Maggie’s Legislative Update: Session Wrap-Up

Posted by Matt on April 17, 2015  |   Comments Off on Maggie’s Legislative Update: Session Wrap-Up

Friends,mcintosh desk

The 435th session of the Maryland General Assembly drew to a close Monday evening with a flurry of activity. This session welcomed 69 new members to the General Assembly – many of them serving for the first time – and marked my first session as chair of the Appropriations Committee.

I wanted to take this opportunity to once again thank you for entrusting me to represent you in Annapolis and to give you an update on some of the more significant pieces of legislation that passed during the 2015 session. Below, you will find synopses of many of the important bills passed this session, grouped by subject area.

I’m looking forward to being back in Baltimore and to having a chance to hear your thoughts and concerns more directly as I visit community groups in the district. As always, if you want more information on a piece of legislation or I can assist you with a constituent matter, please reach out to me or my staff and we will be happy to assist you.

Sincerely,

maggie sig

 

 

Budget

I am proud of the budget the General Assembly passed. It is a budget that is responsible and that protects the priorities of the people of Maryland without raising taxes or expanding the structural deficit. The General Assembly passed a budget WITH NO NEW TAXES for the second year in a row that restores funding Governor Hogan cut from our schools, state law enforcement and our health care delivery system including services for low income pregnant women, individuals with disabilities and other vulnerable populations, restores cuts to nursing homes, avoids a 2% salary reduction for state employees and funds a program that equalizes educational expenses. It also reduces the structural deficit over the next five years by nearly 70%, protects our valuable AAA bond rating and surpasses the recommendations of the Spending Affordability Committee. Unfortunately, the Governor has hedged about whether he will spend the $200 million the General Assembly set aside for many of these priorities, even after initially praising the budget.

What was the difference between the budget that passed nearly unanimously in March and the budget as finally passed on Sine Die?  Almost nothing. The final budget added more supplemental payments to the State’s pension fund and more aid for private schools – a priority of the governor’s – as long as Governor Hogan restores funding for public education.

Addressing the Structural Deficit

The budget we passed closes 69% of the structural deficit and will close 82% if across-the-board agency cuts proposed by the Governor actually materialize.  Governor Hogan’s budget combined with his additional requests would have only closed 63% of the structural deficit.  Our budget results in a structural deficit that is $500 million smaller over the next 5 years than the Governor’s final proposal.

Funds in Reserve

The budget leaves a cash balance of $32 million and a reserve of $814 million in the Rainy Day Fund as a hedge against economic uncertainty.

Protecting Our Bond Rating

The budget protects our AAA bond rating, a sign of fiscal responsibility.  Maryland is one of 10 states to maintain a AAA bond rating, the highest possible rating.  A high bond rating means low borrowing costs, which means more money for critical infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, and universities.

Controlling Spending

Overall State spending grows by only 1.5% in the final budget, while general fund growth is limited to 2.8%.  This growth is below the roughly 4% forecasted growth in personal income for calendar years 2015 and 2016.   The general fund is the part of the budget that we control – unlike federal and special funds. Drivers of general fund growth in this budget include education spending and other local aid, increases to our cash reserves (Rainy Day Fund), personnel expenditures including state employee health insurance and retirement payments and debt service payments.

Protecting Retirement Savings

Our budget modernizes pension funding by adopting the funding methodology recommended by pension experts and the bond rating agencies.  Our budget takes the state out of the current “corridor method” and requires full actuarial payments, which protects the pension system and the state budget from the effects of economic volatility.

The budget also mandates a yearly pension overpayment of $75 million – over and above our required annual contribution of more than $1.6 billion.  In addition, the budget includes a requirement that up to an additional $50 million more get contributed in each of the next 4 years.  Maryland is the only AAA rated state and likely the only state in the country that requires a pension overpayment.  Under this plan, the pension system will achieve 80% funding on schedule by 2023 and full funding in 2039.

Will Governor Hogan Fund Maryland’s Priorities?

