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End of 2019 Session Wrap-Up

April 19, 2019

statehouse.jpgAs the gavel came down for the final time at midnight on the 2019 legislative session, the mood was somber and reflective as the General Assembly mourned the loss of Speaker and District 30 Delegate, Mike Busch. I am glad to have had a chance to serve with him and get to know him over the last 5 years. While we differed on many political issues, I will forever admire how he consistently conducted business with fairness and professionalism.

As the session started this year, I was named the Deputy Minority Leader of the House.  Serving on the leadership team for the Republican Caucus, I supported fellow members by developing the minority position on legislation, negotiating with the majority party on legislative differences, directing minority caucus activities and coordinating and leading debate for the minority party on the house floor. I am humbled by the trust and faith that my colleagues have shown by selecting me to serve in this position.

The legislative session, as it always does, includes both wins and losses.  As your representative, it is my duty to keep you informed and aware of legislation that has the potential to both help and harm our community.  For this reason, I want to highlight certain legislation and provide you with a brief overview of the past session.

Budget

Operating Budget

The most important, and only Constitutional requirement of the legislature, is to pass a balanced budget.  It is one of the most scrutinized votes of the legislative session. 

Over 80% of the budget is mandated; therefore the Governor and the Legislature can only affect roughly 20% of the overall budget. Once the Governor submits his proposal, the Legislature has the ability to propose changes. This year, the budget process started in the House of Delegates. The House Appropriations Committee greatly altered the budget from what was originally proposed by the Governor.  I had serious concerns about this version of the budget: the dramatic increase in the structural deficit, cuts made to private schools, and the broken promise of extra money for teachers’ pension.  The good news is the Senate amended the budget to address many of those concerns. I voted for the budget in the final version and the bill passed into law.

Capital Budget

The Capital Budget funds infrastructure and other capital projects across the state.  This year, major funding for St. Mary’s County includes:

  • $ 2,500,000 for the Historic Dove
  • $ 1,000,000 for Historic St. Mary’s City facilities renewal
  • $ 17,033,000 for the academic building and auditorium for the St. Mary’s College of Maryland
  • $ 11,900,000 for the Southern Maryland Regional Higher Education Center, commonly referred to as the “third building”.

 

Business

HB166 – Minimum Wage (Fight for Fifteen): Small businesses are the backbone of Maryland’s economy.  They are the job creators that offer opportunities for people to get ahead both socially and economically in our state.  Mandating an arbitrary higher minimum wage makes Maryland less competitive in the small business sector, and will result in loss of jobs. Due to the passing of this legislation, Maryland’s minimum wage will be double that of Virginia and Pennsylvania and nearly double West Virginia and Delaware. Areas of our state like Ridge, MD will now have the same minimum wage as Manhattan, NY.  The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) projects this change will result in a loss of nearly 100,000 jobs over the next ten years. This change in policy will undoubtedly hurt the same people it intends to help.  HB 166 passed, was vetoed by the Governor, and then sustained by the General Assembly before the end of the session. I voted no against this bill and stood with the Governor in his veto of this legislation. This bill passed into law.

 

Environment

There is a fine line between protecting the environment and protecting the needs of Maryland commerce. Issues like the plastic straw and polystyrene bans straddle these lines. Three bills were introduced which I believe do nothing to help the environment. They instead provide a taxpayer-funded subsidy to private companies for inefficient technology and provide a “feel-good” panacea to environmentalists. 

SB 516 – Clean Energy Jobs: Despite what its title may lead you to believe, this legislation has little to do with actually creating jobs in this state. Instead, it will dramatically drive up electricity bills while creating jobs in other states. This will be devastating to the elderly and others on fixed incomes. The Maryland Department of the Environment estimates that the increased costs of electricity in residential, commercial, and industrial sectors combined will increase $755 million by 2030, primarily because of this legislation. A conservative estimate by the Department of Legislative Services has residential bills increasing by nearly $500 when fully implemented, which is just a bad deal for ratepayers.  Additionally, it requires 14.5% of energy to come from in-state solar.  This will result in an estimated 24,000 acres of solar panels throughout the state.  The Republicans pushed for an amendment to prohibit clear-cutting forests to build solar farms, but the amendment was voted down along party lines.  I do not agree with the idea that we need to destroy nature to save it and will continue to fight for compromise when it involves large scale solar on productive farmland and mass deforestation. I voted no, but the legislation passed into law.  

