Wednesday, April 12, 2017

End of Session Report

We have now completed the 2017 Legislative Session and I want to give you a  report on my third  year as your state delegate and some of the accomplishments of this session.  This year I adopted a more collaborative approach.  Over sixty bills which I cosponsored passed the General Assembly, and most of those bills will become law after they are signed by the Governor.

I was still able to be vocal on other issues that I thought were important, often speaking from the floor and in my committee (even against my own party’s leadership) on matters that I believed were important.  I spoke on the floor against tax breaks for big corporations, in support of rights for workers to collective bargaining, and in support of sick day legislation.   Many people called me the “conscience” of the House as I often spoke up when many others did not have the courage to speak against the House leadership.

Some of the Major Accomplishments of the Legislative Session


In many ways our legislative session was dominated by the new Trump Administration in Washington.  We passed a number of laws to protect funding for Planned Parenthood, to take steps in case of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and to allow the Attorney General to sue the federal government in cases of  Federal actions that might harm Maryland residents. 
  • Maryland Defense Act: This law gives Attorney General Frosh the ability and resources to protect Maryland from unconstitutional actions by the Federal government, including: eliminating healthcare for over 430,000 Marylanders; cutting $73 million in funding to protect the Bay; rolling back consumer protections; damaging civil rights and voters’ rights. Maryland joins 41 other states that allow their attorneys general to act independently from their governors to defend their states’ interests. The Baltimore Sun noted, “We elect attorneys general to represent our interests in court. We need to give them the power to do that.”
  • Calling on the Governor and Congress to protect the Bay and Maryland health care: The General Assembly passed two resolutions to voice Maryland’s strong opposition to harmful proposals in Washington, DC. The first resolution expressed our opposition to the elimination of health care coverage for 433,000 Marylanders if the Affordable Care Act was repealed.  The second resolution opposes the potential cut of all $73 million of the EPA’s budget to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.
  • Planned Parenthood: Maryland becomes the first state in the nation to guarantee continued funding for vital family planning and women’s health services at Planned Parenthood if the Federal Government defunds their clinics. In Maryland, 25,000 women rely on Planned Parenthood clinics every year for healthcare.  Backfilling the federal government cuts will cost approximately $2.7 million.