Governor Hogan has said he would fund education if we could find a way.  We did.  The 2015 session has ended and it is now up to the Governor to release the funds identified by the Legislature to restore critical education, health care and state service priorities:

$68.7 m           to avoid a 2% salary cut to State employees, including law enforcement and other public safety                                         workers

$68.1 m           to fully fund public schools in Maryland (GCEI for 13 counties)

$16.1 m           to restore Medicaid physician reimbursement rates to 92% of the Medicare rate to help maintain                                      access to health care especially in rural areas

$15 m              to restore support for the planned Regional Medical Center in Prince George’s County

$6.5 m             to restore Medicaid rates for mental health providers

$4.8 m             to restore Medicaid coverage for low income, pregnant women and family planning services for low-                               income women

$4.8 m             to restore rates for providers who work to keep elderly individuals in their homes

$4.0 m             to restore cuts to nursing homes that serve Medicaid enrollees

$3.0 m             to support crisis resolution services for developmentally disabled

$2.2 m             to support purchase of care contracts for individual and family support services

$2.1 m             to restore cuts to adult day care services

$2.0 m             to increase funding for treatment of heroin addiction

$1.8 m             to restore cuts to Maryland School for the Blind

$1.7 m             to restore cuts to non-public placements for students with disabilities

$125 K             to support medical day care services for children

At his press conference on Monday, April 13, Governor Hogan called the final budget as passed by the Legislature “a good deal for the taxpayers.”  We agree.

CAPITAL BUDGET

The capital budget represents one of the State’s greatest job creation tools. The Department of Budget and Management estimates that 27,000 jobs will be created/maintained by State capital infrastructure spending this year.

In addition, the capital budget provides much needed funding to modernize schools, health care facilities, higher education campuses and make environmental improvements. This year’s capital budget includes:

  • $290 million to build schools and modernize classrooms
  • $20 million in school construction money set aside for counties struggling with high enrollment or trying to eliminate portable classrooms
  • $384 million for universities and colleges, which leverages private sector investment and helps attract research grants
  • $55 million for community colleges
  • $161 million for environmental programs to help preserve and improve the health of the Chesapeake Bay
  • $60 million for hospitals, State health facilities, federally qualified health centers, and juvenile service facilities
  • $123 million to support the affordable housing, housing shelters, transitional housing and community development projects

Additionally, the capital budget provides funding for important Baltimore City projects, including:

  • $2 million for the restoration of the Parkway Theater in Station North
  • $125,000 for St. Elizabeth School to build a playground that is accessible for special needs students
  • $50,000 for an elder abuse shelter
  • Continued funding

Education

Improving the existing Charter School law in Maryland (SB595)Maryland’s charter school law, first passed in 2003, has not been reviewed by the legislature in 12 years. There are 50 charter schools operating in Maryland, with the majority located in Baltimore City. The amended bill passed by the legislature made sensible and incremental improvements to the 12-year old law, by rewarding charter schools that do the right thing and demonstrate academic improvement for students and financial stability with greater flexibility from bureaucratic reporting requirements and personnel selections. The law also includes a study to review and define commensurate funding that will be the subject of legislation in future sessions.

Geographic Cost of Education – Requirement (SB 183) The Geographic Cost of Education (GCEI) is a formula that provides additional education aid to jurisdictions where the cost of educational resources is high, relative to other counties. This funding was part of the landmark Bridge to Excellence Act that altered funding formulas to ensure the adequacy and equity of education aid throughout the State.  While advice from the Attorney General sought by Governor Ehrlich in 2003 determined that GCEI is not mandatory, full funding for the formula has continued each year since FY 2009, giving school systems predictability in their budgeting processes.   The Governor’s FY 2016 budget proposal included GCEI at only 50%, leaving 13 counties $68 million short of what was expected.   While the legislature ultimately identified and fenced off funds to fully restore the GCEI, the Governor chose not to appropriate that money during the legislative session.   In response, SB 183 was passed making GCEI a mandatory part of State education funding in FY 2017 if the Governor chooses not to restore the $68 million cut.  The following is the amount of funding each county will receive if the bill takes effect or the Governor chooses to appropriate the funds identified by the Legislature in the budget:

Anne Arundel             $4.8 million

Baltimore City            $11.6 million

Baltimore                     $2.9 million

Calvert                          $1.1 million

Carroll                          $1.2 million

Charles                         $1.7 million

Frederick                      $3.3 million

Howard                        $2.7 million

Kent                              $68,000

Montgomery               $17.7 million

Prince George’s          $20.3 million

Queen Anne’s              $286,000

St. Mary’s                     $118,000

Funding for Private and Religious K-12 (HB 70 & HB 71) – Funding for private K-12 schools was a priority for Governor Hogan during the 2015 session.   HB  487, the Maryland Education Credit, was an Administration bill that would have created a new program to provide $5 million in State tax credits for entities and individuals that donate money to private schools. Also known as BOAST, versions of this legislation have been proposed for years and I have consistently opposed it.

