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

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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.