Archive for February, 2010

Maggie’s Legislative Update for February 27, 2010

Posted by quinn on February 27, 2010  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update for February 27, 2010

Dear Friends,

In our last update, I spent some time outlining the Governor’s Tuition Stabilization Fund, which will guarantee our children have access to affordable higher education. I have two other child-focused Democratic initiatives that I’d like to share with you – one that will allow us to continue having the top primary and secondary education system in the country, and another that will protect our kids from dangerous sex offenders.

Race to the Top Legislation

President Obama included $4.35 billion in competitive grants as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to encourage states to support innovative education reform across the country. The national competition, Race to the Top, is intended to encourage states to implement reforms in four core areas: internationally benchmarked standards and assessments, recruiting and retaining effective teachers, building data systems to measure student success, and turning around low-performing schools.

Fortunately, Maryland has historically been on the cutting edge of education reform, as evidenced by significant improvements in student test scores over the past decade. This, plus the 82% increase in education funding since 2003, has led to Maryland schools being ranked first in the country for two consecutive years.

Maryland is eligible for up to $250M in education funding from the federal government during the second round of applications, due in June of 2010. If Maryland receives the maximum funding, every county in the State could receive additional education funding from the federal government, a great boon considering the fiscal situation we find ourselves grappling with. Governor O’Malley has introduced legislation that will not only make Maryland more effective in competing for the Race to the Top funds, but also begin the third wave of education reform, in order to continue the success of Maryland schools.

California, New York and Wisconsin have already passed legislation connecting teacher performance with students’ test scores, and so it is very important that we in Maryland put in place a similar measure in order to remain competitive. On Wednesday the House Ways & Means Committee had a public hearing for House Bill 467, which will establish the Maryland Longitudinal Data System in order to collect individual student-level data from all education levels, along with data concerning the State’s education workforce.

Additionally, Governor O’Malley, working with the local superintendents, local boards of education, the teachers unions, and Superintendent Grasmick, proposed:

  • Increasing the length of time for a new teacher to achieve tenure from two years to three years. Currently, Maryland requires two years in order to achieve tenure, with an additional year possible for teachers that do not meet the evaluation standards. At two years, Maryland has one of the lowest teacher tenure durations in the country: 33 states require 3 years for teacher tenure and 8 states have more than 4 years.
  • Requiring schools to provide mentors to new teachers in danger of not achieving tenure.
  • Providing differentiated pay to attract high-performing teachers to low-performing schools. Incentive pay programs have been piloted in Prince George’s County, and parts of Baltimore City and Queen Anne’s counties. Currently, 90% of Maryland teachers are “highly qualified,” yet Maryland ranks last in the country for distribution of highly qualified teachers to the State’s lowest performing schools.

Sex Offender Legislation

The tragic death of 11 year old Sarah Foxwell on the Eastern Shore highlighted the need for better coordination between law enforcement, the court system, and other states when dealing with sex offenders. Despite passing tougher laws, we need to continue our vigilance and protect our children from sex offenders. During this last term, the legislature has passed a series of tougher laws to crackdown on sex offenders:

  • During the 2006 special session, the legislature passed Jessica’s Law, which requires a 25-year mandatory minimum sentence for first degree rape and first degree sex offenses against a minor (HB 2). In addition, the bill required courts to sentence certain sex offenders to a term of extended parole supervision. The House passed almost identical legislation during the 2006 regular session but the conference committee report failed to pass it before the 90-day session was over. For the past two years, the House of Delegates has passed legislation to improve the extended parole supervision.
  • In 2007, the legislature eliminated the possibility of parole for mandatory minimum sentences for first and second degree rape, and first and second degree sex offenses. That same year, the legislature passed a law requiring mental health assessments of sex offenders convicted of sexual abuse against a minor.
  • In 2008, the legislature followed implementation of Jessica’s Law with a bill requiring the collection of DNA on arrest for any crime of violence or felony burglary.
  • The State’s entire backlog of 24,000 DNA samples has been eliminated and over 100 sex offenders have been arrested based on DNA.

As we begin these deliberations, it is important to have a clear understanding of the State’s current efforts to punish, deter and monitor offenders:

  • Currently, there are over 4,000 registered child sex offenders in Maryland and a total of 6,438 registered sex offenders.
  • Currently, there are 71 sex offender parole agents in Maryland. These agents monitor 2300 sex offenders – a ratio of approximately 30:1.
  • In February 2009, the State started a Global Positioning System (GPS) program to monitor the most violent sex offenders. To date, 1300 offenders have been monitored using GPS. Over the last 18 months, less than one-third of 1% of sex offenders that are under active supervision have been charged with new sex offenses.
  • The State also requires all sex offenders released on parole, regardless of severity of offense, to undergo an initial polygraph test within 30 days of release and another 2 polygraph tests in 6 month intervals.
  • The State also installs software on the personal computers of certain sex offenders in order to monitor the content that sex offenders are viewing.

