Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Important Legislation Passes the House of Delegates 
In order for a bill to become law it has to be passed by the House of Delegates and the State Senate and then signed by the Governor.  This Monday was “cross-over” day.  All bills have to be passed by one House to be guaranteed a hearing by the other House.  We worked late Friday, all day Saturday and all day Monday to make sure we could get as much legislation out of the House of Delegates so it could get heard by the Senate in a timely fashion.  We passed a lot of good bills (including two of my own bills).  I will in this and subsequent newsletters discuss some of the legislation.
The Maryland Trust Act  House Bill 1362 passed the House of Delegates. The legislation prevents a state government agent from using public resources for civil immigration enforcement; prevents law enforcement officials from stopping, arresting, searching or detaining an individual simply to find out immigration or citizenship status; prevents a state government agency from creating a registry or database for the purpose of immigration enforcement or investigation; prevents state and local law enforcement officers from being deputized as immigration officers.

Continued Funding for Planned Parenthood – HB 1083 will ensure continued services for over 25,000 Marylanders including access to cancer screening, contraceptives and STD testing. The bill requires Governor Hogan to backfill $2.7M in state funding if President Trump defunds Planned Parenthood.

Limiting Suspension and Expulsion from Lower Elementary Schools –  We passed HB 425, which adds protection to students in lower elementary schools who would have previously been suspended or expelled from a public school for various offenses. It would now require that the school provide support or necessary intervention methods to remedy behavioral situations.

Taking Politics Out of Parole – HB 723 takes the politics out of parole in Maryland. There are 2,100 men and women serving parole-eligible life sentences in Maryland.  If it is proved they have been genuinely rehabilitated, they should have a meaningful chance at parole.

Maryland is one of only three states in the country where the Governor must personally approve parole for lifers, a process that has become highly politicized.  In the last 20 years almost no one in Maryland has been paroled, even after it is recommended by the Maryland Parole Commission, in large part because Governors do not want to risk a decision that may be politically unpopular.  With this bill a person would be paroled if it was the recommendation of the MD Parole Commission (which is basically comprised of former public safety officers). 
The Less Testing, More Learning Act of 2017 – HB 4160 has passed the House of Delegates and is nearing passage in the Maryland Senate. The legislation would require the State Board of Education to adopt regulations that would limit the amount of classroom learning time that may be devoted to federal, state, and locally mandated assessments for each grade to 2% of the specified minimum required annual instructional hours.
"Yes" Means "Yes" – We passed legislation that would require public schools to teach a “yes means yes” standard for sexual consent, moving the state one step closer to becoming only the second state to adopt such a mandate. This bill would require sexual-education classes in all Maryland public schools to teach a concept known as affirmative consent, defined by the legislation as “clear, unambiguous, knowing, informed and voluntary agreement between all participants to engage in each act within the course of sexual activity.” Local education officials would decide how to tailor the lessons in an age-appropriate way.

Drug Price-Gouging Bill –  We passed a bill that would let the Attorney General sue drug companies for price gouging.  Under this legislation a drug price increase by more than 50 percent would trigger a report to the attorney general, who would have power to demand an explanation for the increase.  The proposed law also allows the state's top lawyer to ask a judge to determine whether a drug company implemented an "unconscionable increase" to a critical prescription medicine. The measure allows a judge to fine the drug company, as well as order refunds to consumers.
Ban the Box Legislation – The House passed legislation that would make Maryland the first state to prohibit public and private colleges from including questions about criminal history on their applications. Admissions offices would be able to ask accepted students whether they have been convicted of a crime, but the bill would bar them from withdrawing an offer of admission based on the answer.

Moratorium on Home Sales Because of Water Liens – Marylanders who fall behind on their water bills would get a year's reprieve from the threat of having their homes sold under legislation passed by the House of Delegates.  The bill, sponsored by Del. Mary Washington, would put a year-long moratorium on the practice of selling people's homes when they fail to pay their water bills.

