At midnight on Monday, April 11th, Maryland's 443rd Legislative session ended, heralding the conclusion of the first "close to normal" session since COVID. One of my top priorities is communicating directly with you and keeping you informed. Therefore, I would like to share my yearly "End of Session" legislative letter with my perspective on important legislation and how I voted on each. This year saw several controversial bills, including abortion bills, "green new deal" legislation, and congressional and legislative redistricting.
Political acrimony aside, as the Chair of the St. Mary's County Delegation, I also focused on county issues, introducing several bills dealing at the request of the St. Mary's Board of County Commissioners.
This year I introduced two bills that I felt would have had a very positive result for every Marylander.
HB 144 - Motor Fuel Tax Rates - Consumer Price Index Adjustment – Repeal
A little-known fact is that as inflation increases, so does Maryland's gas tax. Maryland's gas tax is connected to the rise of CPI (consumer price index), and as CPI increases, so does the price at the pump. Inflation was up 8.5% last month. With Marylanders already facing rapidly increased costs, I believe it's time we stop the automatic gas tax increase from happening by repealing the CPI portion of the law. While this bill didn't move out of committee, it did help to change the conversation. Two weeks after, I tried to amend this policy to another bill; Democrats introduced and passed HB1486 - 30-day gas tax holiday.
HB 799 - Vaccine by Choice Act of 2022
I am proud to have introduced HB 799- State and Local Government - COVID-19 - Vaccination by Choice Act of 2022. The foundation of a free society is built on the individual's freedom to choose. Forcing people to inject a vaccine or risk losing employment is the antithesis of a free society. HB 799 would have ensured that state and local governments, governmental entities, and publically funded schools K-12 and Institutes of higher Learning do not require proof of COVID -19 vaccination as a requirement for employment or continued employment. While government should not mandate private industry policies, we can and should set the example and act in good faith of the purpose of government, and that is to protect the individual liberties of the citizens. The bill hearing was quite enlightening for many of my Democratic colleagues; however, this bill died in committee without a vote.
GAS TAX HOLIDAY
HB 1486 - Gas Tax Holiday
Since the beginning of the Legislative Session, I have been pushing for tax relief, especially at the fuel pump. Unfortunately, inflation and lack of domestic crude have resulted in a 70% increase in fuel price over a year ago. The legislation repealed Maryland's .37 cents per/gallon fuel tax for 30 days. This bill went into effect on March 18th and lasted for 30 days. I voted YES, but I believe that the measure is insufficient to provide real relief from high gas prices. As the session came to a close, Republicans attempted to extend the gas holiday for 45 additional days, but Democrats refused to allow our amendment to pass.
Congressional District Map
Last December, the Maryland General Assembly convened for a special session to take up the issue of Congressional redistricting. Unfortunately, the majority party passed their heavily gerrymandered map in a true partisan fashion. In contrast, the map drawn by the Citizen's Redistricting Commission with citizen input languished in committee with no vote.
The legislature's adopted map received an "F" grade by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and was subsequently blocked by the Courts.
In her opinion, Judge Battaglia wrote that the "right of all voters of political participation in Congressional elections, as protected by Article 7 of the Maryland Constitution, was violated by the 2021 plan." The court's ruling closely mirrors the very arguments the members of the Republican Caucus made in opposing this legislative plan during the 2021 Special Session.
Democratic leadership rapidly redrew the congressional maps in closed-door sessions and again, with zero input from the citizens and taxpayers of Maryland. In the end, Hogan signed the new Congressional Map into law. I voted NO to the original plan, as well as the redraw.
Legislative District Map
As expected, one of the first items of business the General Assembly undertook upon convening in January was the passage of the Legislative district maps. Democrats in the General Assembly passed their partisan legislative map, while a map drawn by a bi-partisan commission with citizen input was ignored. Again, the maps have received a failing grade from a nonpartisan watchdog group that cited them as some of the most gerrymandered districts in the entire country.
As I am sure most citizens do, I believe in the doctrine of one man, one vote, or one person, one vote. The idea advanced by the Framers of the Constitution is that citizens are afforded equal representation in government under the law. The Democratic drawn map violated this tenet, as it does not apply uniformly to single-member districts. In some areas, such as Charles County, District 28 is represented by three Delegates, spread out between three Legislative Committees. Our district, 29A St. Mary's County, is represented by one Delegate. While lawsuits were filed, unfortunately, the Court of Appeals ruled on April 13th to keep the Democrat drawn map in law. I voted NO to the partisan, gerrymandered legislative map.
HB 985 - Education - Public High Schools - Financial Literacy Curriculum
This legislation requires the board of education to develop a financial literacy course for high school students. I fully support this legislation, and I voted YES. Unfortunately, this bill stalled in the Senate.
HB 84 - Prohibiting the Removal of Violent Students from the Classrooms
This legislation received a lot of debate on the House Floor. The bill would have prohibited the removal of potentially violent students from the classroom. Proponents say they are protecting children's rights who are simply acting out. Unfortunately, the bill tramples on the right of every other child to be safe in their classroom. In addition, the bill would stop teachers with violent students from having the ability to remove the student from their class. I voted NO to this bill. Fortunately, the bill did not pass.