While the legislation did not pass, the General Assembly recognized the Governor’s focus on this issue by including $7.5 million in additional funding for private schools through two existing State programs. The budget adds $4 million to the Textbook and Technology Program to assist approximately 350 eligible private schools around the State to purchase textbooks and technology resources for students, for a total of $10 million.  This funding is contingent upon the Governor restoring full funding of the GCEI for public schools.  In addition, the legislature included $3.5 million in the capital budget to fund upgrades and repairs at private schools around the State, despite Governor Hogan not including this funding for the first time in three years.

Capital Grant Program for Local School Systems with Significant Enrollment Growth or Relocatable Classrooms (HB 923) Over the last nine years, the State has provided nearly $3 billion in school construction funding to counties across Maryland. However, some jurisdictions are growing at a faster rate and having to rely on trailers to educate students. This legislation provides $20 million in funding to be shared by districts that have enrollment increases of 150% of the state average or a growing number of portable classrooms. The construction grants are supplemental to and not intended to take the place of regular school construction funding. This year, there are five counties that qualify for this supplemental funding, but the qualifying counties may change year-to-year.

Hunger Free Schools Act of 2015 (HB 965) The U.S. Department of Agriculture has now prohibited the use of a form to identify low-income students because of concerns over stigmatization. This bill provides a way to calculate compensatory education aid to counties over the next two years while the State identifies a better methodology for identifying food insecure and low-income children in Maryland.

Commission to Review Maryland’s Use of Assessments and Testing in Public Schools (HB 452) This legislation addresses increasing concerns regarding the relevancy and frequency of student testing in grades K-12.  In an effort to ensure that student assessments administered in our State have instructional value and a stated purpose, HB 452 creates a 19-member commission, which includes educators, legislators, parents, and other stakeholders to assess the various standardized testing requirements imposed on students. The commission is required to make recommendations on how to improve the administration of federally mandated assessments and methods to ensure that adequate time is allotted to both administering assessments and instruction by July 1, 2016.

Protecting our Environment

Stormwater Management (SB 863) Polluted runoff is one of the biggest contaminants to the Chesapeake Bay and local waterways. Amid concerns from counties wanting more flexibility to meet their federal stormwater mandates, the General Assembly passed legislation that balances environmental concerns while giving the counties greater autonomy to decide how to pay for these mitigation efforts. The bill repeals the requirement for counties to charge a fee (the so-called “rain tax”) but still requires the ten impacted counties to identify how they will address and pay for the stormwater problem in their respective jurisdictions.  This legislation was supported by both the environmental community and the business community and passed with bipartisan support.

Fracking Moratorium (HB 449) This bill imposes a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracking, preventing the State from issuing fracking permits until October 2017.  Fracking is a method of extraction whereby fluid is pumped under high pressure into the ground to force oil and natural gas out.  There is a debate as to whether fracking causes ground water contamination, earthquakes and other environmental and public health damage.  The moratorium will give the General Assembly more time to understand the consequences of fracking and to look at best practices in other states that frack.

Banning the use of Microbeads (HB 216)Synthetic plastic beads in cosmetic and personal care items cannot be processed by wastewater treatment plants, so they flow into the Bay and local waterways, where they are ingested by fish and other aquatic animals. This is not just an environmental issue but also a public health issue, as people can then consume these beads by eating local seafood. Under this legislation, Maryland will ban the manufacture of products using microbeads in 2017 and ban their sale by the end of 2018.

