Archive for March, 2009

Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 27, 2009

Posted by quinn on March 27, 2009  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 27, 2009

Friends,

I’ve heard from many of you in an overwhelming show of support for repealing the death penalty in Maryland. As many of you know – and as I pointed out in the last update – the Senate version of the repeal bill was amended so that rather than fully abolishing capital punishment, it instead put in place restrictions on the circumstances in which it could be applied during sentencing. Specifically, new requirements would forbid its application unless at least one of three evidentiary criteria is met: 1) biological/DNA evidence; 2) a videotaped confession, or 3) videotaped evidence that conclusively links the defendant to the crime.

Again, as I pointed out previously, this is disappointing to those of us who were hoping for a true and complete repeal of what we consider to be a far-too-often unjustly administered criminal penalty; however, I nevertheless believe it is hard to dispute the positive momentum that this amended bill represents for our criminal justice system. It will drastically reduce the number of cases in which the death penalty will be an option, and those cases that remain eligible will have to be based on the most reliable and conclusive potential evidence available.

I voted for the bill on the floor of the House of Delegates yesterday, where it passed 87-52. Governor O’Malley has said that he will sign the bill, at which point we will be able to say that our state has the highest standards for death penalty evidence in the nation.

Paper-trail voting is also an issue about which many of you have contacted me to express concern. As many of you know, in the 2007 legislative session a bill mandating Maryland’s use of voting machines that produce voter-verifiable paper records (optical-scan machines) was passed by the legislature and signed into law on May 17th of that year. Its final implementation is contingent upon both the appropriation of sufficient funds in the state budget, and the submission of bids by a vendor who can supply a system that has been lab-tested and certified to meet federal accessibility guidelines for voters with disabilities.

Though the funding requirement has been met, no optical-scan systems yet exist that meet all of the federal accessibility guidelines. To prevent this important initiative from being derailed, an emergency bill has been introduced, House Bill 893, which stipulates that if no system that satisfies those requirements in their entirety is available, the system that best meets them will be selected in its place. In addition, each voting place will be required to maintain one touchscreen voting machine that does meet the accessibility guidelines, and which will be available for use by all voters. This will help to keep this measure moving forward while respecting the need to accommodate all voters’ needs. This bill has received a favorable report from its committee, and I look forward to voting for its passage when it comes to the floor.

The last bill I’d like to give you an update on is House Bill 311, the Administration’s bill for addressing the inappropriate surveillance activities by the State Police that targeted peaceful protest groups. I received numerous emails and phone calls urging me to support House Bill 182, which would have put strong limitations on the permissibility of surveillance by any law enforcement agencies in Maryland. Unfortunately, that bill was voted down in the Judiciary Committee, and never came to the floor of the House of Delegates where I could have supported it.

After H.B. 182 was given an unfavorable report, however, many of its provisions were amended into H.B. 311, such as the requirement of a written finding that a covert operation is justified, the applicability of the law to all law enforcement and not just the State Police, a prohibition on not just the unjustified collection but also maintenance of irrelevant information, a protection of citizen information request rights, and requirements for reporting results of the bill to the General Assembly. The bill is still not as far-reaching as H.B. 182 would have been, but it is certainly a step toward establishing the necessary explicit protections against any violations of our rights to peaceful protest, and if passed will give us a firm foundation upon to build yet stronger protections in the sessions to come.

Monday is the deadline for bills to cross over from the House to the Senate and vice versa, and the coming weeks will be a flurry of activity to make sure the most important of the proposed bills have the chance to make it through the rest of the legislative process and gain the Governor’s signature. I very much appreciate the input you have given me thus far, which has helped me to know how to better serve your interests. I will work to continue doing so and hope to benefit from your continued feedback as well.

Maggie

—————————-

Budget News

In the face of a continuingly weak economy, the House Appropriations Committee voted late Friday to approve a $13.9 billion FY10 General Fund budget. The FY09 and FY10 state budgets include $1.7 billion in federal stimulus funds, and although the revenues are projected to decline 2.3%, the influx of federal funds through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increases the budget only 2%. The budget is smaller than the FY07 budget and, along with the supplemental budget submitted by the Administration on Monday, ends with a balance of $51.2 million above the $650 million Rainy Day Fund. This represents a balance budget without raising any taxes or fees. Along with the cuts to the FY09 budget, Appropriations made $825 million in spending reductions.

The House took a series of actions to balance the budget including reductions to nearly every agency, fund transfers, bonding of short term obligations and converting fund balances to the general fund. As amended, H.B 101, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act, contains $1.2 billion in budgetary actions.

