Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Bills I'm Working On

While most of the discussion in Annapolis this session is on Governor’s Hogan’s budget and its potential negative impact on Prince George’s County and the 47th District, I’m also trying to move the discussion in a constructive direction, by working on new bills that reflect issues that I campaigned on when I was running for state Delegate.
Tax Fairness: I am working with Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegates Anne Healey and Andrew Platt on a package of three bills that will address some of the inequities in our state’s tax system. This is something voters care about, and it was reflected in the election results. Here are the bills:
Changing the Tax Brackets: This bill would lower the tax rates for families with MD State income of between $3,000 and $50,000, and raise the tax rates for those families making over $500,000. This proposal is revenue neutral: it would not add or decrease the state’s revenue.
Limiting the Inheritance Tax Break: Last year the legislature decided to increase the portion of an estate that is free of tax from $1 million to $5 million over the next four years. The state just can’t afford this kind of tax break; it needs the money to balance the budget. This year the tax-free level is set at $1.5 million. Our bill would freeze the untaxed level at $1.5 million; amounts over that level would be subject to estate tax. By not allowing this amount to increase, the state is saved over $100 million.
Combined Reporting: Companies that are based outside of Maryland but have subsidiaries in Maryland do not pay Maryland income tax on their subsidiaries. This bill would enable the state to collect taxes on these subsidiaries. The additional money would be used for tax relief for small businesses. It would specifically go to help with their filing fees.
Stopping the Revolving Door: I believe there is too much coziness between the lobbyists who work for large companies and people in the state legislature. It makes it harder for the regular person to have influence in government. Currently, someone can go directly from working in the governor’s office to a lobbying job in Annapolis, bringing along cozy relationships with legislators and former colleagues. My bill would mandate a two-year cooling-off period for anyone who works for the Governor in matters dealing with legislation, before becoming a lobbyist. It would also increase the amount of cooling-off time for a legislator who is becoming a lobbyist, from one to two years. (The bill is not everything I would like it to be, but it is a start.)
Taking on the Utilities
Removing Double Poles - Double poles are duplicate utility poles that exist when the electric company puts in a new pole and the old pole is not taken out. There are thousands of these double poles in our neighborhoods; they are an eyesore and, in some cases, hazardous. I am working with Delegate Charles Barkley on a bill that would make the electric company coordinate with the other utilities within 90 days of the date that the new pole is put in, and would make them take out the old pole 90 days after the wires have been transferred from the old pole to the new pole. There would be a $250/day fine if these deadlines are not met.
Pepco and Trees - We are finding out that Pepco is removing instead of pruning large trees in our community, despite local ordinances that protect our community’s large trees. My bill would make Pepco respect any local ordinance that a city county has written up limiting the removal of large trees without looking at suitable alternatives.
FIOS Backup Battery – A number of people have complained that with Verizon’s FIOS, the backup battery goes bad and has to be replaced at $30-$50 a backup unit. Folks were not told about this when they purchased the FIOS service and should not have to pay for the new batteries. This bill would make Verizon replace these batteries free of charge.
Candidate Access to Apartments – I have been concerned that residents who live in apartment buildings are not as involved in the political process as home owners. One reason is that candidates do not have the ability to knock on doors and talk to apartment dwellers about the current political issues. This bill (modeled after a law in Minnesota) would enable a candidate to have limited access to an apartment building in order to talk to potential voters. Apartment dwellers can opt out by saying that they do not want to be talked to.
Tax Differential Report – Tax differentials are the amount that residents in municipalities have their county tax reduced because their local government performs some functions that the County would otherwise perform, such as policing or trash pickup. The tax differential rate in each municipality is different, but there is no report that explains why the rates are different and what services are performed in each city. This bill would mandate that Prince George’s County issue such a report so the municipalities can make better informed decisions on what services are best for the residents in their towns.
Cumulative Impact – I am working with Dr. Clarence Lam, a freshman delegate from Howard County, on a bill that would not allow a permit to be issued in an industrial park for a new facility until there is a study of all of the facilities in the area that have emissions that are unhealthy for neighbors in the surrounding area. This is a big issue in the 47th District for residents in the Cedar Heights and South Cheverly communities near the industrial park on Sheriff Road.

Senior Volunteer Corps – One of my constituents, Rose Fituwi, made a great suggestion: she proposed that we tap into the retirement community in forming a cadre of volunteers who could help some of the local jurisdictions with some of their services. My bill would create a Senior Volunteer Corps in the Governor’s office which would facilitate connecting seniors interested in volunteering with local governments in need of assistance. I think it’s a great idea, and a good example about how someone’s idea can actually develop into a piece of legislation.

Honestly, I do not expect many of my bills to pass this year. Sometimes it takes 3-4 years for good legislation to get passed, and some of the bills are going against some strong special interests. But I believe it is important to push the envelope. That is why people elected me.