Community Solar Energy Generating System Program (HB 1087) Maryland has tremendous capacity to take advantage of solar energy generation. Community solar enables groups of Marylanders to share the cost of construction of solar panels in return for a share of the electricity generated by those panels.  This legislation will enable renters, people who live in homes that are shaded, or others unable to put solar panels on their home to invest in these community solar facilities. Community solar will encourage growth in generation of renewable energy and help us reach our 20% renewable portfolio goal by 2022.

Maryland Commission on Climate Change (HB 514)   Maryland, with our thousands of miles of coastline, is particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change.  The Climate Change Commission was established by Governor O’Malley to address the causes and consequences of climate change in Maryland and develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. This bill makes the Commission permanent and requires the Commission to use science based sea level rise projections to conduct an assessment of the impact that climate change has on agriculture in the State.

Increased Tax Credit for Oyster Shell Recycling (SB 694)  This bill increased the existing oyster shell recycling income tax credit to $5.00, instead of $1.00, for each bushel of oyster shells recycled per year, not to exceed $750 per tax return. Oysters are the Bay’s natural filter and oyster spat grows best on natural oyster shell. Right now, University of Maryland often has to ship oyster shell in from other states. This program is another tool to support the health of the Bay and local waterways.

Real Solutions to Grow Maryland’s Economy

Last year, President Miller and Speaker Busch announced the creation of the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission, also known as the Augustine Commission. The private-sector led Commission made recommendations on how to improve the State’s business climate.

The General Assembly passed five bills to implement these recommendations that were supported by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and other local business organizations to improve Maryland’s business climate:

  • Advisory Commission on new regulations (HB 939) – This bill creates a stronger process to determine whether new regulations have an impact on small businesses, based on an evaluation by an advisory commission that includes private sector stakeholders.
  • Customer Service Training for frontline workers (HB 940) – The Augustine Commission highlighted the concern across Maryland with the “culture” of State government. The Governor’s Office will now establish a new state customer service training program for front-line state agencies that interact with the private sector and the public.
  • Capitalizing on Academic Discoveries (HB 941) – A new State task force will examine ways to improve technology transfer from higher education into the marketplace.
  • Apprenticeship Maryland (HB 942) – The Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation will create a new pilot program, “Apprenticeship Maryland,” to create more workforce development opportunities for young people.
  • Realigning the structure of economic development delivery in Maryland (HB 943) – Currently, Maryland has economic development programs spread across five different State agencies. Legislation passed by the General Assembly creates a new structure, led by a Secretary of Commerce, with realigned economic development functions to build upon organizational strengths and to ensure the clarity of state resources to better serve the private sector, both inside Maryland and those looking to move to Maryland. The legislation also increases the advisory capacity of the private-sector led Maryland Economic Development Commission.

Combating Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence

Higher Ed Sexual Assault Policy and Survey (HB 571) – Several national studies have shown that one in five women is sexually assaulted while in college.  These studies and recent high profile incidents of campus sexual assault have focused increased attention on the development of laws and policies to educate the public and bring about a culture change that will reduce incidents and encourage victims to come forward.   HB 571 requires higher education institutions to pursue formal agreements with rape crisis centers and with local and campus law enforcement, as well as allow survivors and witnesses to report sexual violence without fear of being charged with other college conduct code violations.

Preserving evidence against rapists (HB 382 and HB 462) HB 382 requires a health care provider to provide a sexual assault victim with the results of their forensic exam kit and contact information for the investigating law enforcement agency. HB462 mandates a law enforcement audit, including an inventory of all sexual assault evidence kits to determine the extent of unsubmitted and unanalyzed sexual assault forensic kits. DNA in these kits is one of the best ways to secure convictions in cases of sexual assault.

Expanding protective order protections (HB 224, HB 390 and SB 477) – Each year, there are nearly 28,000 victims of domestic violence in the State of Maryland. Three new laws will help protect victims:

  • HB 224 will allow domestic violence victims to consent to a two year final protective order in certain circumstances.
  • SB 477 expands who can file for a protective order to include those in a dating relationship within one year of the filing for the order. This helps domestic violence victims in abusive dating relationships that do not currently have the protections given by a protective order, including removal of a firearm under a final protective order.
  • HB 390 allows a victim of sexual assault to seek a protective order or a peace order if the act of abuse happened outside of Maryland.