HB 136/SB 314 - Bird-Safe Building Standards: This is the second attempt at this legislation which would mandate government buildings be designed to be “bird safe.” This bill limits the amount of glass used while requiring a certain percentage of natural light be inside the building. The legislation seems to be contradictory with the “Clean Energy Jobs” bill mentioned above, which mandates the clear-cutting forests for solar farms and the building of wind turbines, which themselves chop up migrating birds. Both bills require massive spending of taxpayer dollars. I voted no, but the legislation passed into law.  

HB 109 - Environment – Expanded Polystyrene Food Service Products – Prohibitions: This legislation was a top priority for the Majority Party, and is being celebrated as a huge win for the environment. The bill bans only Styrofoam food containers. Again, this is a feel-good bill since it does not address the Styrofoam packing materials that fill the box when you purchase a new television or other major appliances which result in far greater amounts of Styrofoam than egg cartons and take out containers. Ironically, science supports the recycling of polystyrene. In fact, it is one of the easiest and cheapest materials to recycle; yet Republican amendments to develop and incentivize recycling of polystyrene were voted down in favor of a ban on food containers. I voted no, but the legislation passed into law.

 

Tax Relief

I was happy to co-sponsor several tax relief bills:  

HB 149/SB170 – Retirement Tax Fairness Act of 2019: This bill extends state tax exemptions to workers that are self-employed and provide those same exemptions as pension retirement plans.  Unfortunately, the bill failed ​​in committee.

HB 854 – Commonsense Tax Cut Act of 2019: This was a Republican Caucus initiative which sought to lower income tax rates for Marylanders by providing over $600 million in tax relief. Again, it is unfortunate, but the bill failed in committee.

HB 327, HB450, HB598 & SB906 Income Tax – Itemized Deductions:  For over a year, I and many other Republicans have been warning about a “stealth tax increase” caused by federal tax changes.  While many are paying less in federal taxes, losing the ability to deduct and itemize your state taxes, for some, has caused a tax increase.  A simple solution would have been to decouple your federal taxes and itemize on your state return.  Several bills in both the House and Senate aimed to fix this problem, but all were met with the same outcome as the Majority Party simply had other plans for your hard earned money.  All bills, unfortunately, failed in committee in both chambers.    

 

Firearms and Public Safety

This year, as always, there were several gun control bills that were actively lobbied by the anti-gun organization “Moms Demand Action”.  These bills were concerning because they sought to heavily infringe and curtail the right to keep and bear arms.  The majority of the bills were significantly amended, watered down and simply did not pass, which is a win for the 2A community. Here are the five most significant bills:

HB 612 - Colt AR-15 Sporter H-BAR Rifle: Introduced as a ban on the H-Bar, this bill is indicative of the true desire of the Majority Party to ban all guns. The bill received a hearing in committee but was shelved without a vote. This bill was a bad idea, but will most likely be reintroduced in a future session. The bill failed in committee.

HB 786 - Rifles and Shotguns – Secondary TransactionsThis legislation would have required background checks for the private sale of rifles and shotguns. This bill changed a great deal from its initial introduction, but ultimately the clock ran out and the bill failed on Senate Floor.

HB 740 - Computer-Aided Fabrication and Serial Number (3-D Printed Firearms): This bill was based on headlines and hysteria. This legislation bans the buying, selling, or owning a 3-D printed gun. There have been zero instances in Maryland or nationwide where a crime was committed with a firearm manufactured at home with a 3-D printer. While the idea of a firearm that can be made at home and is undetectable by a metal detector definitely sounds frightening, there is no economically or technically viable way to manufacture them on any significant scale. While online forums and instructions abound, there is still a significant craftsmanship barrier, meaning it is still really difficult and expensive to successfully build one, even if you know what you’re doing. The legislation did not only prohibit the making of 3D firearms, however, this bill also affected firearm enthusiasts by preventing them from owning equipment to legally modify and repair firearms. Additionally, the bill would have implemented a retroactive ban on firearms going back to 1968. Overall, this bill does nothing to make our communities safer and only serves to restrict rights. This bill passed the House but the bill failed in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. 

