End of Session Letter 2016

One of my top priorities is to communicate directly with you and to keep you informed. The 2016 Legislative Session saw nearly three thousand proposed bills, and legislators heard from many citizens; by phone, testimony, and emails - lots of emails! We had some clear wins, as well as some losses.  I’d like to take the time to provide you with a brief overview of the past session while outlining some of the top issues and the positions I took. If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact our office, I would be happy to answer your questions.

Of course the biggest issue is always the Budget. I’ll break this down into two parts: The Operational Budget and the Capital Budget.

Operational Budget

Passing a balanced budget is the only Constitutional requirement of the Maryland General Assembly; all other legislation, while maybe necessary, is really optional.  In the past, this task often comes with a protracted fight, as both sides of the aisle defend their legislative priorities.  The Maryland General Assembly approved Gov. Larry Hogan’s $42 billion operating budget, a bipartisan plan that moved through the General Assembly with greater ease than any other spending blueprint in years. For the first time in decades, because of the amount of job creation, there was no BRFA (Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act) which is used to move money around in order to pass a balanced budget on paper. To give an example of how much better Maryland’s economy is doing under Governor Hogan’s leadership, for the first time in history, funding dedicated specifically for the Chesapeake Bay Restoration fund is not being diverted to the general fund. Current budget forecasts indicate that these cash balances are sufficient to balance the general fund budget through fiscal 2020 while maintaining a 5.0% rainy day fund balance.   This budget provides a record amount of money for education and a 5.4% increase for community colleges across the state.  The budget is balanced without depending on tax increases and this is made possible by the 45,000 more people working this year than one year ago.

St. Mary’s County

Governor Hogan was once again very good to rural areas of Maryland.  St. Mary's County will receive a 2.1% increase in local aid, a 1.5% increase in funding for K - 12 schools, along with libraries and community colleges, and almost $2 million in highway user revenue for local roads. 

While there certainly is room for improvement, I believe that this operational budget puts Maryland on a better fiscal path and I cast a YES vote.

Capital Budget

St. Mary’s County will receive more capital funding than any other Southern Maryland county; we will receive a total of $7,431,000 for projects, including the University System of Maryland Office, Southern Maryland Regional Higher Education Facility; will provide funds to continue design of a third building on the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center Campus to provide academic research laboratory space for $3,061,000.

My Legislation:


HB 488 - Property Tax - Appeals

I introduced legislation that would require SDAT to process tax appeal applications on new home purchases within 90 days after receiving all the necessary paperwork. This bill will ensure home buyers get a timely response for property tax appeals.  The bill Passed.

HB 1417 - Charles and St. Mary’s County - Deer Management Permit - Firearms

I introduced this bill at the request of both the St. Mary’s and Charles County’s Farm Bureaus, as a clarification of legislation passed last year.   The legislation will permit Deer Management permit holders in Charles and St. Mary’s counties to use a shotgun or breech loading center fire rifle approved by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to control the deer population and to prevent crop damage, within specific parameters.  The bill Passed.

HB - 1811 - Maryland Medical assistance program - Nursing homes - Partial Payment

This bill would allow the State to remit payment to nursing home facilities on pending Medicaid approvals. The bill was requested by health care facilities that have provided services, but are unable to get timely reimbursement due to the ongoing problem of backlogged Medicaid long term care approvals. This bill passed the House unanimously, but unfortunately was drastically amended in the Senate Finance committee, which now only requires DHR to report to the General Assembly its actions to resolve the issues and clear the backlog. The bill Passed.

HB 40 - Personal Property tax – Business - Exemption

For the second year, I introduced the personal property tax exemption for St. Mary’s small businesses. This legislation would eliminate the personal property tax on small businesses and incentivize new businesses to open in our community, as well as return funds to the business owners who worked for it. This bill was undercut locally by the county commissioners who voted against this measure 2 – 3, only ten months after originally supporting the idea. We received a letter of non-support from the county commissioners before the bill hearing; without local support the bill died in committee. 