Criminal Justice Reforms

Helping people return to productive roles in society (HB 244, HB 304 and HB 944)  Two expungement bills allow a person to petition for the removal of non-convictions and other actions by the court (like a probation before judgment, acquittal or nolle prossequi) from his or her criminal record. An individual must follow the same procedure for expungement and a prosecutor has the opportunity to request a hearing before a judge for the ultimate determination. These laws give an opportunity for people to secure employment and housing opportunities, dissuading recidivism

The Second Chance Act (HB 244) allows a person to “shield” certain convictions one time in one jurisdiction from public view three years after a sentence has been exhausted, except for domestically-related crime, if he/she petitions the court and a judge finds good cause to shield the record. If a person is convicted of a new crime during a specified time, no record would be shielded. The Task Force on Prisoner Reentry in 2011 recommended that certain crimes be shielded from public view in order to facilitate reentry after a criminal sentence is served, allowing for viable employment and housing options in the future. These records will still be available to both law enforcement and the courts.

Repealing mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes (HB 121)   This legislation repeals the requirement for mandatory minimum 10-year sentences for some repeat drug offenders and instead gives judges the discretion to sentence drug crimes, including treatment options, jail sentences with parole and other rehabilitation options. Many states and the federal government are moving away from mandatory minimum sentences on drug crimes, since they have not demonstrated consistent rehabilitation.

Aligning marijuana laws (HB105) Last year, the Maryland General Assembly made possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana a civil crime. Legislation this year closes a loophole that left marijuana paraphernalia as a jailable offense, while possession of marijuana was a citationable offense.

Increasing penalties for assaults on first responders (HB236)Currently, Maryland law requires a felony second-degree assault charge for the intentional physical injury of a law enforcement officer. This bill expands the law to cover a firefighter, an emergency medical technician, a rescue squad member, or any other first responder engaged in providing emergency medical care or rescue services.

Establishing the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (HB 388) Nationally, many states have engaged in a bipartisan process that evaluates how a state can improve its public safety system resulting in cost savings and a subsequent direction of those savings towards investment in programs that reduce recidivism, increase treatment for drug addiction and funding for job skills training. The bill establishes a legislative and executive Coordinating Council that would request technical assistance from the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Safety Performance Project of the Pew Center on the States for development of a use a data-driven justice reinvestment approach. This will lead to a statewide policy framework to reduce spending on corrections and reinvest in strategies to increase public safety and reduce recidivism.

Studying new policies for Youth Victims of Human Trafficking (HB456) Twenty eight states have legislation addressing safe harbor issues for youth victims of human trafficking. Legislation already signed by the Governor establishes a workgroup to study opportunities in Maryland to protect youth victims of human trafficking and make recommendations to establish a network of services for these victims by December 2015.

New sanctions for drunk driving accidents results in death (HB430) This law enhances the administrative sanctions that must be imposed on a person who is involved in a DUI-related fatal collision, if the blood alcohol concentration is 0.08 or higher. Under this law, a person is not eligible to have a driver’s license reinstated for the first 6 months to 1 year for first offense or one year or a potential lifetime revocation for a second offense. 594 crashes in Maryland involved alcohol and/or drug impairment from 2009-2013. While Maryland is below the national rate for alcohol-impaired fatalities, this law will impose additional sanctions to prevent drunk driving.

Preventing Police Brutality

Increasing government tort payments (HB113/HB114) Legislation passed this year increases the liability limits for a civil claim against a local government to $400,000 and against the State government to $800,000. The local cap was last raised 28 years ago in 1987 and the State cap has not been raised since 1999.

Award of Attorney’s Fees for Violation of a State Constitutional Right (HB283) This bill passed by the House authorizes a court to award reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses to a prevailing plaintiff for any claim against the State or a local government, if the claim is for a violation of a Maryland Constitutional right. This bill was passed by the House but failed in the Senate.

Enabling the use of body cameras in police departments across Maryland (HB533)  This law supported by law enforcement across Maryland creates an exception to the wiretap statute for officers using body cameras if (1) the officer is in uniform, prominently displaying the officer’s badge or other insignia; (2) the officer is making reasonable efforts to conform to standards established by the Police Training Commission or State Police; (3) the officer is a party to the oral communication; (4) the officer notifies the other person they are being recorded, as soon as practicable. This law was critical to enabling every police department and law enforcement in the State to establish a body camera program without violating Maryland law.

