End of Legislative Session 2017

On April 10, at midnight, the gavel came down for the final time on the 2017 Legislative session. We had some clear wins and some losses. One of the most important pieces of this process is communication with constituents. We see nearly three thousand proposed bills, and I want to share with you some of the highlights.

The St. Mary’s County Delegation focused heavily on county issues, introducing several bills dealing with a variety of issues. Many of these local bills repealed obsolete and unnecessary laws from the books, others were passed to the benefit our community.

Without a doubt, the hottest topic of the season was the “Sanctuary State Bill”. Unsurprisingly, this legislation drew extremely emotional reactions from both sides. I heard more about this issue from constituents than any other issue - and by a vast margin, citizens are solidly opposed.  

HB 1362 - Immigration- Community Trust (Maryland Sanctuary State)

This was a terrible bill and would have made Maryland a criminal sanctuary state for convicted felon illegal immigrants.  This bill expressly prohibits local law enforcement from detaining a person for whom the Department of Homeland Security has issued a detainer for reasons such as suspected terrorism, felony convictions, and gang activities.  While proponents of this legislation believe that they are protecting hardworking immigrant families and children, the stark reality is that this bill provides a legal loophole and sanctuary for convicted lawbreakers who are in our communities unlawfully.

The House passed the bill, but because of the huge amount of opposition and pressure from the public, the sponsor withdrew the bill only days before the end of session.  I voted no on this bill and was both proud and relieved that we were able to stop it.

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SJ 5 and HJ 3 - Attorney General - Powers - Maryland Defense Act of 2017, Companion Bill- HB 913

These bills gives absolute authority to the Attorney General to use taxpayer dollars to sue the federal government on any issue for any reason, covering a wide range of political disputes over immigration, the ACA, national and state security, and anything else Democrats can think of WITHOUT OVERSIGHT. Legitimate discussion can be had regarding President Trump’s agenda; however, giving this unlimited authority and money to the sole discretion of one man, will only result in that authority being used to further a personal political agenda. I disagree with playing politics with taxpayer dollars, and though I voted no, the bill passed.

SB 307 - Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act - Application and Evaluation

This bill was known as the Road Kill Bill Compromise.  After the passage of the shortsighted transportation scoring system of last year, many transportation projects were immediately placed in jeopardy in St. Mary’s County and around Southern Maryland. Governor Hogan announced plans to push a repeal bill. While an actual repeal was not successful, the bill was amended to push the effective date back two years. This marks a major victory by postponing the implementation of the scoring system, pending further study. This will allow projects like the much needed Rt. 5 expansion at Abell/Moakley Rd in Leonardtown to take place.  I supported this legislation and it passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House.

HB 978 - Protect Our Schools Act of 2017

I have been an outspoken proponent of reducing the amount of standardized testing in public schools. But this bill was flawed. To “protect” Maryland’s schools against what they call the “Trump/Devos Privatization Agenda”, the General Assembly passed a bill pushed by the state teacher’s union that weakens accountability standards and creates barriers for the state to intervene in failing schools. The bill bars the State Board of Education from emphasizing student achievement when it establishes this accountability system. It limits the measures of actual school effectiveness, such as student achievement and graduation rates, to only 65% of a school’s accountability rating.  By implementing only a 65% rating, it is more difficult to actually identify schools that are failing. With this bill's passage, Maryland will have the weakest accountability system in the entire country.  According to the legislature’s own fiscal analysts, Maryland could be risking $250 million per year if these low accountability standards are found to be out of compliance with federal standards. Baltimore City schools stands to lose $51 million per year in Title 1 funding, at a time when the legislature and city leadership are requesting additional state funding for schools.

The most troubling aspect of this bill is that it traps children in failing schools for up three years before the State and local school districts are permitted to intervene. Because of these concerns I voted against this bill. The bill unfortunately passed the House and Senate, and even though Governor Hogan vetoed the legislation, his veto was overridden.

