Archive for March, 2010

Delegate McIntosh at Sustainable Communities Day

Posted by admin on March 26, 2010  |   Comments Off on Delegate McIntosh at Sustainable Communities Day

State Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, at Sustainable Communities Advocacy Day in Annapolis explains the best stewart for a sustainable Maryland.

Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 19, 2010

Posted by admin on March 19, 2010  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 19, 2010

Dear Friends,

In this update, I’d like to highlight three bills/legislative packages that will have a significant impact on jobs and public safety in Baltimore City, some of which we passed in the House of Delegates this morning.

The Sustainable Communities Act of 2010

The Heritage Tax Credit, which especially benefits urban areas like Baltimore City, sunsets in July of this year. The Administration’s House Bill 475 reestablishes the Heritage Structure Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program as the more comprehensive Sustainable Communities Tax Credit Program – a key component in our continued effort to create and save jobs in Maryland. The bill changes the program into a traditional tax credit program and more than triples the funding for businesses to create these jobs. It increases funding for the program by authorizing the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT) to award $50 million in credits for the next three years. The legislation would provide the following tax credits depending upon the type of project.

  • 20% for the rehabilitation of a single-family, owner-occupied residential certified historic rehabilitated structure
  • 25% for the rehabilitation of a certified historic structure that is a high-performance building (meets certain energy efficiency standards)
  • 10% for the rehabilitation of a qualified rehabilitated structure
  • 20% for any other qualifying rehabilitation

The value of the tax credit can’t exceed $3 million for a commercial rehabilitation or $50,000 for any other project. The bill also makes several changes to other State programs, including the Community Legacy and Designated Neighborhood Programs. As I said before, this is a great benefit for Baltimore City; it creates jobs and preserves our city’s historic buildings and neighborhoods. The bill was heard on March 9th in the Ways and Means Committee, and I’ll be keeping an eye on its progress.

Tougher Sex Offender Legislation

Last Friday, the House Judiciary Committee passed both Republican and Democratic sponsored bills to strengthen Maryland’s laws against sex offenders.  Seven bills received unanimous, bipartisan approval and five of them went to the floor of the House of Delegates today for a full vote.

The House Judiciary Committee approved:

  • House Bill 936 brings Maryland into compliance with the notification and registration provisions of the federal Adam Walsh Act. Under the bill, homeless sex offenders, sex offenders convicted of indecent exposure, possessors of child pornography, and offenders who repeatedly abuse children under the age of 14 are required to register on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry. The bill also expands information posted on the Registry to include places of employment, other residences, and a plain language description of the crime.
  • House Bill 473 requires lifetime supervision of serious and repeat sex offenders after completing their original sentence. Lifetime supervision could include GPS monitoring, requiring ongoing polygraphs, restricting an offender’s movement to their place of work and home etc. The bill also subjects juvenile sexual offenders to extended supervision.
  • House Bill 931 reconstitutes the Sex Offender Advisory Board in order to make recommendations on how to best manage sex offenders and protect the public from them.
  • House Bill 289 eliminates diminution credits for an offender convicted of first and second degree rape and first and second degree sex offense against a child under the age of consent (16 years old).
  • House Bill 599 eliminates diminution credits for repeat third degree sex offenders, whose victims are children under the age of consent (16 years old).
  • House Bill 1046 requires a judge, instead of a district court commissioner, to determine whether a registered sex offender arrested for any crime is entitled to pretrial release and creates a rebuttable presumption that the registered sex offender poses a danger to the community.  The legislation also requires that a criminal rap sheet include documentation that someone is a registered sex offender or if they have had extended supervision.
  • House Bill 1053 strengthens the State’s prohibition against possessing or promoting child pornography.

Over the past four years, the legislature has provided several new tools to help law enforcement prosecute violent 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 sex offenses.  In 2007, the legislature eliminated the possibility of parole for Jessica’s Law offenders. That same year, the legislature passed a law requiring court-ordered mental health assessments of sex offenders convicted of sexual abuse against a minor. In 2008, Governor Martin O’Malley and 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. Over 24,000 DNA samples have been eliminated from the State’s backlog and, as a result, over 100 sex offenders have been arrested. This year’s legislative package will help us to strengthen Maryland’s criminal law against sex offenders even further, and I can gladly announce that  HB 289, HB 473, HB 599, HB 931, and HB 1046 all passed in the House of Delegates this morning with unanimous support, and now cross over to the Senate.

Job Creation Tax Credit

HB 92 is an emergency Administration bill that provides tax credits for businesses that hire unemployed workers. The credit has been increased from $3,000 per employee to $5,000 per employee and is only valid for an employee hired between the effective date of the bill and December 31, 2010.  A total of $20 million in credits would be provided, allowing for a fast burst of job creation in our state.