Increasing reporting of race-based traffic stops and deaths involving police officers (HB339 and HB954) –  These two bills require the State to implement a model policy against race-based traffic stops and model electronic format for the collection of race-based traffic stop data for all law enforcement agencies in the State. In 2007, the General Assembly first required reporting by law enforcement agencies on traffic stops to the State. The 2013 report found Caucasians stopped 47% of the time and African-Americans 39.5% on traffic stops.

HB 954 requires each local law enforcement agency beginning January 1, 2016, to annually provide State Police with information about each “officer-involved death” and “death in the line of duty” that involves a law enforcement officer employed by the agency.

Combating the Heroin Epidemic

Supporting law enforcement that save lives (HB368) – Currently under Maryland law, a police officer administering a life-saving drug for a heroin overdose is not protected from civil lawsuits. HB368 allows law enforcement officers who have been trained to administer narcan, naloxone and other life-saving drugs from civil liability.

Treatment Funding (HB70) – The operating budget identifies $2 million of funding to expand treatment for heroin addiction.   While the Legislature cannot force Governor Hogan to release these funds, they are part of a longer list of priorities about which he is expected to make a decision before July 1.   In addition, the budget restores cuts to agencies and individuals on the frontline of the fight against heroin addiction, including $3.9 million for local health departments and $6.5 million for mental health providers.

Joint Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders (HB896):  The bill establishes the Joint Legislative Committee on Behavioral Health and Opioid Use Disorders, which will have oversight over State and local programs that treat and reduce opioid use disorders.  The Committee will identify areas of concern and recommend corrective measures to the Governor and the General Assembly.

Public Health:  Overdose Response Program (HB745):  The bill expands the Overdose Response Program within the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene by authorizing an advanced practice nurse or a licensed physician to prescribe and dispense naloxone to a certificate holder either directly or under a standing order.  The bill also establishes immunity for those who prescribe, dispense, and administer naloxone under the bill’s provisions.

Caring for the Disabled Community

Increased Tax Credit for Hiring Employees with Disabilities (HB 473) HB 473 increases the value of the existing Qualifying Employees with Disabilities Tax Credit beginning in Tax Year 2015. Under the bill, employers can now claim a tax credit equal of 30% of the first $9,000 of wages paid to the qualifying employee for each of the first two years of employment.

Ethan Saylor Alliance for Self-Advocates as Educators (HB 1161)  In September 2013, Governor O’Malley established the Commission for Effective Community Inclusion of Individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.  The order was issued partly as a response to the death of Maryland resident Ethan Saylor, a 26 year-old with Down syndrome who died after an altercation with off-duty Frederick County sheriff’s deputies in a movie theater.  House Bill 1161 establishes the Ethan Saylor Alliance for Self-Advocates as Educators within the Maryland Department of Disabilities.  The alliance will advance the “community inclusion” of disabled individuals by educating others – particularly law enforcement – about appropriate and effective interactions with individuals with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities.

Task Force to Study the Maryland Able Program (HB 1105)  In December 2014, Congress passed and the President signed the Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act that creates tax-exempt savings accounts to allow individuals with disabilities and their families to help pay for qualified disability expenses.  The accounts, modeled after the 529 college savings plans, require state level implementation after the ABLE Act was enacted at the federal level last year. The General Assembly passed HB 1105 that establishes a Task Force to Study the Maryland ABLE Program.  The task force will report its findings and recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly before the end of the year.

Tax Policy

Tax Amnesty (HB 1233)A new Tax Amnesty program requires the Comptroller to conduct a one-time tax amnesty period in the fall for delinquent taxpayers.  The amnesty period would allow delinquent taxpayers to pay one-half of the interest and penalties owed and serves as an additional tax compliance program to ensure full payment of the proper taxes owed by individuals and corporations.

