high quality healthcare, regardless of pre-existing conditions. In light of the President and Republican Congress pushing to repeal the ACA, the General Assembly will create the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission with the purpose to monitor work on the Federal level and prepare Maryland to best react should President Trump and the Republicans in Congress decide to take away health insurance coverage from the hard working middle class.

  • Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Task Force – After the Great Recession, real progress was made to provide consumers with real financial protection, and ensure that banks couldn’t hurt the American consumer. It is only a matter of time until President Trump and Congress begin to repeal these measures. This legislation establishes the Maryland Financial Consumer Protection Task Force to monitor federal changes and keep the Governor and General Assembly updated on those changes.
 
General Assembly Overturns Governor’s Veto of Clean Energy Act

I joined my colleagues in voting 88 to 51 on Tuesday to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill calling for stronger renewable-energy standards.  The Senate today also voted to override the veto by a 32 to 13 margin.

The legislation  requires Maryland to buy 25 percent of its energy from renewable-energy sources, such as wind and solar, by 2020, accelerating existing standards that call for 20 percent renewable energy by 2022.

This  measure would help combat air pollution and climate change while creating green jobs and protecting public health.
 
Governor’s budget Moves Maryland Backwards By

Cutting Key Investments

As a whole, the governor’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018 fails to make the investments we need to continue to move our state forward. 

Prince George’s Medical Center - The Governor cut over $60 million for operating expenses and capital investments for the new Prince George’s Regional Medical Center, postponing the receipt of those funds for two more years.  This delay of funds puts enormous pressure on the medical center, which would have a big struggle to succeed.

Baltimore City -Baltimore City, with some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the state, stands to lose millions in state assistance that was meant to help the community recover from the 2015 uprising and build a stronger local economy. There is less investment in health care, housing assistance, and teacher pay. And state agencies not only canot hire additional staff, even in the face of increasing workloads, but also can’t give their employees a pay increase that might keep state workers on the job.        
        
K-12 Education On paper, it looks like education spending is going up, but the reality is a bit more mixed. The budget also eliminates some innovative educational programs and halts efforts that provide additional support to new teachers. The state is at least $1 billion below its currently established standard for “adequate” funding. A more recent outside review of state funding formulas found that Maryland needs to invest about $2.6 billion more to provide a high-quality education to all students.
Baltimore City will lose $42 million in school aid, reflecting disparities in the current formula. The budget also cuts funding for three programs for students in low-income areas: extended day and summer enhancement programs, mentoring and college readiness services for low-income middle school and high school students, and robotics education programs.

Higher Education - Overall state aid to colleges and universities, including community colleges, is up about 2 percent, on average. The governor said he would cap tuition increases at 2 percent, but it remains to be seen whether the schools will have to cut back on their offerings to be able to balance the books.

On a positive note, the budget would restore funding to the state’s historically black colleges that was cut from the current year’s budget. The state may have to increase funding to its historically black colleges and universities in the future, depending on the outcome of a current lawsuit.

Housing - The proposed budget cuts almost all general fund investment in housing programs, dropping to $4.6 million from $51.5 million in the current year’s budget. The spending plan shifts these programs to the already overstretched capital budget, to be funded through bonds. However, the amount of bond funding available for these programs in the next budget year does not make up all the lost funds, This could be a continued challenge in future years due to competing infrastructure needs.

Economic Development - Economic Development is one area that Hogan is greatly increasing spending. While this is an important role for state government to play, at a time when the state’s cash flow is tight it does not make sense to increase investment in programs that have not proven very effective, like the Enterprise Zones. Hogan’s proposed budget also incorporates the portions of large tax credits to giant corporations that were not included in the current year’s budget -- $20 million to Marriott and $5 million for Northrop Grumman.

We are trying both to move a progressive agenda in Annapolis and also do what we can do in Annapolis to resist some of the Trump Administration’s actions.  We are entering our third week in Annapolis.  Most bills have been drafted, and soon there will be hearings on them. Starting in March the legislature will be voting on these bills.
 
If you want to find out who all your elected officials are at the national and state level and their emails and telephone numbers, you can go to  www.mdelect.net .  
 
District 47 Night in Annapolis

 Monday March 13th  6 PM to 8 PM

What's better than a night out in Annapolis? Join our District 47 Legislators in Annapolis on Monday March 13th; we've got your dinner plans and civic duty covered!
 
Feel free to ask your elected officials about the local and state issues that you care about. Best of all, enjoy good food and great conversation with us.
 
RSVP to (301) 858-3745
or victor.ramirez@senate.state.md.us
 
Approval of Anne Arundel Cardiac Surgery Program is Delayed
 
The Maryland Heath Care Cost Commission (MHCC) last week delayed their approval of the cardiac surgery program for Anne Arundel County (AAC). 
 
Thanks to everybody who wrote, called or emailed the MHCC.  Hopefully they will re-think this decision that could jeopardize the future of the Prince George’s Medical System Cardiac Care Program.  
 