Each employer could claim a maximum of $250,000 in tax credits, equating to 50 employees hired per employer. A qualified employer must be either operating a business in Maryland and filing state income tax returns, or be a nonprofit organization, and certified as eligible by the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation.  A qualified employee hire must be a Maryland resident, must be currently receiving unemployment insurance benefits or have exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits in the last 12 months, and cannot be otherwise employed full-time.

House Bill 92 passed the House of Delegates this morning with a vote of 132 for and 5 against. It now goes to the Senate for approval.

We’ve had the opportunity to move some great legislation out of our chamber thus far, but the session is far from over. Please continue to keep me posted on your thoughts as we move toward our mid-April conclusion.

Maggie

Unemployment Facts and Figures

  • National unemployment is currently 9.7%, and Maryland unemployment is around 7.5%.
  • The current average duration of unemployment is 29 weeks, the longest since record-keeping began in 1948. Unemployment insurance benefits are provided for 26 weeks.
  • The Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund has seen a 92% increase in claims over the last two years. More than 400,000 claims were filed in 2009.
  • In fiscal year 2009, the State paid out $891 million in unemployment benefits, as compared to $478 million in fiscal year 2008. In addition, 93,000 people exhausted their benefits in 2009, up from 35,000 in 2008.

Background on Unemployment Insurance Benefits and Non-Citizens

  • State law specifically addresses eligibility for non-citizens to collect UI benefits. In addition, under federal rules, a worker must demonstrate they are working legally in order to get UI benefits.
  • They must give a Social Security Number (SSN), or otherwise demonstrate their legal status for UI benefits. If they have a SSN, DLLR goes directly to the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify the number, name, and date of birth. If there is a discrepancy, the worker has to go to the SSA to straighten it out.
  • There is no other system that can be used, including E-Verify, to do a more comprehensive job than how it is done now by DLLR through direct contact with the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. E-Verify is available to other departments andprivate companies to access information for this purpose, but DLLR does not need E-Verify.

Maggie McIntosh
House of Delegates
Maryland’s 43rd District
maggie.mcintosh@house.state.md.us

Support grows for ban on cell phone use while driving

Posted by admin on March 14, 2010  |   Comments Off on Support grows for ban on cell phone use while driving

Senate, House bills wouldn’t apply to hands-free devices

Maryland drivers could soon face a prohibition on chatting on their handheld cell phones while driving. After years of reluctance, the General Assembly now appears to be moving cautiously but steadily toward telling drivers not to hold the phones to their ears with one hand while steering with the other.

A Senate committee has voted to approve a bill that would outlaw the use of conventional cell phones behind the wheel – but only as a “secondary” offense that would not on its own be grounds for a traffic stop. Under the legislation, a driver who was talking on a handheld cell phone while committing another traffic offense, such as speeding, could be pulled over and ticketed on both charges.

The Judicial Proceedings Committee, meanwhile, rejected a stronger measure that would have made handheld cell phone use while driving a “primary” offense that could be charged even if an officer observes no other violation.

This week, legislators will continue to wrestle with the issue of cell phones and driving, which has sparked debate in Annapolis for more than a decade. The late Del. John S. Arnick began pushing such a measure in 1999 only to see it die in committee repeatedly.

After Arnick’s death in 2006, his friend Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr., a fellow Dundalk Democrat and the Senate’s longest-serving member, took up the cause. It was Stone’s bill, named in memory of Arnick, that finally won committee approval.

That action came the same day the House of Delegates voted overwhelmingly for a tougher version of the driving-while-texting measure that the General Assembly had enacted last year. Under the bill, drivers would be prohibited from reading text as well as typing. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he expects the tougher texting ban to breeze through the Senate this year. He said the chances are “better than 50-50” that a handheld cell phone ban along the lines of that approved by the Judicial Proceedings Committee will pass the full Senate.

Miller said he could support such curbs because “it might save lives.” He said a statutory ban would prompt many who now use cell phones while driving to stop doing so to obey the law.

“I would,” he said.

Sen. Nancy Jacobs, the Republican whip, noted that the bill making their use a secondary violation passed her committee with two abstentions but no negative votes from Republican members.

“I think it will pass. I don’t think it would get killed,” the Harford County Republican said.

Still alive in the House is a bill that would make driving while talking on a handheld cell phone a primary offense. This year the bill gained the influential sponsorship of Del. Maggie McIntosh, chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, which has jurisdiction over traffic laws. The Baltimore Democrat said that the increasing complexity of cell phones had convinced her that they were now too much of a distraction to be used while on the road.

Del. James Malone, vice chairman of the committee and chairman of the subcommittee on traffic laws, said he will convene a work group Tuesday to go over several measures on cell phones.

Among other things, he said, the group will consider whether to accept the Senate’s approach or to move forward with a primary ban. He said the members will also consider his own bill dealing with distracted driving more broadly.