Closing an Internet Tax Loophole (HB 1065) – This legislation closes a tax loophole exploited by online travel websites (like Orbitz or Travelocity).  The bill clarifies existing law to ensure that online travel companies collect and remit Maryland’s existing sales tax based on the retail price of a hotel room charged to customers – in the same way that Maryland’s brick and mortar hotels already collect sales taxes from customers.  The legislation received broad-based support from the local business community including the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, Marriott International, Hilton Hotels, Gaylord National and the Maryland Hotel and Lodging Association.

Extension of the Film Production Activity Tax Credit (SB 905).  Senate Bill 905 repeals the existing June 30, 2016 termination date for the Film Production Activity Tax Credit.  SB 905 makes the program a budgeted tax credit, similar to other economic development tools like the Biotechnology Investment Incentive Tax Credit.  DBED must report annually on the amount needed to maintain the current level of film production activity in Maryland (for shows like Veep and House of Cards) and the amount needed to attract new productions to the State.  The legislation also requires DBED to report annually on the number of small businesses and certified minority business enterprises that directly provide goods and services to productions receiving the Maryland film tax credit.

Equality Issues

Fertility Services Equality (HB838)   This bill will prevent insurance companies from treating same-sex couples differently from heterosexual couples in regard to fertility services and will ensure same-sex couples receive the same benefits for fertility services as heterosexual couples.

New Certificates of Birth – Sex Change or Diagnosis of an Intersex Condition (HB 862)   Maryland will now provide transgender residents the right to obtain an updated birth certificate that represents the gender that matches his/her driver’s license, passport and other vital documents if certified by a licensed healthcare professional, a court order, or under procedures issued under regulations by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  Many states across the country are passing legislation to provide this protection to transgender people and, as of 2010, the U.S. State Department does not require proof of sex-reassignment surgery in order to alter passports.

Supporting Our Veterans

Commemorating Those Who Served in Vietnam (HB 1118) – March 30th will now be commemorated as Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day in Maryland, to honor the sacrifice and courage of veterans of the Vietnam War.

Veterans In-State Tuition (HB 799) – This bill aligns Maryland with the federal CHOICE Act, which requires Maryland public universities and colleges to provide in-state tuition to veterans and dependents eligible to receive GI bill benefits.

Expanding Military Retirement Income Deduction (SB 592)We are now expanding the existing military retirement income tax subtraction modification from $5,000 to $10,000 for military retirees in Maryland who are at least 65 years old, to support our veterans.

Election Legislation

Fair Campaign Financing Fund – Income Tax Checkoff (HB 485) In the 2014 election, two major gubernatorial candidates participated in the public funding system for their races.  HB 485 will protect the financial solvency of the program so it is available in the future by restoring the voluntary income tax checkoff for the fair campaign fund, allows the State Board of Elections to transfer money from fines into the fund and allows donations to the fund.  The bill modernizes the rules for participating in the fund and prohibits an individual from taking public funding and coordinating any fundraising activities with an outside group.

Persons Doing Public Business – Statements of Contributions (HB 769) This bill corrects an ambiguity in legislation passed in 2013 and ensures that if a company has a contract with the State they must disclose their political activity.

Restoration of Voting Rights for Ex Felons (HB 980)  Over 40,000 Marylanders are not able to have a voice in government.  Under current law, ex-felons are unable to gain their voting rights until after they complete their parole and probation. The current law is difficult for election officials to administer, because the data on parole and probation is often difficult to interpret and is incomplete.  This legislation sets a clear-cut rule: once a person is released from incarceration they are eligible to register to vote.  The people who have the most contact with this population, represented by the American Parole and Probation Association, support this bill.  They testified that there is significant evidence that “civic participation is linked to reducing recidivism.”  Maryland joins thirteen states and the District of Columbia allowing individuals to vote immediately after their release from prison.

Petition Protection, Advance Determination of Sufficiency of Local Law or Charter Amendment Summary (HB 284) One of the most important rights citizens have is the ability to petition legislation to the ballot.  This bill allows a person or group seeking a petition to get an advanced ruling on the legality of the language of the petition to prevent a group from expending resources only to later learn the petition was insufficient to be placed on the ballot.

