Monday, April 18, 2016

End of Session Report

e have now completed the 2016 Legislative Session and I want to give you a  report on my second year as your state delegate and some of the accomplishments (and failures) of this session. I am sorry it is so lengthy but a lot happened in this year's session.

 It continues to be a learning year for myself and my team-mate, Delegate Diana Fennell, as we learn the process in Annapolis and get better at figuring out how best to serve the constituents of District 47A. 

I feel it was a productive year for me.  I was able to get three of my own bills passed and another one incorporated into another bill. A fifth bill was deferred to a summer study. I felt especially proud that I was able to get this done without having to compromise on what I believed.  Often I spoke even when I was speaking against my own party leadership if I thought the bills that were being proposed would not help working families and the people in our District.

I am happy to share an office with my colleague from District 47A, Diana Fennell.  It enables us to better coordinate our constituent services so we do not duplicate responses to constituent requests and make sure that we respond to every inquiry.  I am lucky to have Krystel Greene as my Chief of Staff because of her many years of experience working in the state legislature.  Her experience was invaluable in getting me up to speed faster than some of my other new colleagues
Here are my bills that passed the General Assembly

Marketing the Existing Homeowners Tax Credit Program   - In doing research on the Homeowners Tax Credit Program I discovered that only 15% of the people eligible use the existing homeowner tax relief program.  My bill requires the Department of Assessments to contact eligible homeowners by mail to let them know they are eligible for this property tax credit.

Improving the Renters Tax Credit Program  - The current law affects renters over the age of 60.  This program is hardly used because so few people know about it, and not many people are eligible.  My bill increases the eligibility from $40,000 to $60,000 per household and increase the credit by $300 per renter

Candidate Access to Apartment Buildings   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 communicate to apartment dwellers about the current political issues.   This bill enables a candidate to leave literature in a common area of a multi-unit dwelling 60 days before an election.

Digital Image of Car Registration   When stopped by a police officer an individual may (an option) 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 iPhone.   Because we were not sure whether police could scan a car registration image from a cell phone, it was referred to a ‘summer study’ where the topic will be reviewed and legislation can be re-introduced next year.

Reducing Student Loan Debt – Student loan debt is crippling many people.  The average student loan debt is $35,000.  The Federal Government and six states allow tax payers for a deduction on the interest on student loan.  My bill would have added Maryland to the list of states.  My bill did not pass but it was incorporated into another bill, The College Affordability Bill.  People will be able to receive up to $5,000 in a tax credit if they high student debt.  The priority will be for those with the highest debt to income ratio.  $5 million is appropriated for this program. 

Bond Bills for District 47 – Our legislative team was able to secure $300,000 in grants for programs in our community.  They include

$230,000 to the Wholistic and Productive Living Institute in Colmar Manor for the Aunt Carol Jane's House at the Port Towns Family Health and Wellness Center,

$50,000 to Joe’s Movement Emporium for needed renovations for their performance center in Mount Rainier

$20,000 to Elizabeth Seton HS for a new score board for their athletic field

I feel especially proud of being able to get these bills passed while being able to be vocal on issues that I thought were important.  Numerous times I spoke from the floor and in my committee (even against my own party’s leadership) on issues that I believed were important.  I spoke in my Committee against tax breaks for purchasing expensive yachts and for tax breaks for big corporations.  I spoke from the floor when the legislature decided  to remove over 1,000 people from the unemployment rolls and to give a $37.5 million tax break to Northrup Grumman.  I believe I was able to achieve a good balance of being vocal and principled and also be effective.

The 2016 General Assembly also passed a number of bills that I believe will be a help to people in our District.

Prince George's County Regional Medical Center Act of 2016 – Last year the Governor did not appropriate money needed for the operations of Prince George’s Hospital as it makes its transition to the new medical center.  While he put the money in the budget this year the legislature does not want him to withhold the money in future years.  (The commitment was to subsidize the hospital for five years).  This bill mandates the Governor to spend money for operations and capital funding over the next five years.

College Affordability Act of 2016 – I already mentioned one part of this bill that gave a tax credit of up to $5,000 for people with large student debt.  Another important part of this bill involves Maryland’s 529 Plan (College Investment Plan).  This is a current tax savings plan, allowing families to make annual contributions up to $2500 toward college, deductible from Maryland state income tax. To provide more support the bill provides a $250 State matching grant for families with incomes below $175,000 who make a contribution to a 529 Plan in a given year:  Families with income under $75,000 would receive a $250 grant for a $25 contribution.  Families with income between $75,000 and $125,000 would receive $250 for a $100 contribution. Those families with incomes between $125,000 and $175,000 would receive a $250 grant to match a $250 contribution to a 529 Plan.

Next Generation Scholars Act - This program promises free college scholarships for disadvantaged kids in 7th grade if they perform well in high school.  This could be an absolute game changer for those in middle school who may believe that college will be out of reach for them, no matter how well they perform in school.  It is funded at $5 million per year.

Expansion of After School Programs -  This bill provides $7.5 million  annually in  grants to local school systems, community schools, and nonprofit organizations in the State to assist in expanding or creating extended day and summer enhancement programs and to expand and support educational programs during the school.

P-tech Schools - We passed a bill to create a new model for career and technology education, a P-tech school.  It will be a six year school which combines high school and two years of college and built around a career theme.   There will be six P-tech schools throughout the state, two of which are in Prince George’s County.

Retirement Security - An estimated one million Marylanders lack adequate retirement savings and are at risk of financial distress when they eventually retire.  This bill would mandate that every employer sets-up a payroll deduction mechanism so employees who want to save money out of their paycheck for retirement have the ability to do so.