SB 346 - Regulated Firearms – Sell, Rent, Transfer, or Loan: This legislation was amended to prohibit knowingly loaning firearms to those who would do harm. As initially written, it would have severely limited the rights of law-abiding firearms owners. While the bill was amended to address many of the issues raised by the Second Amendment community, in the end, the bill is redundant to laws that are already on the books. The NRA and other 2nd Amendment Advocacy groups were neutral on the bill. I voted no, but the legislation passed into law.

SB 1000 - Repealing the Citizen Handgun Review Board: The anti-gun left was so upset that the civilian handgun permit review board had repeatedly overturned denied concealed carry permits, that they created this bill to abolish the review board entirely and transfer its duties to the Office of Administrative Hearings. These paid administrative judges are appointed by a Chief Judge, who is Governor appointed. The legislation is, in its entirety, retaliation against lawful gun owners having the right to self-defense. They don’t want you to have it, plain and simple. The fact is, not one of those overturned CCW denials have resulted in gun crime, not one. I voted no, but the legislation passed into law.

In contrast, when Republicans offered bills which target repeat offenders of gun violence or theft of guns, the Majority Party refused to even allow the bills to clear committee.  I co-sponsored the following bills:

HB 236 - Crimes - Use of a Firearm in the Commission of a Crime of Violence or Felony - Repeat Firearms Offender:  This bill increases penalties for repeat gun offenders. The bill was not given even a committee vote.

HB722 - Criminal Law - Theft of a Firearm: The bill simply makes the theft of a gun a felony. The bill failed in committee.

Recognizing the reluctance of progressives to bring the legislation to the floor, Republicans also offered the above as amendments on their anti-gun bills. The amendments votes were mostly along party lines with the Majority Party voting against them. Refusing to consider meaningful firearm legislation and voting against common sense amendments, makes it clear that the Majority Party are the party of gun control for law-abiding citizens, but not for criminals using guns to inflict violence. “Moms Demand Action,” said the intent behind firearm control legislation is to promote public safety. If that is true, shouldn’t we be working together to keep firearms out of the hands of convicted felons, or keeping repeat gun violence criminals behind bars? I would hope that in the future, “Moms Demand Action” will find common ground in the shared goal of public safety and advocate as stridently for bills that actually will keep guns out of the hands of criminals, rather than simply the panacea they seek in depriving the rights of citizens who have committed no crime.   

 

Illegal Immigration

HB 913 – Correctional Facilities and Police Officers – Procedures – Immigration Status: The legislation would prohibit state and local correctional facilities from cooperating with federal immigration detainers on individuals who have been convicted of a crime; it also prevents police from establishing immigration status upon arrest. Fortunately, the bill failed in committee.

HB 817 – Keep Our Communities Safe Act of 2019: This legislation would have put an end to “sanctuary city” policies in the state of Maryland.  This legislation requires state and local correctional facilities to cooperate with federal immigration detainers and transfer custody of undocumented immigrants to federal authorities upon their request. Unfortunately, the bill failed in committee.

HB 118-Higher Education - Senatorial and Delegate Scholarships - In-State Tuition: This allows taxpayer-funded, House of Delegates and Senatorial scholarships to be awarded to illegal immigrants. I offered an amendment stipulating that the funds must first be awarded to qualified citizens and legal residents and immigrants. The majority party voted the amendment down.  I voted no, but the legislation passed into law.

 

Healthcare

HB 759 - Pharmacy Benefits Managers - Pharmacy Choice: I believe in consumer choice, and I was happy to have the opportunity to introduce and be the lead sponsor of this bill preventing the large PBMs (Pharmacy Benefits Managers), like CVS, from forcing you to use their pharmacy only. This bill will increase consumer choice and stop the practice of large pharmacy conglomerates from unfairly eliminating competition from local and independent pharmacies. I am pleased to report that the bill has passed.

HB 814 - Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance ProgramI have long opposed the Individual Health Insurance Mandate because it unfairly penalizes the self-employed. I was extremely concerned when the Majority Party attempted to push a state version of this legislative session.  Its original intent was to bring the individual mandate to Maryland and impose a fine for not purchasing health insurance.  The committee worked out a bipartisan solution turned a very bad bill into a good bill. The mandate was stripped and replaced with a checkbox for taxpayers to indicate if they would like to receive healthcare information. The bill passed and I voted for the legislation.