“There’s an interest in the whole issue of distracted driving not just limited to cell phones,” the Arbutus Democrat said.

Del. Rudolph Cane, a senior member of the committee, said it wouldn’t surprise him if the law started off as a secondary violation and eventually became a primary offense – the same path followed by the state’s law requiring seat belt use. “It takes the general public some time to get used to change,” the Eastern Shore Democrat said.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said Sen. Michael G. Lenett’s bill making the cell phone bill a primary offense lost in his committee on a 4-6 vote. The panel instead sent to the floor Stone’s bill with the secondary-offense language.

“I don’t know if the Senate as a whole is ready to go for a primary offense,” Frosh said.

If the two chambers were to take different approaches to the legislation, the bill could end up going to a conference committee. Frosh acknowledged that, in conference, the chamber with the weaker bill generally has the stronger hand.

“I voted for the bill as a primary offense, but I think it’s a step forward to make it a secondary offense,” he said.

Frosh noted that many studies of cell phone use on the road have found there to be little difference between handheld cell phones and hands-free devices in how much they distract drivers. But none of the bills under consideration would ban use of the hands-free phones.

Frosh said opinions on cell phones have evolved in the General Assembly as members have observed their effect on people’s driving.

“Everybody has experience with it – driving along and watching other people doing what they’re doing and it’s not a happy experience,” the Montgomery County Democrat said.

Stone said his advocacy was motivated in part by one of those experiences. He said he was in a car being driven by his wife when a woman using a cell phone ran a signal and hit them.

“She totaled my car and the first thing she said was, ‘When I looked up, you were there.’ “

A calm end for storm-water debate

Posted by admin on March 10, 2010  |   Comments Off on A calm end for storm-water debate

Our view: Compromise is disappointing, but it could have been much worse

The compromise Del. Maggie McIntosh brokered among environmentalists, the O’Malley administration and builders over storm-water regulations that are set to go into effect this spring will mean more pollution flowing into the Chesapeake Bay, more erosion, less clean drinking water and assorted other environmental damage. But it could have been much, much worse.

Powerful political figures, including Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., were arguing that the storm-water regulations would set back smart growth efforts, promote sprawl and hurt the environment – an overblown concern but one that created an opening for developers and their allies to gut the new regulations altogether. Bills submitted by lawmakers would have, among other things, delayed the regulations by a decade – both for the redevelopment projects local governments were worried about and for greenfields development.

The compromise plan, by contrast, is tightly targeted and reasonable. It sets out ground rules for how projects in the development pipeline will be considered for grandfathering under the old regulations and gives some added flexibility to redevelopment projects.

If adopted, the regulations would allow development projects with preliminary approval to operate under the old rules so long as they get final approval from local government within three years and start construction by 2017. That at least gives some certainty that developers won’t hold on to their old standards forever. And the compromise would allow redevelopment projects in specified areas to take less-drastic steps to reduce storm-water runoff, provided that they maintain efforts to eliminate pollutants from that water.

The reason it is so crucial to keep the bulk of these regulations in place is the increasing harm being done to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries by runoff from developed areas. Impervious surfaces – roads, rooftops, parking lots and the like – prevent the normal absorption of storm water into the ground and instead channel it, along with whatever pollutants it picks up along the way, into streams and eventually the bay. The state has made efforts to reduce point-source pollution, such as sewage treatment plants and agricultural pollution. But pollution from runoff in developed areas has been on the rise and is expected to get worse as the population increases. Severely limiting or delaying the regulations would have been extremely harmful.

It is unfortunate that the rules adopted just three years ago had to be weakened in any way. But this compromise is tightly focused on opponents’ most reasonable concerns. Developers had reason to wonder whether developments that were well down the road of planning but lacking in final approval would have to essentially start from scratch to cope with the new requirements. And given the difficulties associated with redevelopment and its general environmental benefits, it was appropriate to give some flexibility to those projects. But the important thing is that the compromise, if formally adopted, would maintain the state’s commitment to cutting down on what has emerged as a major threat to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 5, 2010

Posted by quinn on March 5, 2010  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update for March 5, 2010

Dear Friends,

I have three developments I’d like to share with you in this update. One strikes close to home because it addresses the tragic death of a Johns Hopkins student last fall. Another looks at the negative impact the GOP budget cut plans will have on Baltimore City and the rest of the state. And the last gives us something to be hopeful about: the Attorney General’s recent decision concerning out-of-state same-sex marriages.

Drunk Driving Legislation

Last year, we took significant steps to curb drunk driving in Maryland. Following the recommendations of a cross-jurisdictional panel of law enforcement and transportation officials, community members, and the judiciary, Governor O’Malley and the General Assembly passed a series of bills that collectively implement a number of the recommendations of the Task Force to Combat Driving Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol. According to the Department of Transportation, one third of all fatalities over the past five years involved alcohol. The most significant of the 2009 bills imposes a mandatory one-year license suspension for a person convicted of drunk driving more than once in a five-year period. Other bills tightened underage drinking laws and addressed repeat offenders.