Justice Reinvestment Act – This bill re-structures how we punish and treat certain non-violent offenders, directing more resources to evidence based supervision and treatment in the community.  This legislation will reduce our over-reliance on incarceration for non-violent offenders, allowing them to remain healthy and productive members of our society while receiving effective treatment instead.  This, in turn, will spare the state both the cost of incarceration and the economic drag of relegating large numbers of people to prisons.

Police Reform Legislation -. The bill makes broad changes in how officers are hired, trained and disciplined, and allows people to make complaints about police officers anonymously. It is based on recommendations from a legislative work group created last year after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Noah’s Law – The legislation is named after Noah Leotta, who tragically died in the line of duty after being hit by a drunk driver.  It strengthens participation in the Ignition Interlock Program for those caught driving under the influence of alcohol

Reduced Interest Rates for Tax Deficiencies and Refunds   Currently, the interest rate for Maryland tax  deficiencies is 13%  This bill reduces the interest rate by 1% per year for 4 years until it is 9%.  Only 2 states (OK and WI) have higher interest rates than Maryland.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Act Reauthorization - We approved a new goal for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland.  The legislation requires the state to cut greenhouse emissions, including carbon dioxide, by 40 percent by 2030.  The goal uses 2006 as the baseline for measuring emissions.  The previous goal, to cut emissions by 25 percent by 2020, was set six years ago.  

Pay Equity Disclosure - We passed legislation to allow workers to disclose their wages without recrimination in order to determine if there is discrimination.  . 

Alcoholic Beverages – Notice Requirements and Loitering Enforcement -
This bill would enable the Liquor Board to impose a fine on a liquor store if at least three citations are issued or arrests are made on the licensed premises for violations of the county's loitering law in a 12 month period.  It would also mandate that every municipality and civic association get notified when there is an application for a liquor permit.

Less Testing for Kindergarten Students - Under this bill not all kindergartners would have to take a readiness test that was criticized by teachers groups as unnecessarily disruptive. It is part of a broader effort to reduce over testing in schools.

The budget results in a surplus of $415 million and a Rainy Day fund balance of $1 billion.
State support for public schools will increase $147 million, or 2.7%.
It includes money to fund the Prince George’s County medical center
It focuses additional resources on substance abuse treatment and opioid addiction, as well as providing funds for Medicaid.
 $40 million increase in school construction for schools with growing enrollment
 $442 million for environmental initiative
  College tuition increases are capped at 2%
·         Local Highway User Revenues for all local jurisdictions are funded at $177.4 million according to current distribution formula.  Prince George’s allocation is $4,487,929 – County share $2,981,477; Municipal share $1,506,452
·        Prince George’s municipalities will receive $3,871,992 out of the $19 million municipal grant
·         $2 million has been set aside for counties to construct sound barriers
·         Public libraries aid increases by $273,283 to $7,238,702
·         Community college aid increases by $2,427,759 to $28,500,296
·         Police Aid  increases by $1,005,471 to $14,822,262
·         Moneys for local health departments aid increases by$521,617 to $6,749,526

Board of Public Works Transparency Bill – Currently, the Board of Public Works is authorized to make substantial cuts (up to 25%) to individual budget items when the Legislature is not in session.  The BPW is made up of the Governor, the Comptroller, and the Treasurer.  This bill would require notice to the public at least 3 consecutive days before they may be approved by the BPW. This common sense legislation provides more transparency and information to the public and lawmakers about cuts to State government before they happen.

Neonicotinoid Pesticides - Restrictions on Sales and Use (Pollinator Protection Act of 2016)     The 2016 Pollinator Protection Act requires retailers to curb sales of neonic pesticides and let consumers know when they are buying plants or seeds treated with them. These reasonable steps will help protect the health of people and pollinators.   Toxic neonic pesticides harm and kill bees and other pollinators, and unchecked use poses a serious threat to our food supply, public health, and environment.

Freedom to Vote Act – This bill was watered down.  In the form that passed all state departments would have to update their databases so people can 
register to vote when visiting any state agency. 

Some Disappointments:
Not every bill that passed was a good bill.  Four bills that I opposed were unfortunately passed by the General Assembly.  These were:

Tax Cap on Purchase of Yachts.  There is a 5% excise tax on the purchase of new yachts. We passed a bill that permanently caps this tax is at $15,000.  Thus someone who pays $300,000 for a new yacht would only pay $15,000 (or 5%) in tax; and if the yacht instead cost $1.5 million, the tax bill would also only be $15,000 (or 1.5%).  This particular tax credit only helps the wealthy people who can afford very expensive yachts – and costs the state $350,000 a year

$37.5 Million Tax Credit for Northrup Grumman – I spoke on the floor opposing this bill.  It gives one company a $7.5  million tax credit a year for 5 years not for creating jobs but just for agreeing not to reduce its current work force.  I feel that once we do this for one company every other company in Maryland will be asking for the same credit.  Over fifty delegates opposed the bill but it still passed 74 to 59.

Stripping Unemployment Insurance from Nail Technicians and Messenger Delivery Employees – The General Assembly decided that many of these employees were self-employed independent contractors and not workers.  I think this will enable employers to re-classify their workers as independent contractors and enable them not to pay unemployment compensation for them.

And there were bills that should have passed but did not:

            Paid Sick Leave
            Tax Cut for low wage earners
            Gun Safety Laws
            Banning Plastic Bags

Now that the 2016 Legislative Session is over, I will be spending more time going to local meetings and walking through the district in attempt to find out your concerns.  If you have an issue you would like to discuss with me, please feel free to contact me at 301-335-6099 or email me at

Thank you for letting me serve you,