The Committee arguments over HB 40 and fights on many floor amendments over the reduction of personal property taxes lead to the creation of HB 69.  HB 69 is a state wide bill introduced by a vice-chair of the Ways and Means committee.  This bill allows businesses with 15 people or less to receive a 50% tax credit on personal property.  My goal is to eliminate personal property taxes and this is a step in the right direction. I voted YES for HB 69.

 St. Mary’s Delegation Legislation

As part of the St. Mary’s County Delegation, legislation was introduced at the request of the County Board of Commissioners. These included HB 1062 - Alcoholic Beverages - Permits, Training and Prohibited Acts, four repeal bills to clean up the books of archaic codes (HB 890, HB 972 and HB 1092), and HB 917 - St. Mary’s County - Property Tax Credit - New or Expanding Businesses. These bills passed.

Top Legislative issues of 2016:

One of the most important and controversial bills heard this session was HB 1013 - the Democrats’ power grab in response to Governor Hogan’s Transportation Plan.  The bill would implement a formulaic “scoring system” to score transportation projects across the state, taking out the currently used practice of input from the counties as to what their needs are in regards to road improvements. This also removes any ability for the public to voice their concerns.

How could this affect St. Mary’s County?

In 2016, Governor Hogan pledged $33.3 million for much needed and long awaited road improvements. These include:

  • MD 5, Point Lookout Road; MD 5, Camp Brown Road to Ranger Station
  • MD 5, Point Lookout Road, MD 5 at Abel Street/ Moakley Street
  • MD 234, Budd’s Creek Road; MD 234 Bridge over Gilbert Swamp run (Charles County)

 The way the bill is written, it would potentially pull back funding for roads projects going back to 2014, which will put the above projects in possible jeopardy.  Of course, I stood in opposition to this bill several times, and I supported Governor Hogan’s position on this bill and proudly voted NO. 

Felon Voting - Veto Override

When the Governor issued his veto last year, he argued that felons should be expected to serve out their complete sentence before being given the right to vote again. I agree with Governor Hogan and believe that this legislation is very misleading - for instance, did you know that in Maryland ex-felons do have the right to vote?  The General Assembly passed that legislation in 2007. This bill gives the right to vote back to people still serving a sentence. This means that if a person has been paroled, or even on house arrest, though they are still serving a condition of sentencing, they will be able to vote. The fact is that when someone is on parole or house arrest, they are not finished with their sentence; parole and house arrest are a period of completion for a sentence and it doesn't mean the sentence was shortened. For this reason I opposed the override and stood with the Governor.  I voted NO.

HB404 - End of Life with Options (known last year as Death with Dignity).

Despite several name changes, this is euthanasia.  I remain unconvinced that any legislation can be written that would completely ensure that it is not abused and that protects our most vulnerable citizens.  I voted NO. The bill and its senate cross - file, were withdrawn.

Several very unpopular bills were defeated in my Committee as a direct result of the huge number of citizen emails that were sent.

HB 215 and SB 49 - State Song

Two bills were introduced to change the State Song and were defeated; a Senate bill advanced to the House and was defeated in my committee.

HB 216 Medical Care Consent by Minors

This bill allows a minor to consent to receive the vaccine for HPV (such as Gardasil) without parental consent or knowledge. I believe this bill is an erosion of parental rights, and many parents have valid concerns about the safety and necessity of these vaccinations. The bill was withdrawn.

HB 1178-Primary and Secondary Education - Immunizations of Children Entering School

This bill required girls and boys to receive the HPV Vaccine before entering the 9th grade. Because of the massive amount of emails from concerned parents opposing this, the bill was withdrawn.

HB 141 Limiting Educational Testing

One of the topics that the legislators received the most email about was from parents and teachers relates to the amount of classroom time spent preparing children for the many standardized tests. As a result of citizen’s concern, the House of Delegates passed HB 141 unanimously to limit the amount of student testing to 2% of total instructional time.  I voted YES, unfortunately the bill died in the Senate. While I am disappointed that we failed with HB 141, we did pass HB 657 Reducing the number of kindergarten assessments administered and prohibiting the administration of a standardized prekindergarten assessment except under certain circumstance.