This session, a number of bills have been introduced to enact even stricter laws to punish sex offenders. We want to ensure that any loopholes are closed up,and that our directives to the courts are clear. Legislation this year includes:

  • Requiring lifetime supervision for the most violent sex offenders: those who commit sex offenses against children, and repeat offenders. Lifetime supervision could include GPS monitoring, requiring ongoing polygraphs, or restricting an offender’s movement to their place of work and home.
  • Eliminating good time credits for the most violent sex offenders convicted under Jessica’s Law.
  • Requiring a judge (instead of a district court commissioner) to determine whether a registered sex offender arrested for any crime should receive pre-trial release. This creates a rebuttable presumption that the registered sex offender poses a danger to the community and that must be taken into account for bail. A criminal rap sheet would have to include documentation that someone is a registered sex offender or if they have been sentenced to extended supervision.
  • Extending the most severe penalties to those offenders that commit a sex offense against a child under 15, instead of under 13, which is the law now.
  • Requiring local Department of Social Services to disclose to the Division of Parole & Probation evidence that a sex offender is living in a child’s home or has contact with a child
  • Reconstituting the Sex Offender Advisory Board in order to make recommendations on how to best manage sex offenders and protect the public from them.
  • Bringing Maryland in line with federal sex offender provisions, including creating minimum standards for registration on the sex offender registry and requiring juvenile sex offenders at least 14 years of age to register on the sex offender registry if convicted in adult court.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear all of the sex offender bills on Tuesday, February 23, 2010.

Improving our childrens’ education and keeping them safe are legislative acts of common sense, and it is our responsibility as your elected representatives to follow through on them. I welcome any other questions or concerns you might have about our acting out that responsibility, so please continue to write, call, and email my office with your thoughts.

Maggie

Maggie’s Legislative Update for February 18, 2010

Posted by quinn on February 18, 2010  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update for February 18, 2010

Dear Friends,

I hope all of you have been weathering the recent snowstorms well. Many of you have contacted my office for help with slow or absent snow removal, and I have been in constant contact with the Mayor’s Office to make sure the 43rd District streets – and especially those that have for some reason escaped early attention – are priorities for the City Department of Transportation’s teams. If you continue to have problems, please contact my office either by phone (410-841-3990) or email (maggie.mcintosh@house.state.md.us) and give us the streets and blocks in question.

Though the blizzard and its aftereffects have taken over much of our immediate attention, I wanted to use this update to convey several of the House Democratic legislative priorities for this session – measures that, if implemented, will render long-term benefits for the state and our district.

Foreclosure Legislation

The ongoing foreclosure crisis, as you no doubt know, is one of our main priorities as we move forward this legislative session. Tuesday we held the public hearing for House Bill 472, Governor O’Malley’s foreclosure mediation bill, which will insert several safeguard phases into the foreclosure process. Currently, lenders are required to wait 45 days between letting homeowners know of their intention to foreclose and filing the court papers to initiate the process. HB 472 would mandate a review process during that time in order to consider loan modification as a possible solution. To move forward with a foreclosure, lenders would be required to provide several documents, including an affidavit documenting completion of this review, their reasons for denial and the calculations on which it is based, and documentation demonstrating that they fully considered alternatives to foreclosure.

If a lender still refuses loan modification and files the necessary court papers, measures of the bill will guarantee that the borrower can file a “Request for Foreclosure Mediation” on a form that the lender/servicer is required to provide. This will give every Maryland family facing foreclosure the right to request a housing counselor-advised mediation session, face-to-face, with the lender attempting to take their home.

In order to ensure sufficient housing counseling services and to help defray judicial costs for implementation, the bill requires the lender/servicer to pay a $100 fee upon the filing of a foreclosure, and this fee may not be passed on to the borrower.

This term, Maryland House Democrats have worked hard to protect homeowners from foreclosure. Some of the reforms protect consumers by banning pre-payment penalties on sub-prime loans and the transfer of real estate in foreclosure rescue scams. The sum of these reforms is a more stable housing market in Maryland while many other states continue to flounder in the ongoing recession.