Following the death of Miriam Frankl, the Johns Hopkins University student who was struck and killed in Charles Village by a repeat drunk driving offender, legislation has been introduced this year making ignition interlock systems mandatory for those convicted of their first offense for drunk driving in our state. Currently, the MVA has an Ignition Interlock System program in place that establishes strong incentives for drivers to choose ignition interlock over other penalties like license suspension or revocation. A court may also order participation in the program as a condition of sentencing. Ten states in the country have a mandatory program for first time offenders with a blood alcohol content of .08 or greater; eight other states do so for a blood alcohol content of .15 or greater. It’s time we join this fight. It’s time to get drunk drivers off the road, and pedestrians out of harm’s way.

Republican Budget Cuts Target Baltimore City and Other Urban Areas

A joint hearing was held last week by the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, providing a forum for Republican leadership to formally present their suggestions on how Maryland can continue balance its budget while preserving the services that taxpayers count on. The hearing, open to the public, was held at the invitation of Democratic Leadership following a vote by the Republican members of the Spending Affordability Committee (SAC) to cut $2.5 billion from the budget. Two different plans were offered, one by the House Republican Caucus and another by Republican Senators Brinkley and Pipkin. Senate Minority Leader Kittleman chose not to attend and offer a Senate Republican leadership budget, despite both his continued public comments regarding a lack of opportunity to be part of the budget process, and his SAC vote to cut $2.5 billion.

The GOP Senate and House proposals cut $1.065 billion and $829 million from the FY 2011 budget respectively – a far cry from the $2.5 billion reduction proposed at SAC. Additionally, and very importantly for our district, the proposed GOP cuts will add up to an increase of 1.41 cents to the dollar on our Baltimore City property taxes.

A snapshot of the proposed cuts included in the plans:

  • $764 million in cuts to both our K-12 and higher education funding, including $126 million from the Global Cost of Education Index, a program that is vital to supporting the work of Baltimore City’s schools in particular
  • Thousands of layoffs and decreased compensation for all state employees and retirees, including police and corrections officers, and education staff
  • Large cuts targeting Maryland’s metropolitan areas, creating a disproportionate impact on Baltimore City
  • $55 million in transportation cuts and $38 million in public safety cuts
  • Significant phantom cuts, like “Additional Actions” or “Agency Costs” and “Efficiency Audits” to bolster their cut number without really making cuts
  • Cost shifts and reductions to county and local governments, who will respond with either cutting services or raising taxes
  • Neither offered concrete long term plans to reduce our structural deficit other than “limited” growth
  • Complete elimination of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration fund
  • A willingness to offer “symbolic” cuts designed to stoke the partisan fires, not form a bipartisan consensus on the tough cuts taxpayers expect us to make

As we move forward and the rhetoric continues to heat up, these facts are indisputable:

  • The Governor and General Assembly balance Maryland’s budget EVERY year
  • This year’s General Fund budget is $12.7 Billion and smaller than even the FY 2007 budget
  • We have cut over $5.5 billion since 2008 from the budget, making the tough decisions that our constituents expect from us
  • We have already eliminated 3,500 positions, making government smaller and more efficient
  • Maryland is one of 7 states that continues to be certified with a Triple-A bond rating

The House Appropriations Committee will hold a work session in the coming weeks to analyze these recommendations for possible inclusion in the Committee’s final budget proposal, and I will be working with the other members of the Baltimore City Delegate to make sure our districts don’t shoulder a disproportionate burden in the final accounting.

Attorney General Gansler Issues Opinion Concerning Out-of-State Same-Sex Marriages.

Lastly, I was very pleased when, a little over a week ago, the Attorney General issued his opinion that state agencies legally must recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages. In doing so, he cited constitutional provisions and other legal principles that recognize contractual agreements and laws made in other states, but we should remember that the opinion only constitutes guidance for state agencies and is not legally binding. There will likely be legal challenges to the opinion in the coming weeks, and several bills in that vein have already been introduced and heard in the House Judiciary Committee.

I am confident that these bills will fail, and hopefully there will also be significant forward momentum for several of the bills in favor of LGBT rights as a result of the AG’s decision (e.g. House Bill 808, the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act; House Bill 1022, the Gender Identity Anti-Discrimination Act; House Bill 1272, the Family Medical Leave Act; House Bill 1241, Family Law – De Facto Parents; and House Bill 462, Education – Discrimination Prohibited – Protected Classes).

In sum, we have some promising legislation, ongoing budgetary challenges, and forward momentum in one of the defining civil rights struggles before us. Please continue to send me your thoughts as we move toward the conclusion of this session in mid-April. I look forward to hearing from you.

Maggie