Noteworthy Bills

HB 172 - Home Act of 2017 (Section 8 Expansion)

This bill violates property rights by taking away a property owner’s choice whether to rent to Section 8 vouchers recipients or not. The bill essentially makes the Section 8 voucher recipient a protected class, and does nothing to protect the property owner from false accusations or litigation for discrimination. Further, the bill provides for penalties including hefty fines and possible jail time for a property owner.

The intention of the bill is to expand housing choices for low income people by forcing landlords in non-traditional section 8 areas to voucher receipts as tenants. I stood on the side of private property rights, and taxpaying citizens. I voted no, the bill failed in the Senate.

HB860 - Transitional Supports for Ex-Offenders Maryland Equal Access to Food Act of 2017

This bill removes the testing and treatment requirement for an individual convicted on drug charges who applies for cash and food stamp assistance. I voted no, but the bill passed.

HB1- Labor and Employment - Maryland Healthy Working Families Act

This bill mandates private employers must provide paid sick leave if they employ 15 or more, and unpaid leave for employers with 14 or fewer employees. Supporting this bill would mean having to ignore the negative effects it would have on both employers and those it seeks to benefit. This is the rule of unintended consequences.  As payroll costs rise, employers will need to trim costs in other ways, perhaps by reducing or eliminating positions, pay increases, or other voluntary benefits, or by increasing consumer costs for goods and services. Many small businesses may determine it would be best to simply close their doors, undeniably having a negative effect on employees who will lose jobs and the community who will lose the business. I believe in a strong economy, one that will enable more businesses to offer generous leave to employees. I voted no, though the bill passed.

HB 631 - Public Health - Essential Off-Patent or Generic Drugs - Price Gouging – Prohibition

This bill is a great bill that will help people struggling to pay for medication. It prohibits a manufacturer or wholesale distributor from engaging in price gouging in the sale of an essential off-patent or generic drugs.  I voted for this bill and it passed

SB 317 - More Jobs for Marylanders Act of 2017

Governor Hogan’s bill incentivizes manufacturing to return to Maryland. The bill provides a tax credit for manufacturing companies who: 1) offer job skills enhancement training, 2) increase employment opportunities, 3) employ an eligible apprentice, and 4) establishes Workforce Development Sequence Scholarships for eligible students who are enrolled in a job skills program at a community college.

The bill also allows manufacturing businesses throughout the State to claim increased expensing amounts under the State income tax by conforming State law to the maximum aggregate costs allowed under Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and to claim any bonus depreciation amounts provided under Section 168(k) of IRC. I voted for this bill, and am glad to note that the legislation passed both the Senate and the House unanimously.

HB 642 - Civil Actions - Child Sexual Abuse - Statute of Limitations and Required Findings

Both the Senate and House approved SB 505/HB 642 to allow victims who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits until they are 38 years old, 13 years later than the current law allows. For victims up to age 25, the bill allows courts to award damages against institutions that employ or supervise abusers if negligence is proven.  For older victims, the bill requires gross negligence to be proven in order to award damages. I voted for HB 642 and it passed both Chambers unanimously.

HB 1036 -  Firearms - Handgun Permit - Preliminary Approval

This bill was introduced by my fellow St. Mary’s County colleague, Delegate Deb Rey. The bill establishes a “preliminary permit” for a wear and carry permit. The State Police can determine if you are qualified under all criteria, except the training course. Upon approval for the “preliminary permit”, the applicant would have 120 days to complete the training before the permit expires. In reality, so few people are ultimately approved for a CCW permit that requiring the training course just for applying essentially mandates a financial burden as a requirement of application. This bill passed the House, but at the last minute in the Senate, it was remitted to committee- killing itI co-sponsored and voted for this legislation.

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Redistricting Reform

Marylanders of both parties largely support redistricting reform. Our state leads the country in gerrymandered districts. Congressional District 3 has been called the most gerrymandered district in the entire nation. Even former Governor Martin O’Malley has admitted Maryland needs reform. Unfortunately, once again the General Assembly has failed citizens on this very important issue.