Voters’ Rights Protection Act of 2015 (HB 73) Voter suppression tactics, and fraudulent voting are already illegal, however, often the only remedy available comes after the election has been decided.  HB 73 allows a person to directly petition the Attorney General (or the State Prosecutor if the violation occurs in the Attorney General’s race) to seek an injunction.

Inaugural Committees Disclosure (HB 775) This legislation closes a loophole that allowed an inaugural committee to take unlimited contributions and not disclose who gave the money or how the money was spent. Under this legislation, an inaugural committee must report all donations and expenditures and file a report with the State Board of Elections.

Counting of Properly Cast Ballots (HB 884) If a person legally and properly casts a ballot it should be counted.  This legislation clarifies state law related to the treatment of absentee ballots and ensures that legally cast ballots will be treated in the same manner as every other ballot.

Canvass of Votes – Public Observation (SB 5)  Public observation of the vote count prevents fraud and ensures the public trust in the outcome of an election.  This bill requires the same procedures and openness in the counting of early votes as absentee and Election Day votes.

Open Government

Enhanced Public Information Act Enforcement (HB 755) HB 755 is an important step forward to guarantee open government and transparency for all Maryland citizens.  HB 755 updates the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) to ensure that fees and exemptions are not used to deny public access to data.  The bill creates an oversight body with authority to mediate disputes surrounding MPIA decisions.

Disclosure of Public Records (HB 674) HB 674 requires each State and local government unit that holds records to identify a representative that members of the public should contact to request a public record.  The unit of government must post up-to-date contact information on the unit’s website and submit it to the Office of the Attorney General on an annual basis.

Reporting and Auditing Public Service Contracts (HB 158) – When the State pursues a service contract outside of the normal collective bargaining process, the State will now be required to meet with the bargaining unit and  be required to conduct audits when tax dollars are spent to determine the benefit of the contract.

Other Important Legislation

African American Heritage Preservation Program (HB 130) The purpose of the program is to identify and preserve buildings, communities, and sites of historical and cultural importance to the African American experience in Maryland. The bill enables this important program to continue to protect the historical sites of African Americans in Maryland.

Ride-sharing framework for Uber and Lyft (SB 868)SB868 establishes a regulatory structure that allows transportation network services such as Uber and Lyft to continue legal operations in Maryland.  The legislation is consistent with frameworks recently adopted in Virginia and the District of Columbia.  Under the bill, companies like Uber and Lyft would be required to register with the Maryland Public Service Commission, conduct background checks on drivers and maintain at least $1 million in liability insurance.

Kari’s Law – Direct Dial 911 (HB 1080) This simple bill will save lives by requiring new multi-line telephone systems to directly dial 911.  The term “Kari’s Law” is in honor of Kari Rene Hunt Dunn, who was stabbed to death in 2014 inside a hotel room in Texas, allegedly by her estranged husband.  Although her young daughter could hear that her mother was in serious trouble, she did not realize that she first had to dial “9” for an outside line before dialing 9-1-1.

Organ Donor Program Signup Expansion (HB592) Organ donation saves thousands of lives each year.  This legislation will provide more opportunities for people to sign-up for the program via clerks of the courts and the Motor Vehicle Administration without any additional cost to the budget.

Flexible Leave – Use of Leave for Family Illness (HB 345) This legislation prohibits an employer from taking disciplinary or retaliatory action against an employee because the employee has requested paid leave due to an illness of a member of the employee’s immediate family.  Under current law, a private-sector employer who provides paid leave must allow an employee to use earned paid leave to care for immediate family members.

Alcohol- or Drug-Related Medical Emergencies (HB 1009) This bill expands the statutory immunity concerning the seeking or providing of assistance for a medical emergency after ingesting or using alcohol or drugs.

Sale of Electronic Cigarette Components and Supplies to Minors (HB 489) – It is already illegal under Maryland law to sell electronic cigarettes to minors.  However, the law did not prohibit the sale of the components of the device to minors, this legislation closes that loophole.

Employment Discrimination, Protection for Interns (HB 229)This bill gives interns the same employment protections as employees to be free from discrimination or harassment based on race, religion, sex, age, disability, national origin, and sexual orientation, without creating new liabilities for employers.  This new law requires an employers internal complaint process to be accessible to interns or the intern may access State administrative processes to file a complaint.