  • Earned Sick Leave: House Bill 1, the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, will allow over 693,000 Marylanders to avoid having to make an impossible choice: go to work sick or send an ill child to school, or stay home and sacrifice much needed income – or worse, possibly lose their job.  Under the bill, employees will be able to earn up to 5 days of sick leave.  The bill exempts seasonal businesses, and employers that already offer comparable benefits don’t have to change a thing.
  • Hometown Heroes:  House Bill 100 provides a $15,000 income tax deduction on the retirement income of thousands of law enforcement, fire, rescue, and EMS personnel who are 55 years and older.
  • Manufacturing Tax Credit: The More Jobs for Marylanders Act was one tax credit bill that I supported because it links credits to actual job creation.  The bill provides $10 million of income, sales, and property taxes per year to manufacturers who move into Maryland from out of state and create new manufacturing jobs in counties with high unemployment.  The tax credits are good for 10 years.  The bill also allows existing manufacturers in the State who create new jobs to claim an income tax credit for each new job created, along with depreciation tax benefits for new equipment placed into service.
  • Foreclosure Protection: The House passed a series of bills to help communities with high foreclosure rates recover from the housing crisis. These bills will help bring properties more quickly to the market and ultimately improve Maryland’s property foreclosure registry so counties and neighborhoods are better informed about vacant homes around them.
  • Preventing Prescription Drug Price Gouging: House Bill 631 authorizes the Attorney General to prevent the prescription drug price gouging of off-patent drugs. The legislation would help the Attorney General investigate why the prices for certain drugs skyrocket and would force pharmaceutical companies to the table to justify those increases.
  • Funding: The legislature provided $6.4 billion to fund our public K-12 system. The legislature also budgeted $280 million of school construction funding, plus an additional $60 million in school construction funding for school systems with increasing enrollment and a high number of relocatable classrooms. The legislature also capped tuition increases at public colleges and universities at 2.0% for this upcoming school year.
  • Protect Our Schools:  The General Assembly passed and overrode Governor Hogan’s veto of the Protect Our Schools Act.  This bill (House Bill 978) establishes parameters about how to implement the Federal Every Student Succeeds Act, while giving the State Board of Education discretion on the implementation of the details. The bill prohibits the State Board from making test results count for 100% of the assessment of school progress. It also blocks the privatization of our public schools, by preventing the transfer of operations to private and for-profit interests who look out for their bottom lines first and our kids second.
  • Capping Public School Testing: The Less Testing, More Learning bill requires the State Board of Education to limit the amount of time for Federal, State and local assessments for each grade to 2.0% of instructional hours, in order to give students the opportunity to learn in new and innovative ways. The bill also requires each school district to set up a committee to monitor the jurisdiction’s assessment programs. The goal is to move away from teaching to the test, and toward using assessments as a true measure of what students learn.
  • Whistle Blower Protection for School Employees  HB 1145 – I was a primary sponsor on this bill.  While thirty-nine states and Washington, DC have whistleblower laws that cover public school employees, Maryland’s state whistleblower law has covered 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.
  • Start Talking Maryland: This bipartisan bill requires the State school board to enact an opioid addiction and prevention policy, by coordinating with local health departments. $3.0 million in grants are provided for public service announcements and training for school health personnel.  Public colleges and universities are also required to have overdose-reversing drugs available for campus police and implement an education and prevention program for incoming students.
  • Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act of 2017: To combat the growing heroin and opioid epidemic in Maryland, the HOPE Act increases funding for behavioral health community providers; expands grants for drug court programs and a statewide toll-free crisis hotline; requires the State Health Department to establish crisis treatment centers across the State; and requires hospitals to establish a protocol for overdose patients.
  • Speaker Busch and Governor Hogan each introduced legislation to strengthen our public disclosure laws and tighten conflict of interest provisions governing elected officials. The House merged those bills into The Public Integrity Act of 2017, which increases transparency for elected officials’ disclosure forms; requires lobbyists to provide more information about their clients; prohibits elected officials from lobbying in front of government entities on personal matters; requires a cooling-off period for more categories of elected officials than under current law; and establishes a Citizen Advisory Board to increase input with the Legislative Joint Ethics Committee on existing ethics laws.
  • Banning Fracking: The General Assembly passed and the Governor signed House Bill 1325, an outright ban on fracking in Maryland.   This bipartisan legislation will protect public health and drinking water across the State. We are pleased the Senate and Governor Hogan followed the House’s lead to enact this critical ban.
  • Protected Oyster Sanctuaries: We passed a ban on opening Maryland’s oyster sanctuaries to harvesting. This legislation protects our existing oyster recovery investments, gives these sanctuaries additional time to grow, and makes sure that decisions related to oyster harvesting are guided by science. Oysters are the natural filters of the Chesapeake Bay, helping to clean the water of the excessive nitrogen that enters the bay in polluted runoff and results in dead zones. We need to continue to support efforts to help their population rebound for a cleaner Bay.
  • Clean Energy Act: The General Assembly overrode Governor Hogan’s veto in January to increase the state’s renewable energy goals to 25% by 2020 and, in the process, create thousands of jobs across the wind and solar energy sectors. Maryland has more than 170 solar companies and over 4,000 solar jobs paying an average of nearly $21 an hour. These increased renewable energy standards will allow 1,300 more megawatts of renewable energy, which will reduce carbon emissions equal to 563,000 passenger vehicles in the State.