Significant reductions were made to state government: Appropriations cut 116 vacant positions, which were in addition to the 1,000 vacant positions that were already eliminated in the Governor’s original proposal, and this is on top of the $30 million saved by furloughing state employees for 2-5 days this year. The budget includes $524 million in General Fund cuts to nearly every state agency, including:

  • $30 million from the University System Fund Balance
  • $25 million from Sellinger Funding to Private Colleges
  • $25 million from the Judiciary
  • $10 million from Deferred Compensation for State Employees

Despite the necessity of cuts, however, the House Appropriations Committee continued investments in K-12 education by fully funding the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) in 2010 and 2011, funding the 22% growth of teacher pensions, funding the supplemental grant with a 1% increase, and avoiding cuts to the disparity grants. Education aid will be over $5.5 billion, an increase of $129 million.

The House continues to invest in higher education with a 3.1% increase in funding for community colleges and maintaining the tuition freeze at four year public universities. This is particularly important as rising unemployment in Maryland continues to drive workers to community colleges for training and adult education.

House Appropriations also avoided cuts to law enforcement by fully funding local police aid at $66 million. Maryland is one of only seven states to fund aid to local police. The additional Byrne Grant funds that the stimulus package makes available to Maryland’s local police will ensure that our officers have the tools needed to maintain public safety. Though lean, the House proposal:

  • Avoids layoffs of state employees
  • Avoids salary reductions of state employees
  • Funds K-12 education
  • Continues to fund Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Bay Restoration Funds for enhanced nutrient removal from the Chesapeake Bay and tributaries total $130 million
  • Maintains 5% of the general fund in Rainy Day Account
  • Continues Open Space purchases to preserve Chesapeake Bay and critical areas
  • Avoids shifting costs to localities for local property tax assessment and law clerks
  • Avoids reductions of tax credits for homeowners and renters
  • Increases Medicaid funding over $230 million without any reduction to services or eligibility

Federal Stimulus Funds flowing to Maryland

Governor O’Malley on Monday, joined by Senator Cardin, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary John M. Colmers, and other state and local healthcare leaders, highlighted the nearly $1.5 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to protect Maryland’s healthcare safety net. These funds will help fortify Maryland’s expanded health care program, support community clinics, address the needs of underserved children and protect tens of thousands of healthcare jobs.

Without these funds provided by our health care champions in Congress and the White House, over 50,000 people could lose the coverage they now have under our Medicaid program. Maryland’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act website can be found at www.recovery.maryland.gov.

Maryland Department of Transportation also announced the second phase of Maryland transportation projects to be funded under President Barack Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Statewide road and bridge projects will receive an additional $137 million. Local transit and road priorities received additional funding in Phase II with a total of $43 million now available to support local transit systems. $62 million being made available to local jurisdictions for local transportation priorities will be distributed among all 23 counties. The specific amount will be determined by a formula based on the number of vehicle registrations and the number of lane miles in a particular county. Phase II investments include a dramatic increase in funding for Locally Operated Transit Systems around the state. A total of $43 million will be distributed to these smaller transit systems, run by counties or municipalities. Funds can used to purchase replacement buses or improve transit facilities.

Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 12, 2009

Posted by quinn on March 12, 2009  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 12, 2009

Friends,

Several bills that are significant for both the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore have either progressed or been stopped in their tracks during the past two weeks. As always, this news is mixed: some positive directions, some negative, some in between.

House Bill 88 is a bill that was introduced by the City Delegation on behalf of the Mayor’s Office, and would prohibit the granting of bail by a District Court Commissioner to defendants charged in certain gun-related crimes if the defendant has already been convicted of such an offense in the past. I’m pleased to be able to report that it received a favorable report from the House Judiciary Committee on February 24th, and passed in the House of Delegates with a unanimous vote of 135-0 two days later. It now moves on to the Maryland Senate. I think this bill will help alleviate the problem of gun crime in Baltimore City, and I hope I will be able to give you good news concerning the rest of its trip through the legislative process.

One of the major pieces of legislation news in recent days, of course, concerns attempts to repeal the death penalty in Maryland. As was the case with previous death penalty repeal bills, this year’s House Bill 316 (which I cosponsored) and Senate Bill 279 were originally drafted so that any person found guilty of murder in the first degree would no longer be eligible for the death penalty, but would rather face a maximum sentence of imprisonment for life or imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole (existing death sentences would also be commuted to one of the latter). However, amendments offered during last week’s Senate debate on SB 279 have altered that bill so that it would no longer repeal the death penalty completely, but rather would strengthen the safeguards determining when and how it can be used. The amended Senate bill states that the death penalty may only be used when there is one of the following: (1) documented biological DNA evidence, (2) an uncoerced video-tape confession, or (3) a video recording that conclusively links a suspect to the crime.