If the Anne Arundel program is approved it will jeopardize the viability of the new PGRMC which the MHCC  just approved. The MHCC will be allowing Anne Arundel County to pull cardiac patients from Prince George’s before the new Regional Center can be completed. This will result in lowering the volume of cardiac cases seen in Prince George’s, thereby ensuring a weakened and threatened Prince George’s Cardiac Care Program.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Legislative Session Starts

The legislative session started on Wednesday.  It lasts for 90 days.  All bills have to be drafted, introduced, reviewed at a public hearing, voted on by both the House of Delegates and Senate, and signed by the Governor, to become law in Maryland.  In the next few weeks the Governor will be presenting his proposed budget, and in his State of the State address he will outline his legislative initiatives.  We all also be reacting to what happens with the new Administration in Washington and how it affects us in Maryland.  The Democratic leadership in the General Assembly will also be laying out its legislative goals.  As we move into session I will try and update people on the issues being debated and my views on these topics.  I will, as always, be interested on your opinions.  Right now I am continuing to put forward legislation that I believe will make a difference for the people of our District and our state.

Preparing a Progressive Agenda for Annapolis – Part 3

Filling Vacancies for the General Assembly by Special Election

In Maryland when someone leaves the General Assembly because of retirement, death or taking another position, the position is filled by an appointment by the Governor based on a recommendation from the Central Committee of the political party to which the person leaving belongs.  This means the replacement can be appointed for up to four years without an election.  I believe this is very undemocratic.  I personally believe that there should be a special election as soon as possible so the voters can decide who shall represent them.  Because some people feel a special election would be too expensive, my legislation (similar to a bill introduced by Delegate Moon last year) is a compromise.  The bill would still allow the Central Committee of the party to recommend to the Governor someone to fill the position, but only until the next November election.  This avoids additional cost to the taxpayers but still allows voters to have a voice on who should represent them in the General Assembly.

Rights of Public Workers to Have Collective Bargaining    
          

Municipal and county employees in many local jurisdictions do not have collective bargaining rights.  Maryland is one of only three states that has an opt-in structure of collective bargaining statutes.  Each local jurisdiction has to decide whether its employees have the right to collective bargaining.   Many municipalities and counties do not have a law that allows their employees to form a union and collectively bargain. If the law has not been passed they do not have the right to bargain.        
               
The right of collective bargaining is internationally recognized as an essential element of the freedom of association.  Jurisdictions that do not allow collective bargaining are depriving Maryland residents of this fundamental right.  I am introducing a bill that requires local jurisdictions with over 20 (non-supervisory) employees to pass a law allowing their employees to have collective bargaining rights.

Digital car registration

This bill means that when stopped by a police officer an individual may present a digital or electronic image of the registration card to the officer.  I don’t like leaving my registration in the car all the time.  This way I can show the officer my registration on my smartphone.

Public Financing of Elections  
          
We have public financing for the Maryland gubernatorial election, but not for legislative elections. In the last couple of years public financing bills have passed in both Montgomery and Howard Counties.  There are initiatives to pass similar legislation in Prince George’s and Frederick Counties.  We have to do something about the role of big money in elections. My bill is only a start at addressing this issue for candidates for the General Assembly.  The bill would give candidates incentives to stay away from big contributors.  Under this bill, if a candidate agrees not to take contributions above $250 and has raised money from more than 300 different contributors, the state will match 70% of the contributions up to $50,000.

Tax Deduction for Interest on Student Loans 

Student loan debt is crippling many people.  The average student loan debt is $35,000.  The Federal Government and six states allow taxpayers a deduction on the interest on student loans.   This bill would add Maryland to the list of states.  I was happy to hear that Governor Hogan has made this one of his legislative priorities for 2017.  Hopefully we can get it passed!

What do you think about the Prince George’s School Board?  Should all the School Board members be elected?

                One of the local bills (affecting only Prince George’s County) we will be discussing is legislation that would make all the members of the school board elected.  Currently there are nine school board members elected in nine districts, a student member selected by the Regional Association of Student Governments, and four members appointed by the County Executive.  This bill, PG 402-17, would eliminate the four appointed members.  In addition, the bill has the school board electing the Chair and Vice-Chair of the School Board.  Now the Chair and Vice-Chair are appointed by the County Executive.  I have heard arguments both for and against this legislation.  Some people feel that it is important to have expertise on a school board that might not be there as a result of elections.  But many others now feel that the County Executive and the Superintendent of Schools have too much power, and others just feel that it is more democratic to have an elected school board.  In addition, it now takes a two-thirds majority to overturn a decision by the Superintendent; this means that if all the appointed people support him, it is very hard to overturn a decision.  How do you feel?  Click on the following link to let me know:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BMJTQZZ

Some Sad News about Elected Officials in Prince George’s County 

              Most people have probably read about the criminal charges against former Delegate and County Councilman Will Campos.   Campos has pleaded guilty to taking bribes in order to direct county contracts toward certain organizations and businesses. In addition, another Delegate  has resigned amidst accusations about elected officials accepting bribes in order to influence the passage of legislation favorable to some liquor store owners.

                I knew Will both as a County Councilman when I was a City Councilman in Mount Rainier and later as a colleague in the General Assembly.  I felt he was an effective advocate for people in our District.  I was saddened and very surprised to hear about his illegal activities.  I believe that most people understand that the overwhelming majority of people in elected office work hard and try to do the right thing and do not take on public service to gain money.  But I also think we as policy makers have to look at the lack of oversight that makes these kinds of problems occur not just in our County but throughout the State.  This includes how the County awards grants and contracts and also the workings of the State Liquor Board.  We may not be able to stop some individuals from doing the wrong thing, but we have to make sure that it is more difficult for government officials to get involved in illegal behavior.