HB 697 - Health Insurance – Consumer Protections and Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission: This is another bill that would have codified the ACA into State law and had the potential to cost the State an additional $3.2 billion as originally written. The committee again worked out a bipartisan solution turning a very bad bill into a good bill.  The bill was amended into a workgroup to watch for federal changes. The bill passed and I voted for the legislation.

HB 258 - Health Insurance - Individual Market Stabilization - Provider Fee: This legislation taxes private insurers 2.5% in order to set up a $364 million reinsurance fund for the individual market.  Self-insured plans are exempted. This a tax on health insurance plans for the purpose of lowering the cost of health insurance plans in the individual market. I do not support increasing taxes on healthcare.  I voted no, but legislation passed into law.

 

Transportation

HB 1412 Transportation – Maryland Metro/Transit Funding Act: Unsurprisingly, the Majority Party was pushing to raid the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF, the transportation lock box) to support mass transit in urban areas with no spending limits or accountability. This bill proposes (1) eliminating the 3% cap on WMATA's (Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) budget growth, and (2) mandates that all WMATA funding come from the TTF, and not the General Fund.  Just to make things worse, WMATA has already ignored the 3% cap and proposed a budget that grows 11%.  I opposed this because rural areas, like St. Mary’s County, pay disproportionality into the TTF, yet have no WMATA transit options.  Furthermore, MDOT has advised that the passage of the bill puts at risk its capital program by $1.5 billion through FY24, jeopardizing road projects across the state.  Additionally, the bill requires MDOT to fully fund the annual $167 million in dedicated capital funding for WMATA, resulting in a $793 million reduction in projects currently planned by MDOT. Combined this bill could have imposed a $2.3 billion dollars negative effect on the states Consolidated Transportation Program, forcing MDOT to cut projects that are programmed to begin in the coming fiscal year. I voted no to this legislation and the bill failed in the Senate.

 

Education

SB 1030 - The Blueprint for Maryland's Future: This was perhaps one of the biggest issues of the session.  Commonly called the Kirwan bill, this bill begins the implementation of provisions laid out by the Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education or Kirwan.

My own daughter attends public schools and having the best school possible is in all of our best interest. Yet spending more taxpayer dollars, that will result in future tax increases, could prove to be fiscally problematic for our citizens. The Kirwan legislation is a 28-page bill with a price tag of $255,016,919 in FY20. Though this initial cost has already been included in the final FY20 Budget, it is only a down payment; the additional costs of $355,000,000 in FY21 and $500,000,000 in FY22 are looming ahead. This has great potential to result in massive tax hikes next year and for the foreseeable future. During the Glendenning Administration, the Thornton Commission recommendations were passed providing historic funding for education with no funding source identified. As a result, the state was plagued with a structural deficit leading to the massive tax increases during the O’Malley Administration.  While we all want our State to have a world-class education system, we have to do this right and with extreme diligence; money is not the only ingredient in the solution and we do not want to revisit the costly mistakes of the past.

In a letter to the House and the Senate, Maryland’s Dept. of Budget and Taxation Secretary David Brinkley advised that the state will experience a cumulative five-year shortfall of $21 billion from FY21 through FY25. Putting that another way, Maryland families will be asked to pay an additional $7,000 per family in state and local taxes over the next five years to cover the shortfall. That’s raising the sales tax by 33%, personal income tax by 15% or property tax by 200%. Because I have concerns about the ability to pay for this and foresee dramatic increases to property and income taxes, I voted no, but the legislation passed into law.

 

Elections and Gerrymandering

I have always said that, without secure elections, we are disenfranchising citizen’s right to vote. Not only do we have a right to vote, but we also have a right to an expectation of Constitutional and secure elections.

SB 449 - Election Law – Registration and Voting at Precinct Polling PlacesThe legislation allows any resident of Maryland to go to any precinct in his or her county and register and vote on the same day. There is no requirement for proof of identification, only for proof of residency. It also comes with a high sticker price, $2 million annually for the first 3 years and $597,000 annually thereafter. I voted no, but the legislation passed into law.