  • Testing Sexual Assault Kits: The Attorney General reported in December that Maryland had 3,700 untested rape kits, with many more never recorded at all. House Bill 255 establishes a statewide standard of handling sexual assault evidence to ensure rape kits are properly tested and stored so victims aren’t treated differently depending on their ZIP code.
  • Statute of Limitations for Child Sex Abuse:  House Bill 642, which the Governor has signed into law, expands the statute of limitations in cases of sexual abuse when the victim was a minor at the time of the abuse. Maryland joins 45 states allowing a victim to seek damages through civil actions well into adulthood.
  • Funding Rape Crisis Centers: Senate Bill 734 allocates $3 million per year of State funding for sexual assault services and crisis programs. The bill establishes the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee, which increase access to help for victims of sexual assault.
  • Keeping Payday Lending Out of Maryland – HB 1270/SB 527: limits payday lending in Maryland!  Our state has a proud history of capping these loans at 33% APR. But payday lenders were exploiting a loophole by using hidden fees to mask extra interest and offering consumers 400% APR loans. This bill closes  this loophole.  Ending payday  saves Maryland $141,016,533  in fees each year.
  • Ending the “Widow’s Penalty” in Auto Insurance-HB916/SB534:sponsored prohibits auto insurance companies from increasing a widow’s/widower’s auto insurance rate after her/his spouse dies. This legislation will save widows $435 a year on their auto insurance
  • Notices in Cases of a Postponed or Cancelled Foreclosure Sale-HB26/SB247: Until this session, a bank foreclosing on your home was under no obligation to notify a homeowner if the sale was postponed or cancelled. As you might imagine, this caused plenty of issues. Homeowners going through foreclosure assumed their house had sold on the original date and had no idea that they were still responsible for upkeep, property taxes, and more. This legislation requires banks to provide adequate notice when a foreclosure sale is delayed or cancelled.
  • Mortgage Debt Relief-HB1155/SB367-When struggling homeowners are facing foreclosure, they may end up losing their home in a short-sale or it may be foreclosed upon and sold for less than they paid for the home. When a bank forgives the difference between the mortgage and the sales price the IRS can consider this ‘forgiven debt” as income. People who have already gone through foreclosure may be taxed on this debt and it may bump them to a higher tax category, meaning that they may lose some tax credits they qualify for, and they may pay on the forgiven debt. With this legislation, this debt will not be considered income, saving struggling Marylanders on their taxes.
  • Consumer Financial Protection Commission-HB1134/SB884. In the face of rollbacks of rules and proposals to weaken the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), we passed legislation legislation, appoints a state commission to study consumer protections at the federal level and make recommendations to expand and strengthen proposals at the state level.
  • Student Loan Notification -HB509/SB429. Student loans and student loan debt is a huge concern for many young adults as well as their parents. To avert high debt loads, students need to clearly understand the debt they are taking on. This legislation requires an annual disclosure notice to students about their outstanding loan balance, projected monthly payment, and other helpful information.
  • Financial Aid Reduction Restrictions-HB266/SB327. We passed legislation to address the issue of scholarship displacement. Scholarship displacement happens when a student receives a financial award after their financial aid package has already been awarded. When that happens, the institution may reduce the amount of aid given. The legislation limits the circumstances in which this can happen.
  • Bail Reform: Earlier this year, the Court of Appeals instituted a court rule to make the use of cash bail the last resort, based on an opinion of Attorney General Frosh that cash bail cannot be used for punitive purposes under Maryland’s Constitution. This was a heated debate in the Maryland Senate. Ultimately, the House adopted budget language to get more information about the impact of the new court rule for review during the 2018 legislative session.
  • Money for Prince George’s Hospital – The legislature required that for the next ten years the Governor must include in his budget bill $10 million each year, so we do not have to wait to see each year if he puts the necessary money in his budget.
  • Budget – The General Assembly passed a $43.5 billion budget which funds all public school programs at the level required by State formulas.  Notable provisions in the budget include a cap on higher education tuition increases at 2% annually; rejecting the Governor's proposed cut to the reimbursement rate for those who work with our disabilities community and providing their full, previously agreed-upon rate increase of 3.5%; and fully funding the State pension fund at the actuarially required level.
  • 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.
  • Lower Elementary School Suspensions – HB 425  adds protection to students in kindergarten, first, or second grade 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.
  • Pharmacies Dispensing Contraceptives – HB 613 would allow pharmacists to supply women with oral contraceptives without a doctor's prescription.
  • Right to Try Act - HB 957 allows manufacturers to provide drugs that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to a patient who has a terminal illness, considered all other treatment options currently approved by the FDA, and received a recommendation by the treating physician for the use of an investigational drug.

Some Disappointments:
            Not everything worked out the way I would have liked.  With big Democratic majorities in the General Assembly I believe we could have gotten more accomplished.  Here are some of the things that disappointed me:
  • Corporate Welfare Legislation:  Not every bill that passed was a good bill.  Unfortunately the General Assembly continues to pass legislation to reward companies tax credits even though there is little or no evidence that the credits result in more jobs.  Twice I spoke up on the House floor to oppose these tax credits.  I was able to get 35 of my colleagues to oppose the bills even though they were sponsored by the Democratic leadership. 
  • Trust Act - The Maryland Trust Act passed the House of Delegates. The legislation was supposed to prevent a state government agent from using public resources for civil immigration enforcement; prevent law enforcement officials from stopping, arresting, searching or detaining an individual simply to find out immigration or citizenship status; prevent a state government agency from creating a registry or database for the purpose of immigration enforcement or investigation; prevent state and local law enforcement officers from being deputized as immigration officers.  Unfortunately the bill did not pass the Senate
  • Minimum Wage – Efforts to increase the minimum wage to $15 by the year 2020 did not pass this year. (But we were able to stop a “pre-emption” bill that would have prevented local jurisdictions from passing a minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage level.)
  • Forcing Trump to Release His Tax Returns – I introduced a bill that would force a Presidential candidate to release his last five years’ tax returns as a condition to be on the ballot in the State of Maryland.  Unfortunately it did not get out of Committee.  The New Jersey legislature passed a similar bill.  It remains to be seen if Governor Christie will sign the bill.
            Even with the disappointments, I feel that this was a very productive legislative session.  I expect with the new Administration in Washington there will be more challenges facing us next year.  Now that the 2017 Legislative Session is over, I will be spending more time going to local meetings and walking through the District in an 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.  Jimmy