HB 385 - Redistricting Reform Act of 2017

Governor Hogan’s redistricting reform package which would have reformed the way districts are drawn to eliminate “gerrymandering” was killed without a hearing. Disappointingly, the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee voted to kill the bill right down party lines.

SB1023 - Independent Congressional Redistricting Commission Mid-Atlantic States Regional Districting

Instead of addressing this issue, the Majority Party seeks to appease the public by passing SB1023 which promises redistricting reform only if the following states also pass reform: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina.

I believe that voters should be choosing their representatives, not the other way around. Until we get serious about non-partisan reform of the redistricting process, what we will have is legislators drawing their own legislative districts.  I will continue to be an advocate for redistricting reform in Maryland.

Budget

As always, the most important, and the only Constitutional obligation of the Maryland Legislature, is passing a balanced budget.

The Maryland General Assembly has given final approval to the state's $43.5 billion budget for the next fiscal year. There are a number of notable highlights regarding the FY2018 operating budget. The budget includes no tax increases. The budget reduces the structural shortfall in FY2018 by 50% and reduces the overall structural deficit from nearly $400 million to $38 million. The Governor’s budget also included an investment of $51 million towards the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund. The budget leaves a $100.2 million cushion outside of the $860.3 million “Rainy Day Fund”.

The budget also includes $6.4 billion in spending for public schools and $10 billion in Medicaid funding. State support for Maryland's public four-year colleges and universities grows by $32.7 million. Two supplemental budgets included $23.7 million in additional state funding for Baltimore public schools, and $10 million to combat the state’s opioid addiction crisis.   Locally, the budget supplied St. Mary’s County Schools with a 3.7% increase in K – 12 funding from FY17, which was the fourth highest rate increase in the state.

Education

The BOOST program has received bipartisan support for nearly a decade. The General Assembly approved a 10% increase in the BOOST program which sets aside 5.5 million for low income students to attend a school as an alternative to attending a failing school. The BOOST program is not funded at the expense or detriment of public education. Governor Hogan has made record investments in K-12 public education. Over the last three budgets, he has devoted $12.5 billion K-12 funding. He has also added $334 million dollars into the Capital Budget devoted specifically to school construction. Now, nearly two-thirds of our Capital Budget is invested in education.

Governor Hogan believes, as I do, that all children deserve the best education possible – no matter where they grow up. The BOOST funding, along with Governor Hogan’s other innovative policies on education, give children and their families options they didn’t have before.

My Bills

HB 888 - Income Tax - Expensing of Business Property & Depreciation, Recoupling With Federal Law

In keeping with my pro-business stance, I once again introduced legislation that would allow all Maryland businesses to accelerate depreciation for newly purchased equipment up to $500,000, the maximum expensing allowed under the Section 179 of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).   This bill would encourage business growth and expansion by freeing up capital. Unfortunately, the committee took no action and the bill died without a vote.

HB 911 - Motor Fuel Tax Rates- Consumer Price Index Adjustment- Repeal

Since 2013, the gas tax has been linked to the Consumer Price Index, meaning gas tax increases with inflation. Each and every year you get an automatic tax increase, and legislators are not required to vote on it. I believe this is wrong. I believe tax increases should be carefully considered along with all pertinent factors, and that legislators should have to vote on it.  Additionally, it puts many Maryland businesses at a disadvantage to other states as gas prices continue to rise. Though I proposed to change this to a study to determine the effects, the committee took no action and the bill died without a vote.

HB 176 - Motor Vehicle Registration - Exception for Golf Carts - Golden Beach & Patuxent Knolls

The Homeowner’s Association of Golden Beach requested this legislation to enable residents to drive golf carts within the boundaries of the community. This legislation received the Sheriff’s support and BOC.  I was happy to introduce the bill and pleased that it passed.

