2018 End of Session LetterApril 11, 2018
At midnight on April 9th, the gavel came down for the final time on the 2018 Legislative session. The legislative process this session included some wins and some losses. I believe that constituent communication is vital and so I want to share with you some of the session highlights and provide a brief overview of the positions I took. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact my office, I would be happy to answer your questions.
The most important, and the only Constitutional requirement that the legislature must pass, is a balanced budget.
I am happy to report that for the fourth straight year Maryland balanced its $43.5 Billion dollar budget.
St. Mary’s County
The budget included record funding for education with nearly $8 billion in total. I am proud to report that St. Mary’s County will receive a record high amount of $7,004 per child in State funding. This reconfirms our commitment to education, however, it is my opinion that financial inequality still exists between rural and metropolitan areas.
In the Capital Budget, Governor Hogan included $28 million in funding for the $80 million dollar UAS research facility at the Southern Maryland Regional Higher Education Center located in Hollywood. This is a project the Delegation supported and has worked for over the last 4 years. Unfortunately, for what I can only assume are mostly political reasons, the funding was deferred from the Capital Budget until next year, pending a report from USM.
FY ’19 Budget Highlights Statewide
- $163.7 Million in Existing Non-Medicaid Substance Use Disorder Treatment Programs.
- Police Aid to Local Governments and Municipalities Increases to $74.5 Million.
- The Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Invests $52.9 Million In The Chesapeake And Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund. Since taking office Governor Hogan has invested nearly $200 Million in the fund. Additionally, for the third year in a row, and only the third time in state history, no budget actions will divert funding away from Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.
Budget Reconciliation and Finance Act (BRFA)
This bill provides accounting for the estimated $782 million in revenue the State will receive as a result of the Trump Federal Tax Cuts passed in January. As estimated by the Comptroller, Marylanders will receive a tax cut of $2.75 billion from the Federal Government. However, due to the loss of the itemized deductions, many taxpayers will see their state and local taxes go up significantly. A press conference was held by Democrats in January promising to “hold harmless” the people who would be hurt by the Trump Tax Cut. Yet, when it came down to giving this money back to the taxpayers, the majority party failed to follow through on their promise. The BRFA fences off $300 million in additional spending and keep's it in the hands of government - breaking the promise of returning money back to the people who earned it. As you may have guessed, I voted no to the bill, reconfirming my pledge not to raise taxes.
HB 1509- Maryland Health Benefit Exchange – Individual Exchange – Copper Plans to Lower Rates
This bill would have enabled the creation of “Copper” Health Insurance Plans which were designed to provide a major medical insurance option for people in the individual market. My plan eliminated many of the useless benefits mandated by Maryland state law, but still offered the 10 essential benefits under as defined under the ACA. The fiscal note indicated that premiums would be an average of 24% cheaper with this type of reduced plan. There is an estimated 174,000 people in Maryland who slip between the cracks and do not qualify for Obamacare subsidies, yet do not have health insurance because they cannot afford it. I think that is wrong and not what Obamacare promised. I drew up this plan to offer an affordable option to bring those people back into the market. The bill was never voted on in committee.
HB 1377- Income Tax - Subtraction Modification - Income from Retirement Plans
This bill gives the same tax break to individuals who have a privately funded retirement plan, (IRA, 401K) that the General Assembly gave last year for first responders. The bill was voted down in committee.
HB 948- Estates and Trusts – Transfer From Revocable Trust – Exemption from Tax
This bill, with amendment, exempts real property and vehicles from recordation, transfer and excise taxes when transferring the property upon the settlor’s death. This bill was passed by both chambers.
HB 1608- Real Property - Trust Money - Escrow Trust Accounts
This legislation protects both home buyers and sellers by laying out uniform standard requirements for the handling of escrow money. The bill was voted down in committee.
HB 1376- Pharmacy Benefits - Processing and Adjudication of Claims - Restrictions on Fees
This bill was requested by independent pharmacists in our community in order to help local pharmacies keep their prices low and consistent by disallowing PBM’s (Pharmacy Benefits Managers) from charging local pharmacies unlimited and undisclosed fees on Rx several months after the point of purchase. The bill was withdrawn, but portions of this bill were amended on to another larger bill that covers the same subject matter.
SB 211- Behavioral Health Programs - Medical Directors - Telehealth
This bill allows behavioral health programs to be located in a health professional shortage area to satisfy any regulatory requirement that the medical director is on site through the medical director’s use of telehealth. This bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House. I supported this legislation.
HB 1782- Health Insurance – Individual Market Stabilization (Maryland Health Care Access Act of 2018)
This bill constitutes levying a 2.75% tax on all healthcare insurance providers to fund what is essentially a bailout of Obamacare in the individual market. This tax will certainly be passed down to all insurance consumers. I voted no.
House Bill 356 – General Assembly and Congressional Legislative Redistricting Apportionment Commission
A recent poll indicates 72% of Marylanders want redistricting to be handled by a bipartisan commission. The overwhelming majority of people stands with the Governor and want to do what is right. The Constitution is pretty clear on this; it says representation is chosen by the people. With the politically-slanted district lines in Maryland, you could make a strong argument that representation is chosen by politicians in Annapolis, instead of by the people. That is clearly wrong. My hope has always been that Democrats would evolve on this issue and not disenfranchise 40% of the voters in the state simply for raw political power. Unfortunately, this bill was voted down in Rules Committee, meaning they never gave it a chance to proceed through the system.