HB 1007 - Freedom to Vote Act

This bill’s original intent was to automatically register people to vote when they complete a transaction with MVA or Social Services. With no verification of citizenship, and an expensive price tag on both state and local levels, the bill was stridently opposed by Republicans. The bill was heavily amended to remove the automatic registration, but leave in the ability to register. It passed, though I voted NO on both versions.

HB 1009 – Task Force to Study Increased Voter Participation

Democrats introduced a bill nicknamed the “why aren’t they voting for us?” bill.  The bill authorizes a completely partisan task force to study low voter turnout. The problem is that there’s only one party on the panel, Democrats - the bill should be called Task Force to Study Increased Democrat Voter Participation. I voted NO and the legislation died in the Senate.

HB 1014 - Matching State Contributions for College Tuition.

This bill forces a mandate on the Governor to appropriate at least $5 million in fiscal 2018, $7 million in fiscal 2019, and $10 million annually thereafter, for this purpose.  Individuals who have incurred $20,000 or more in undergraduate student loan debt and have at least $5,000 in outstanding undergraduate debt qualify for a refundable credit of up to $5,000, subject to specified conditions. MHEC may approve up to $5.0 million worth of credits annually. While I appreciate the attempt to lower the cost of college tuition, I prefer methods that rely more on free market forces.  Colleges and college students are already heavily subsidized with both State and Federal money. I voted NO.

HB 580 - Mandated Paid Sick Leave

While the goal of granting paid sick leave sounds like the moral thing to do, mandated paid sick leave actually stifles business growth and hurts people entering the work force. With so many businesses operating under the narrowest of margins, particularly with the skyrocketing cost of health insurance, forcing yet another mandate will certainly lead to reductions in work hours, benefits, compensation, and lay - offs. As they adapt their business models to survive under this law, employers who currently offer vacation or other leave time are very likely to replace that time with this paid sick leave that is being forced upon them; many workers will actually lose time they have earned, rather than gain it. It is immoral not to consider those consequences. It is immoral to ignore those employees who will be hurt by these consequences as collateral damage in a political war.  I voted NOFortunately, the bill died in the Senate.

HB 1000 - Prohibiting the sale, rental, or transfer of a regulated firearm, rifle, or shotgun to a person who is on the “Terrorist Watch list.”

This is a purely political bill designed to deny rights based on a secret and error prone list without any due process afforded.  We preempted this bill by drafting several amendments that flipped the argument, resulting in the bill dying in committee without a vote.  

HB1002 - Gun Ban on College Campus

This will ensure that qualified individuals who hold a permit will be unable to carry on campus, but does nothing to prevent a deranged gunman from bringing a gun to the premises for evil intent. We can all look at how effective gun free zones around the nation have been at stopping those intent on murder.

Amendments to exempt concealed carry permit holders for those who have been a victim of violence was rejected. Evidently, the right to self-defense begins and ends where the majority party says it does. I voted NO and the bill died in the Senate.

 HB 777 - Smoking Marijuana Public Places –Prohibition

This sensible bill would treat smoking cannabis in public places in the same way that drinking alcohol in public is treated under the law. I voted YES. Unfortunately, while the bill passed the House, it died in the Senate.

 SB 926- Lyme Disease – Laboratory Test – Required Notice

This bill requires the medical personnel drawing blood for a Lymes disease test to also notify the patient that the tests can result in false negatives or positives. I voted YES.

HB131 and SB1005 – Justice Reinvestment Act

This legislation represents a sweeping overhaul of the justice system, with the worthwhile intent to keep those suffering addiction out of prison cells and in treatment. While I agreed overall with the intent, the addition of some troubling amendments made the bill a NO vote for me. An amendment that would make the possession of 448 grams of crack cocaine a misdemeanor and an amendment that ensures illegal immigrants are not deported are among the additions that I simply could not support.

Now that the 2016 Legislative Session is over and in the books, I will be glad to get back home to the district. 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.

 Warmest regards,

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Matt Morgan
State Delegate 29A

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Email: Matt.Morgan@house.state.md.us

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Delegate Matt Morgan
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