Tuition Stabilization Fund

As we strive to provide the safety net necessary to protect those currently in need, we are also concerned to give our children access to the education that will allow them to thrive in the future. On Friday, the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on House Bill 470, the Governor’s Tuition Stabilization Fund, to hold any tuition increase at Maryland’s state universities and colleges to 3% or less. This represents a $16 Million investment in making sure that Maryland’s world class university system remains affordable for Maryland families. Below are some important points regarding this legislation:

  • The General Assembly first instituted the tuition freeze in 2006, after rates increased 40% under the prior Administration. Governor O’Malley continued the tuition freeze over the past 3 years, bringing Maryland from 6th most expensive in the country down to 17th. Maryland is now below the national average when considering college tuition alone, according to the College Board.
  • Over the past three years, enrollment in Maryland’s public universities has grown 15.8% and community college enrollment has grown to 128,093 students (an increase of 5% from the previous year (122,790)). Tuition at public universities, however, has remained at the 2006 level.
  • The Governor and legislature created the Higher Education Investment Fund during the 2007 Special Session, the first dedicated funding source for higher education in the State’s history. Now, the increased revenue from the corporate income tax is dedicated to higher education purposes.
  • This year, Governor O’Malley introduced legislation based on recommendations from the Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education (commonly known as the Bohanan Commission) to create stability and predictability in tuition costs for Maryland families. HB 470 permanently dedicates revenues from corporate income tax to the HEIF and establishes a Tuition Stabilization Account in the HEIF.
  • The Tuition Stabilization Account would dedicate State funding to ensure that tuition does not increase more than 3% for the 2010-2011 school year, and reinforce the message that Maryland needs a predictable, affordable tuition policy.

Off-Shore Wind Energy

Environmental (and efficiency) concerns about energy production drive two other bills being heard this year. On Tuesday the Economic Matters Committee heard House Bill 468, an Administration bill that supports our efforts to lead in the wind-based clean energy sector. In anticipation of formal offshore wind energy proposals and applications, the bill would create a regulatory framework for development by addressing gaps in the existing regulatory authority.

The legislation establishes the Public Service Commission’s jurisdiction over renewable energy lines from offshore wind facilities and allows the construction of a submerged or buried renewable energy line in the beach erosion control district as long as the wind generation facility to which the lines are connected is located at least three miles off the coast. Despite these changes to encourage wind development, any adverse impact on the environment from the building of the lines would remain forbidden.

Accelerating our Solar Energy Portfolio

The second energy-centered bill, House Bill 471, is an Administration bill that was heard Tuesday in the Economic Matters Committee. Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires that a specific percentage of electricity sold in the State must be from solar sources. The solar requirement starts with 0.005% in 2008 and increases each year, peaking at 2% in 2022 and remaining at 2% for each year thereafter. Compared to other states such as New Jersey and Delaware, Maryland’s solar requirement increases very slowly in the early years of the RPS (providing a more even energy distribution while encouraging more residential and commercial solar installations), and then increases more rapidly in the last few years, providing long-term support for Maryland’s growing solar industry and bring us more in line with those surrounding states.

The benefits of additional solar energy in Maryland will include decreasing peak prices in the summertime, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by displacing fossil fuel-based power, creating new green jobs, and helping Maryland meet its renewable energy goals. The Alternative Compliance Payment, a fee that must be paid if an electricity provider fails to meet the solar component of Maryland’s RPS, is also adjusted in the legislation.

Maryland has led the nation over the last 4 years in reducing greenhouse gases, expanding and investing in renewable energy, reducing energy consumption and creating clean energy jobs by working with stakeholders from across the business, political and environmental spectrums. The goal is to become a world leader in both the creation and consumption of renewable energy.

Collective Negotiations by Family Child Care Providers

HB 465 is an Administration bill that establishes collective bargaining rights for specified family child care providers who participate in the Maryland Child Care Subsidy Program. It was heard by the Economic Matters Committee yesterday. The legislation both authorizes providers to designate an exclusive representative, and requires specified procedures to be governed by provisions of collective bargaining law for State employees. This legislation codifies the Governor’s previous Executive Order.

Smart, Green, and Growing – Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission

Lastly, HB 474 is an Administration bill that repeals the Task Force on the Future for Growth and Development in Maryland and establishes the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission. This turns a reoccurring but temporary task force into a permanent commission, recognizing Smart Growth’s importance to Maryland’s long-term future, both economically and environmentally. It was heard in my committee (Environmental Matters) yesterday.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns about these or other pieces of legislation, please don’t hesitate to contact my office.

Maggie

Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Priorities

Posted by admin on February 11, 2010  |   Comments Off on Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Priorities