SB1048- Secure and Accessible Registration Act
This bill requires the MVA to automatically register people to vote at the point of MVA transactions (license renewals, etc.). Current law already exists that require MVA employees to ask whether an individual would like to register. Again, this has the great potential to lead to voter fraud. I voted no.
One victory this session was the defeat of the ban on possession of a magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds. HB 991 criminalizes anyone currently owning or possessing a magazine with a higher than 10 round capacity, with penalties including fines and jail time. This is an unconstitutional seizure of private property. My colleague Delegate Deb Rey successfully fought against this bill in Judiciary and as a result, it was withdrawn by the sponsor.
HB 1302- Public Safety - Extreme Risk Prevention Orders
One of the more complicated political bills was a bill known to us as the “Red Flag” legislation. This legislation applies ex-parte laws to disarm citizens in cases where the individual is a potential harm to themselves or others. This bill was ignored by many pro-gun groups and not a single group wrote a letter of opposition. A late amendment to the bill in the House expanded this legislation negatively. Amendments on the House Floor to address due process and mental health concerns were voted down. The bill went to the Senate where it was our hope that it would be fixed to address both due processes as well as addressing the mental health of the individual. The NRA reviewed the legislation and gave a neutral opinion. However, my concerns over both due process and mental health were still not fully rectified and I voted no.
HB 1461- Criminal Procedure – Immigration (SAFE Act)
The bill is the new version of the sanctuary state bill. This bill encourages lawlessness by granting criminal or civil immunity to any state or local government official (Law Enforcement Officer) for refusing to provide information to the federal government in regards to potential illegal criminals. Fortunately, this bill died in committee and was defeated for the second year in a row.
HB 420- Higher Education – Financial Aid – In–State Students
This bill will grant non-citizens, or children of non-citizens, eligibility to receive taxpayer-funded scholarships at Maryland colleges. Essentially, the number of people competing for the same finite amount of scholarship money, funded and provided by taxpayers, will increase tremendously and I had a concern that this policy would unfairly impact the way these scholarships are granted. I offered an amendment that would require priority be given to U.S. citizens, but the amendment was voted down. I voted no.
HB 372- Maryland Metro/Transit Funding Act
This bill establishes a “Maryland Metro Dedicated Fund Account” in the Transportation Trust Fund. The Transportation Trust Fund’s main funding source comes from the gas tax, paid largely by drivers in rural areas, such as ours. 59% of this fund already goes to mass transit; this bill would require a mandatory $167,000,000 to be raided from the Fund Account to pay capital costs of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, annually. I believe this disproportionally affects rural area road and bridge improvements. I voted no.
HB 1783- This was a good bill that got amended for political reasons at the 11th hour. The bill, as amended, removes the Board of Public Works from overseeing billions of dollars in school construction funds and gives the responsibility to the Interagency Commission on School Construction (IAC). The Board of Public Works is comprised of the Governor, the Comptroller and the Treasurer. But, the IAC is an unelected, unaccountable body consisting of political appointees, which have historically included lobbyists and individuals with potential conflicts of interest. I stood with the Governor and voted no. The Governor vetoed this bill, however, it was overturned by the legislature.
SB 1265-Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018
This bill makes comprehensive changes designed to improve the safety of the State’s public schools. It enhances the presence of school resource officers (SROs) and/or local law enforcement in or near public schools and requires SROs to complete specialized training. It establishes a School Safety Subcabinet, which also serves as the governing board for the Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS). The bill establishes a Safe Schools Fund to make grants to local school systems to assist in implementing the bill’s provisions and provides for a total of $40,600,000 in funding for school safety. I voted yes.
SB122-Criminal Law – Comprehensive Crime Bill of 2018
Despite Baltimore City being recently named by USA Today as the "Most Dangerous City in America", the Legislative Black and Latino Caucus stalled the comprehensive crime bill in the House. Members of both groups are concerned that harsher sentences in the bill would fall disproportionately on minorities. The bill cracks down on repeat violent offenders. The bill has staunch support in the Senate and is supported by Governor Hogan. While the bill didn’t pass, good sense prevailed and the legislation was broken up and added onto to other bills, which passed. I supported the provisions in this bill.
Taxes and veterans retirement
SB 134 – Small Business Relief Tax Credit – this legislation gives an income tax credit to small businesses that provide paid sick leave to their employees. This is the Governor’s initiative to help ease the burden the paid sick leave bill will have on small businesses. I voted yes.
SB 996- Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Retirement Income (Hometown Heroes and Veterans Act of 2018)
This bill increases the subtraction modification for military retirement income from $10,000 to $15,000 for individuals who are at least 55 years old. It also extends the benefit to retired corrections officers. I voted yes.
We saw nearly three thousand proposed bills this year, and it is extremely important that I hear from residents! I’m grateful that I heard from all of you - by phone, testimony, and emails - lots of emails! It is my desire that we keep this dialog open for the rest of the year and into the 2019 convening of the General Assembly. Please do feel free to contact me or my office if there is a need.