An important note:  An amendment to the bill to require voter ID was offered by Republicans. This simple, common-sense measure ensured that elections are secure, even as we expand and relax the voter registration laws.  I voted for the amendment, but it was defeated mostly down party lines.

HB 43 Elections - Legislative and Congressional Redistricting and Apportionment-Commission and Process:  I have always been a strident advocate for fair redistricting reform. With Maryland’s 6th district lawsuit being considered by the Supreme Court, Governor Hogan introduced a bill that redraws the congressional maps based on the recommendations of the bipartisan redistricting commission. The bill establishes an independent Congressional Redistricting and Apportionment Commission.

HB 44 Legislative and Congressional Redistricting and Apportionment: The bill requires single-member districts and proposes a new article to the Maryland Constitution to establish standards for the drawing of congressional districts. 

Both bills languished in the Rules Committee before finally being voted down, meaning they were not even assigned to a standing committee for hearings and consideration.

 

Corruption

HB 1428 - University of Maryland Medical System Corporation – Board of Directors, Ethics, and Audits

Late in the session, news came out of the growing scandal involving The University of Maryland Medical Systems Board (UMMS). It was reported that 9 out of the 30 members of that board personally benefited from business deals with UMMS - most notably the Mayor of Baltimore City, Catherine Pugh and the sales of her self–published children’s books.  As investigations are underway, The Maryland General Assembly acted immediately to address the situation legislatively.

The bill reorganizes the UMMS board, requires the adoption of a policy to protect against conflict of interest and fires the entire current board, requiring members to re-apply for the position. With as much money as the state invests in Baltimore City, all Maryland taxpayers have a vested interest in a city government that can be trusted. I co-sponsored the bill and am glad to report that it passed.

 

St. Mary’s County Delegation Bills

Beginning in 2019, I now serve as the Chair of the St. Mary’s County Delegation.  Part of that responsibility is to introduce legislation in Annapolis on behalf of the St. Mary’s County Commissioners. I happy to report that the following local legislation passed this year in Annapolis:

  • HB0358Public Facility Bonds.  The bill passed into law.
  • HB0359Building Authority Commission – Repeal.  The bill passed into law.
  • HB0982Alcoholic Beverages – allowing a Class C Per Diem License holder to hold another license of a different type.  The bill passed into law.
  • HB0360Alcoholic Beverages – cleaning up language in local law by repealing the prohibition on Sunday sales of alcohol.  The bill passed into law.

 

My Bills

HB 759- Pharmacy Benefits Managers - Pharmacy Choice:  As I mentioned in the above Healthcare section, this bill will provide more consumer choice when filling prescriptions.  Passed into Law

HB 1018 -St. Mary's County - Public Safety - Special Police Officers Pilot Program:  This bill would have allowed the Sheriff’s department and a school to enter into a written agreement to employ a special police officer, with limited police powers to provide security at a school.  No parent should have to fear for their child’s safety while they are attending school. Having more good men and women securing school grounds can act as a powerful deterrent for those wishing to do our children harm. The fact that this bill did not pass is one of my biggest disappointments of the session.  Allowing retired police to secure our schools is a cost-effective and smart idea.  The committee did not vote on it.

HB 609- Income Tax - Credit for Long-Term Care Premiums: This bill allows a tax credit for long term care premiums for each year that the policy is in effect. The committee did not vote on it.

HB 596- Criminal Procedure - Supervised Probation - Convicted Sex Offenders: I introduced this bill at the request of a constituent. It would tie a convicted sex offender’s probationary time to coincide with the time they are required to be on the sex offender registry. The committee did not vote on it.

HB 806- Copper Plan Health Insurance: This bill offers an alternative health care product for people who otherwise would opt to forgo health insurance due to the skyrocketing cost on the individual market.  The committee did not vote on it and I withdrew the bill.

 

We see nearly three thousand proposed bills, and it is extremely important that I hear from my constituents about your priorities and concerns.  I am 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 2020 convening of the General Assembly. Please feel free to contact me or my office if there is a need.

I hope you have a great summer, and I’m sure that I will be seeing you at the many great community events that St. Mary’s county is known for, so please stop me and say hi!

Warm regards,

Matt Morgan
State Delegate 29A

 

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