Thursday, May 14, 2015

Governor Hogan Signs 350 Bills But Withholds Money for Education and Prince George's Hospital

Governor Hogan  signed 350 bills into law.   Unfortunately he decided to withhold $68 million the legislature had appropriated for K-12 education. Over $20 million of this money was directed to Prince George's County.  In addition he decided not to spend $15 million of operating revenue for the Prince George's County Hospital. This will make the current financial situation even worse for our County and put more pressure on  the County to raise revenue through property taxes.  

Among the 350 bills that were signed into law on Tuesday, two of the bills were ones that I had sponsored and another 20 were bills that I co-sponsored.

The two bills which I worked on during the session were:

  • Removing Double Poles - The final version of the bill mandated the Public Service Commission to come up with recommendations on how to regulate and remove the double poles in a timely fashion. 
  • Tax Differential Report –This bill would mandate that Prince George’s County issue a report on what services municipalities provide to their residents that duplicate what the county provides and how much the county tax is reduced because of these duplicative services.
Some of the other bills of significance that the Governor signed were:
  •  Expungement of Record If Offense is No Longer A Crime – Expands eligibility for expungements to persons convicted of a crime that is no longer a crime (e.g. possession of small crimes of marijuana which is now a civil not criminal offense).
  • Raising the Speed Limit on Certain State Roads from 65 mph to 70 mph
  • Decriminalization of Drug Paraphernalia – Altering the penalty for the possession or use of drug paraphernalia involving the use or possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana to a civil offense.
  • Tax Credit for Veterans over 65 - It makes the first $10,000 of a veteran’s military pension exempt from Maryland taxes.
  • Tax Amnesty Program - Mandates a tax  amnesty period for delinquent taxpayers from September 1, 2015, through October 30, 2015, for civil penalties and half the interest attributable to nonpayment, non-reporting, or underreporting of specified taxes
  • Storm Water Management – (‘Rain Tax”) – Amends the stormwater management law.  The new version improves upon Maryland’s 2012 polluted runoff law in two ways:1) It provides counties with more flexibility on how to pay for much-needed clean water projects by removing a state mandate on fees; and 2) It strengthens fiscal accountability and transparency by requiring an annual program and progress reports to ensure Clean Water Act responsibilities are being met and local waters are getting cleaner.
  • MD 2nd Chance Act – Shields non-violent crimes that are over 5 years old from employers and similar persons..
  • Commission to Review Testing - We do too much testing in the schools.  This bill establishes a Commission to Review Maryland's Use of assessments and testing in public schools and mandates the Department of Education to survey and assess how much time is spent on tests in each grade and to make recommendations on how to improve the process so that adequate time is “allotted to both administering assessments and instruction.”
  • Seven Day Liquor Store Sales in Prince George’s County - Establishes a specialSunday permit in Prince George's County and establishes a $450 fee for the permit.
  • Body Camera Legislation – Bill introduced by Senator Ramirez which allows police to use body cameras.
  • School Charter Reform:  Updates the current Charter Bill giving charter schools more flexibility but does not undermine the ability of teachers to stay in their union and keeps charter schools under the supervision by the local school board.
  • Deaths Involving a Law Enforcement Officer – Reports, which would require law enforcement agencies to provide information about deaths of individuals in police custody, as well as deaths of officers occurring in the line of duty.
  • Repeal of Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Second-Time Offenders – Repeals specified mandatory minimum penalties and imposes specified maximum penalties for repeat offenders of specified crimes generally involving the manufacture, sale, and distribution of controlled dangerous substances
  • Parole and Probation - Revocation Prohibited for Violation of Civil Penalty – Provides that a person may not be sanctioned for a violation of a condition of probation or parole for the sole reason of receiving a citation for the commission of a non jailable civil offense.
  • Youth Wellness Leadership Pilot Program in Prince George's County – This bill sponsored by Delegate Fennell requires the Prince George's Board of Education to implement a Pilot Program for 125 students in public high schools in Prince George's County to promote skills in youth-led health and wellness advocacy specifically.
There are a number of bills that the Governor has not signed yet.  He has until the end of the month to either sign the bills, veto the bills or do nothing (in which case the bills will become law). Those bills are:
  •  Moratorium on Fracking – A 2 ½ year moratorium on fracking in Maryland.
  • Voting Rights for Former Prisoners – Allows people to vote who are out of prison but still on parole.
  • Internet Travel Company Tax Loophole – This bill plugs a loophole that allows internet travel agencies (Travelocity, Orbit, etc.) to only send part of the sales tax they charge on hotel rooms to the state.  These companies now charge the full sales tax to the consumer but would only send to the state the tax on the wholesale price of the room they purchased from the hotel and not on the retail price that the consumer pays for the room in an on-line purchase
  • Expansion of Coverage for Infertility Services for Same Sex Couples – Prohibits insurers, nonprofit health service plans, and health maintenance organizations from excluding benefits for expenses arising from artificial insemination procedures for a married policyholder when the patient and the patient's spouse are of the same sex.