Friday, February 12, 2016

Big Issues in Annapolis - Part 1

   I have been in Annapolis four weeks.  I have introduced a dozen bills and am in the process of having  them heard in various legislative committees.  While my bills are significant, there are other big issues starting to emerge and which will dominate the debate over the next two months.

                Here are some of the big issues we will be debating:

COLLEGE AFFORDABILITY Student debt has become a national and local issue.  To make early college savings more accessible for middle-class families, this bill provides a state match for investments in 529 college savings plans.

PAY EQUITY -  Today, women make an average of 78 cents for every dollar men make. One of the greatest obstacles to fixing pay differences is the fear of punishment facing employees who discuss their salaries with one another.  This bill will put an end to that fear by ensuring that employees cannot be penalized for talking about how much they earn.

RETIREMENT SECURITY -An estimated one million Marylanders lack adequate retirement savings and are at risk of financial distress when they eventually retire. More than a third of those within ten years of retirement age have saved less than $10,000.  This bill establishes a program where employers have to set up a payroll deduction mechanism to enable employers who do not already offer retirement options to provide retirement savings plans to all employees.

Earned Sick Days  - The Healthy Working Families Act would allow Maryland workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to seven full days (56 hours) of paid sick leave per year.

Death with Dignity  - This legislation 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.

Testing in Schools  The bill would limit the time devoted to Federal, State or Locally mandated tests for each grade to 2% of the minimum required annual instructional hours.

Banning Plastic Bags  This bill prohibits a store from distributing plastic disposable carryout bags free of charge to a customer at the point of sale; requiring a store to charge and collect a 10-cent fee for each paper disposable carryout bag the store provides; and authorizing the store to pay a customer a credit of at least 5 cents for each bag provided by the customer.
Common Sense Gun Legislation  

1) Banning deadly weapons on college campuses.  Currently, guns on campus are decided on a campus-by-campus basis at public four-year institutions and community college campuses.  The legislation would make it illegal for a person to possess a gun on public colleges and university campuses, including community colleges. It exempts police officers and security personnel.

2) Banning those on the Terrorist Watch List from Purchasing Gun.   President Obama has called on Congress to act on this issue, stating “Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. This legislation would prevent the State Police from issuing gun permits to those on the Terrorist Watch list maintained by the FBI.

3) Keeping Guns Out of the Hands of Convicted Domestic Violence Abusers  When a domestic violence abuser has access to a gun the chances of the victim being killed rise 500%.  760 Americans were killed with guns annually by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners between 2006 and 2014 – a number far too high. This legislation would require courts to order people convicted of a domestic related crime to transfer all firearms in his or her possession to a federally licensed firearms dealer or local law enforcement within 2 days of conviction or probation before justice.
Let me know what you think about any of these bills.

I will report on others in the next newsletter.

My Testimony on Student Debt Legislation: 

Two weeks ago I testified on my bill to make interest on student debt tax deductible in Maryland.  This is what I said:

We have a serious crisis with student debt in our country.  It has reached crisis proportions.

•             US student loan debt is close to $1.2 trillion.
•             It is now the second largest total debt balance after mortgage debt.
•             Student debt has tripled in the last 10 years.
•             71% of bachelor degree recipients will graduate with a student loan.
•             11.6% of all student loans are seriously delinquent and probably much higher.
•             There are 42.5 million people carrying student debt.
•             The average debt for student loan borrowers is $28,330 – 15% above the national average.

This is obviously a huge problem.  When I was much younger, a car loan was the only debt I incurred.  Later, my main loan was the house mortgage.  Now, student debt far exceeds car debt and, in many situations, compares to house debt.  My daughter graduated college in 2006 and graduate school in 2014.  ‘Luckily’ her debt is only $45,000.  Many of her friends are carrying debt at over $250,000. 
Something must be done.  Most of the serious work on this needs to be done at the Federal level but I think we can also help our residents in Maryland.  The Federal Government, and ten states including Virginia, allow student loan interest deductions.  It is time for Maryland to do the same. 
Save the Date – District 47 Night at Annapolis 
Monday, March 21st
6:00 P.M. TILL 8:00 P.M.

Miller Senate Building, Conference Room West, 11 Bladen Street, Annapolis
For More Information and to RSVP:  Call 301-858-3745