Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Hot Topics In Annapolis

The legislative session in Annapolis lasts three months.  One month has passed and we have accomplished a lot (passage of Paid Sick Leave, Ban the Box, and Denial of Parental Rights to a Rapist bills), but most of the work is still ahead of us.  There have been over 1,700 bills introduced and every bill has to have a public hearing.  We have over 700 bills to be heard in my Ways and Means Committee.  That will mean long days of public hearings over the next few weeks.  All bills have to be heard and voted on by the House and Senate by midnight on April 9th,   

My Legislation

 I have introduced 16 bills this year and have had hearings on 9 of them.  Two of my bills have been voted on favorably by their respective committees and are now waiting a vote by the full House of Delegates:

  HB 400     Advance Notice to Municipalities for Mosquito Spraying

This bill simply asks that the state and county notify municipalities twenty-four hours before there is any spraying for mosquito control so residents can be alerted to keep their pets and children inside when spraying is being done

  HB 305     Homestead Tax Credit Eligibility Awareness  Campaign

The Homestead Credit limits the increase in taxable assessments each year to a fixed percentage.  Every county and municipality in Maryland is required to limit taxable assessment increases to 10% or less each year.

The problem is that in 2009 the government found that some properties that were not owner-occupied were getting the credit, so they made everybody fill out a one-time application for the credit.  Some people did not apply and they have not been receiving the tax credit.  There are close to 500,000 homeowners in Maryland who  do not receive the homestead tax rebate.

My legislation will require the Department of Assessment and Taxation to put a reminder notice in the assessment notices that go out every three  years to all those homeowners who are eligible and have not applied for the rebate. 

Other Important Bills I Am following

There is a lot of important legislation that is being discussed in Annapolis.  I have listed below just a small list of some of the bills I am following.  You can find the status of all bills at www.mgaleg.maryland.gov .  If you are interested in a specific bill or topic, please send me an email.  I will continue to update everybody when important legislation passes the General Assembly
  • PROTECTING MARYLAND'S HEALTHCARE SYSTEM AGAINST FEDERAL ASSAULTS - Preserves insurance coverage by responding to Congress' repeal of Affordable Care Act individual mandate (HB1167/SB1011)
  • FIGHT FOR FIFTEEN - raising Maryland's minimum wage over time to $15 (HB664/SB543).  Delegate Diana Fennell is the Prince George’s leader on this issue
  • FUNDING FOR METRO - House Bill 372 carves out $150M from the transportation trust fund to create a dedicated funding stream for Metro contingent on DC & Virginia following suit
  • PROTECTING TREES - A bill strengthening the Forest Conservation Act (HB766)
  • CANNABIS LEGALIZATION - An amendment to Maryland's constitution allowing voters to decide on legalization of recreational marijuana (HB1264)
  • PUBLIC FINANCING OF POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS.  Establishing a system of public financing of campaigns for candidates for election to the General Assembly (HB 785)
  • CLEAN ENERGY - increasing the percentage of renewable sources used to generate electricity (SB732/HB1453 = 50% by 2035, HB878 = 100% by 2050)
  • NET NEUTRALITY AND INTERNET PRIVACY - reversing the FCC's decisions at the state level (HB1655, HB1654)
  • REDUCING CARBON EMISSIONS - Joining a coalition of states that will address climate change by incentivizing the reduction of carbon emissions through a carbon tax (HB939)
  • EDUCATION LOCK BOX - Proposing an amendment to the Maryland Constitution to limit the uses of certain revenues to educational opportunities and programs for the children of the State in public schools, the advancement of educators, and the construction of school facilities.  (HB 1697)
  • REGIONAL GREENHOUSE GAS INITIATIVE EXTENSION ACT - This bill will ensure Maryland remains in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, our regional cap and trade program for power plants. (HB 230)
  • PRETRIAL SERVICES GRANT FUND – Providing funds  to ensure all eligible defendants are afforded the opportunity for Pre-Trial release and to enhance public safety by providing community monitoring and referral to services that will increase the likelihood of appearance for trial and to reduce the risk for re-arrest. (HB 447)
  • COMPUTER SCIENCE IN THE CLASSROOM   Requiring school boards to require public high schools to offer  computer science courses beginning in the 2021-2022 school year and appropriating funds to train teachers.  (HB 281)
Maryland Legislative Leaders Unveil Broad Education Bill Based on Kirwan Panel's Recommendations

The long-awaited Kirwan Commission Preliminary Report was issued last week.  The report paints a bleak picture of the state of Maryland education based on findings that the average public school is underfunded by $2 million every year.

Maryland has fallen in education rankings from No. 1 a few years ago to No. 6 now,

The panel  has been working for 18 months to devise new funding formulas for Maryland’s public schools and recommendations for policies to keep the state’s education system among the nation’s best.

The panel’s preliminary report  suggests that any new funding formula must be sufficient to finance universal pre-kindergarten for students of all incomes and provide more money for schools in low-income neighborhoods.

The recommendations also seek to devise a way to pay teachers more, establish more career and technical programs, and develop a more challenging curriculum for high-achieving students who want to quickly attain associate’s degrees.

The commission will work until later this year to recommend how to implement and fund its recommendations.

Legislative leaders are advancing some small recommendations from the Commission this session in one omnibus bill (HB1415/SB1092).  They want to pass a bill in the current session that ends in April to get some of that new money flowing for the next school year. Ideas included in the bill include:

  • Establishing a Career and Technical Education group, composed of individuals with expertise in CTE programs and the needs of the business community to develop rigorous CTE pathways leading to industry-certified credentials.
  • Expanding the current program of early childhood education by increasing the funding for prekindergarten expansion grants.
  • Requiring the Maryland State Department of Education  to develop a comprehensive recruitment program aimed at the top 25% of graduates from high schools (in each school system) to encourage them to consider teaching as a profession.
  • Expanding and fully fund the Maryland Teaching Fellows Scholarship to provide tuition remission for teachers in return for a commitment to teach in high-needs schools.
  • Establishing a grant program for jurisdictions or schools with high concentrations of poverty to provide additional academic instruction through after-school and summer programs.
House Economic Matters Committee Votes Down Anti-Worker Legislation

Like clockwork, every legislative session, legislators hostile to workers and their unions introduce legislation to compromise collective bargaining. They call it “right to work.” This year, it was introduced as HB 264. Several states have shifted to “right to work” status in the last eight years, and wages in those states have dropped precipitously despite corporate earnings increasing. The proposal is a race to the bottom that Maryland has rightly rejected year after year. Maryland rejected it again when  the House Economic Matters Committee voting 13-7 to kill the bill.

The Committee also voted 12-11 to oppose legislation that was seeking to delay the effective date of the earned sick leave legislation that passed last year and was implemented by veto override this year. Qualifying workers were able to start earning sick leave as of February 11, and with the defeat of SB 304, that benefit will continue to be available to them.  I want to thank my team-mate, Diana Fennell, who is on the Economic Matters Committee for her leadership on both issues.