The unaltered House Bill 316 has yet to receive its public hearing (in the Judiciary Committee on March 17th at 1:00 pm), but there have been indications from Senate death penalty proponents that, even if we were to pass a full repeal in the House of Delegates, such a bill would stand little chance of emerging from a conference committee without ultimately being subject to the Senate amendments. Nothing is set in stone, of course, but this prospect is disappointing for those of us who have consistently fought for a total end to the practice of capital punishment. That being said, the partial step of increasing the evidence requirements for levying the ultimate penalty is at least a step in the right direction, and something tells me that the repeal efforts won’t fade away any time soon.

House Bill 182, The Freedom of Association and Assembly Protection Act of 2009, which was drafted in response to revelations of inappropriate surveillance efforts by the Maryland State Police Assembly & Association, was also heard recently. It had its public hearing in the Judiciary Committee on March 3rd and unfortunately, on the 9th of March, received an unfavorable report that will keep it from moving to the floor of the House where I could vote in its favor. Because it was drafted with the intention of protecting essential First Amendment rights, I co-sponsored the bill, the provisions of which would have corrected abuses by State, county and municipal law enforcement agencies, and would have required written documentation for covert activities. I believe this would have provided more protection for Maryland’s citizens than House Bill 311, which only applies to the State Police, and allows covert activity based on ‘reasonable suspicion,’ but seeing as this latter bill still has a chance for passage (not having received a committee report that would either stop the bill or send it to the floor of the House), we can hope that at least HB 311’s more modest measures can still be put in place to limit infringements on our rights to engage in legitimate political protest without fear of being monitored.

Many other important bills will be having their fate decided in the days and weeks to come, and I will keep you posted as decisions that affect you and the rest of our State are made.

Maggie

————————————————————–

Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2009

House Bill 101 is the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA) and was introduced by the Governor. It mandates funding changes to existing law. These include temporary and permanent changes to appropriations, grants, formulas, transfers, and authorizations that the Governor requests the legislature to make on his behalf. The Governor’s initial budget proposal assumes his BFRA legislation is enacted.

The BRFA initially reduces the Fiscal Year 2009/Fiscal Year 2010 budget deficit by nearly $1 billion with funding reductions, formula changes, fund transfers and other actions. This figure includes the $367 million in local income tax reserves identified by the Comptroller.

With the passing of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the Governor was able to eliminate several of the proposed reductions, mostly centered around education (an area for which the rest of the City Delegation and myself lobbied long and hard). These changes include:

  • Holding funding for non-public placements of developmentally disabled children at 50/50 state/local share as opposed to the 80/20 split originally proposed
  • Fully Funding the Supplemental Grant at 1%
  • Fully Funding GCEI
  • 5% funding increases to community colleges and rejection of the planned cuts in FY09
  • Funding $50 million in Medicaid deficiencies because of higher than anticipated costs in the program
  • Restoring energy assistance

The Governor’s current BRFA legislation cuts $606 million from the FY09 budget deficit. The budget is reduced in part with fund transfers in BRFA including:

  • Local Income Tax Reserve for Refunds: $367 million
  • Bonding funds for ICC/Prince George’s Hospital: $73 million
  • Helicopter Replacement Fund (Replaced in Capital Budget): $51 million
  • University System of Maryland Fund Balance: $20 million
  • Injured Workers’ Insurance Fund for Future Liability: $18 million
  • Maryland Trauma Physician Services Fund: $17 million
  • Community Health Resources Fund: $14 million
  • State Insurance Trust Fund: $10 million

The Governor’s current BRFA legislation cuts $370 million from the FY10 budget deficit. The FY10 budget is reduced with various actions in BRFA including:

  • ICC Payment (replace with bond funds): $63 million
  • Fund Community College Aid Formula at new FY09 levels: $33 million
  • Level Fund Aid to Private Colleges and Universities: $16 million
  • Aging Schools Program: $12 million
  • Charge counties for administrative costs of property evaluations: $37 million
  • Replace general funds with RGGI funds for energy assistance: $36 million
  • Reduce CRF Programs & Fund Breast & Cervical Cancer Program: $15 million
  • Redirect Medicare Part D Payment to Emp/Ret. Health Insurance: $15 million
  • Eliminate the State’s deferred compensation match: $12 million

The effects of BRFA along with additional revenue legislation, Rainy Day fund balance transfers (above the 5% balance), discretionary stimulus funds, additional expenditure reductions and savings leads the Governor to an ending balance of $81.4 million. Yet, we expect the write-down in March to be greater than the $300 million estimated by the Administration. As the national economic climate continues to deteriorate and increasing pressure is put on state revenues, it is necessary to leave a significant fund balance at the end of this legislative session to assure that the State can meet its’ obligations through the interim. This could require upwards of $400 million in additional budget cuts.

The House Appropriations Committee held its’ hearing on BRFA (HB 101) on Tuesday, March 3rd and invited a representative from each of the policy committees to attend the hearing.