The problem of people losing their homes over unpaid water bills has been especially acute in Baltimore, where rate increases and billing errors have made affording the bills harder for low-income people. The Baltimore Sun reported in February that the city sent more than 315 owner-occupied properties to tax sale over unpaid water bills last year. No other utility provider is able to place a first lien to enforce an unpaid bill. The moratorium would take effect July 1.

Prince George’s School Board Change – HB 1565 – There has been a lot of discussion about whether Prince George’s County should have an elected board, or a hybrid board as exists now (9 elected and 5 appointed members). HB 1565 is a compromise bill that enables the School Board to overrule a decision by the Superintendent by a 3/5 vote (currently 2/3); it also stipulates that the elected School Board members will elect the Vice-Chair of the Board, who is currently now appointed by the County Executive.
My Legislation That Passed the House of Delegates

Improving the Rental Tax Credit Program – The Rental Tax Credit (which is for people over 60 or permanently disabled) excludes people who have more than $200,000 in retirement assets. This might sound reasonable, but it is actually a problem for the many people who do not have pensions but instead have their retirement savings in 401K and other retirement plans. While pensions aren’t calculated as retirement assets, 401Ks etc. are.  My bill would get rid of the asset limit if the money is in a retirement plan.

Public School Employee Whistleblower Protection Act (HB 1145) – Thirty-nine states and Washington, D.C. have whistleblower laws that cover public school employees, but Maryland’s state whistleblower law covers all state employees but not public school employees. In other states educators (teachers, administrators, and support staff) have filed whistleblower protection lawsuits after experiencing retaliation. HB 1145 extends whistleblower protection to public school employees.  

Whistleblower laws are necessary for good government.  This protection allows public employees to protect the interests of taxpayers and elected officials against waste, fraud, corruption, and abuse of authority. Whistleblower protection for educators in Maryland is necessary to make both the traditional public schools and the less stable charter school sector more accountable.
Status of Important Legislation

(I’ve underlined where there has been a change in the status.)
  1. Fracking ban (HB 1325)
    • The Governor has come out for a Fracking Ban.  The Senate still has to pass the bill, and hopefully we can have the ban signed into law.  It’s been a long time coming.

  1. Increasing the minimum wage to $15/hour by 2021 (HB 1416) 
    • Unfortunately it does not look as though this will be passed this year.

  1. Legislation that would prevent local jurisdictions from raising the minimum wage above the state minimum wage (HB 317) 
    • The Chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee announced that the bill was dead and would not be moved out of Committee.

  1. Death with Dignity” legislation (HB 370) (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.)
    • The Senate bill died in Committee because there were not enough votes to pass it.  This bill will not pass this year.

  1. 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
    • Legislation on this bill is currently under consideration in the Senate.

  1. Legislation putting the issue of the legalization of marijuana on the ballot (HB 665). 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 plants. 
    • This bill did not come out of Committee and will not pass this year.

  1. Paid Sick Leave. The bill introduced covers employers with 15 or more employees. (HB 1)  
    • It was passed by the House of Delegates 88-51.  The State Senate also passed legislation.  The Senate Bill provides for six days off, and the House Bill, five days off.  The House and Senate will have to work out their differences and then send the bill to the Governor for his signature.  If he vetoes the bill it will come back to the House and Senate in order to override the veto.

  1. Legislation requiring that all members of the Prince George’s County School Board be elected (currently, 9 out of 14 members are elected, and the remaining are appointed). 
    • Compromise legislation passed the House.

  1. The Maryland Trust Act (HB 1362)
    • This bill passed the House of Delegates and now has to be passed by the Senate.

Scholarship are available for constituents living in District 47A who are attending or will be attending a Maryland undergraduate, graduate, or professional school during school year 2017-2018.  If you haven’t requested an application yet, please contact me at jimmy.tarlau@house.state.md.us and request one by email.  Or you may call my office at 301-858-3326 and leave your email address.  This year, my scholarship application is due Friday, April 15th.