HB 1599 - Nursing Homes - Partial Payment for Services Provided

I was asked once again by Health Facilities Assoc. of MD (HFAM) to introduce a bill to require the State of Maryland to remit a partial payment for care and services already given to individuals who are waiting on Medicaid eligibility determinations in excess of 90 days. The bill was amended in the Senate and unfortunately did not pass.  

 

St. Mary’s Delegation Bills

The St. Mary’s County Delegation had one of the most successful legislative years in recent history.  The Delegation passed following bills: 

HB0892/SB736 - Bond borrowing authority.

HB0914/SB735 - Grants the BoCC oversight when METCOM seeks to borrow money.

HB1055/SB737 - Bonds and Other Evidences of Indebtedness. This bill modifies the County debt limit and specifies that METCOM’s debt is not to be assumed by the County.

HB0679/SB395 - This bill ensures the ability of METCOM to attract and retain quality employees by making certain positions contractual.

HB0108/SB0104 - Regulation of Animals (Dogs) allows Animal Control to administer registration of dog tags, rather than the County tax Collector.

HB 526/HB 538 - Enables art galleries and salons to offer 2 drinks to clients.

The following bills were repealed and superseded by state law:

HB0109/SB1902- Farm Fences – Repeal

HB0163/SB162 - Mobile Home Parks - Repeal

HB0187/SB103 - Foxes and Hounds - Repeal of Provisions

HB0207/SB140 - Local Plumbing Code - Repeal

HB0208/SB163 - Electricians and Board of Electrical Examiners - Repeal

HB 209/SB124 - Vocational Training Facility - Repeal             

HB0243/SB394 - Auditing Requirements - Repeal

HB0404/SB234 – Land Records- Repeal

HB0431/SB297 - Tax Exemptions - Repeal of Local Provisions

HB0194/SB101 - Licensing and Operation of Amusement - Repeal

Ethics

This legislative session was unfortunately blighted by several indictments. The 90 day session opened up with the revelation of corruption between 2 Prince Georges County Delegates and that county’s Liquor Board. Another Baltimore City candidate that was nominated to fill an open Delegate seat was arrested for campaign fraud only a day before he was to be sworn in.  Yet as session wound down, news hit of further allegations of corruption which resulted in a Senator being led off the Senate Floor by Federal Officers. These incidents do nothing but further erode the public trust of policy makers and government.  The Governor introduced several pieces of legislation to enhance transparency and tighten the code of ethics governing the legislative body.

HB 897/ SB 684- Liquor Board Transparency Act 2017

This legislation requires prospective liquor board members receive a criminal history background check, and subjects these board members to State ethics requirements and the authority of the State Ethics Commission. These bills were killed in committee.

HB 879 - Public Integrity Act of 2017

This bill transfers the authority to administer the State Public Ethics Law for members of the General Assembly from the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics (JCLE) to the State Ethics Commission. Additionally, it adds a one-year “cooling off” period before a former legislator can act as a lobbyist, places additional restrictions on registered lobbyists, alters specified filing requirements for legislators and specified officials who are married to registered lobbyists, and establishes additional conflict of interest rules for members of the General Assembly.  I voted for this and it passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate.

HB 438/ SB253- Legislative Transparency Act of 2017

This bill requires the General Assembly to make available live streaming and archived video of the Senate and House meetings, including Floor proceedings, and voting sessions (Committee hearings and audio of Floor proceedings currently available) The bill also requires additional disclosures and specified reports available to the public online.  I support this measure, but unfortunately, these bills did not move and both died in committee.

 

Now that the 2017 Legislative Session is over and in the books, 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 2018 convening of the General Assembly.  My Annapolis office will remain open and staffed and will continue to serve as my legislative office.  So please feel free to contact me if you have a concern or a need that I or my staff can address.  I hope you have a wonderful summer, and if you see me around, please stop and say hello.

Warm regards,

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Matt Morgan
State Delegate 29A

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