HB 832 - Home School Bill
Another concerning bill was introduced that sought to regulate homeschool education. The bill would create a "homeschool advisory council," adding an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy to homeschool regulations. There is no need for an additional board of individuals who are not involved in homeschooling and do not homeschool their children. I signed on to the letter requesting the sponsor to withdraw the legislation. Fortunately, this bill did not move out of its committee.
HB 194 - Sexting Bill
I agree with the provisions of this bill, which was to include education regarding the dangers of "sexting" into the sex education curriculum in school. However, I held the bill on the house floor for possible amendments. An amendment to the bill to allow the new curriculum to be posted online, providing parents a high level of transparency and access. Strangely, the Democrats vehemently opposed the amendment. I believe this speaks to the more significant problem in our state education system: parents need to be informed and have more control over their children's education. I voted YES to the bill and stood to defend the amendment, though the amendment unfortunately failed.
HB 850 - Schools, Prekindergarten Programs, and County Boards of Education - Discrimination
A collogue proposed a straightforward anti-grooming amendment with the language: "no sexual orientation or gender identity instruction should be given to kids from kindergarten through the 3rd grade that is not age-appropriate."
Many Annapolis Democrats feel that they have the right and the duty to teach "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to your kids and even children as young as five years old. If you think this amendment sounds logical and reasonable, you would be surprised to learn that the House Democrats strongly opposed this measure. I do not believe that it is anyone's right to teach other people's elementary school-aged children topics such as gender identity and sexual orientation. I stood on the House Floor in support of the amendment, though the amendment failed.
HB 657 - Public Schools - Standardized Behavioral Health Questionnaire for Students
This bill requires the schools to develop guidelines for developing a standardized screening to identify students with behavioral health needs. The fiscal note reads: The bill also requires each local school system to give the standardized screening to the parent or guardian of each student when the student enrolls and annually after that. I spoke against this bill as I believe that this bill could trigger red flag action against unsuspecting parents who may respond to a questionnaire honestly. I voted NO, and the bill did not pass.
HB 1171 - Abortion Constitutional Amendment
This legislation enshrines abortion on demand in the Maryland State Constitution. Adding this language to the constitution is troublesome as this does not contain any wording which would limit abortions in any way - allowing abortion on demand potentially up to the last week of natural pregnancy. I voted NO, and fortunately, this legislation died in the Senate.
HB 937 - Abortion Access
This legislation mandates Maryland Taxpayers pay to train abortionists and requires health insurance companies to cover abortion services. It sets aside $3,500,000 in taxpayer funds annually to fund the clinical training to produce new providers of abortion in Maryland. The bill also expands the list of who can perform an abortion to include physicians and nurse practitioners, nurse-midwives, licensed certified midwives, and physician assistants. Medicaid is instructed by the bill to cover 100% of the cost of abortions for free. The bill also requires all insurance companies to cover abortion costs at 100%, without copays, deductibles, or any other cost-sharing. The bill passed and was swiftly vetoed by the Governor. Both Chambers subsequently overrode the veto. I voted NO to the bill. I spoke against the bill and to uphold the veto. Unfortunately, the veto was overridden.
HB 609 - Local Health Officers - Removal - Grounds and Process
Provisions in the bill essentially designate the local jurisdiction's health officer as a lifetime appointment. This bill makes it nearly impossible to fire or replace a local health officer. Even with the election of a new commissioner's board or a new county executive, the health officer for each jurisdiction will carry over. Health care officers now enjoy the status of a Supreme Court Justice, and it is a life appointment. This lays the groundwork for politically appointed health officers to have almost unlimited power, similar to what we witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. I voted NO, but unfortunately, the bill passed.
HB 970 & HB 245 Prior Authorization for HIV Post Exposure
These bills make it much easier for rape victims to receive preventative therapies for HIV following an attack.
HB 970 prohibits health care providers from requiring prior authorization for HIV treatments for victims of alleged rape and other sexual offenses.
HB 245 makes permanent the post-sexual assault aftercare for HIV prevention for a victim of rape. I co-sponsored both of these bills and voted YES. I am happy that these bills passed.
HB 293 - Behavioral Health Crisis Response Services - 9-8-8 Trust Fund
The bill established the 9-8-8 Trust Fund to provide reimbursement for costs associated with designating and maintaining 9-8-8 as the universal telephone number for the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline; requiring the Maryland Department of Health to designate 9-8-8 as the primary phone number for the state's behavioral health crisis hotline. I co-sponsored this legislation and voted YES. I am happy that the bill passed.
SB 682 - Maryland Medical Assistance Gender Affirming Treatment
This bill would provide Gender reassignment surgery for individuals who wish to switch genders at the taxpayers' expense. The bill also allowed puberty blockers to be prescribed to children at taxpayer expense. I voted NO, and this bill died in the House.
HB 413 - Health Insurance – Individual Market Stabilization – Extension of Provider Fee
This bill extends the state health insurance provider fee assessment to 2028. The provider fee, established in 2018, was intended to help stabilize the insurance market and was due to sunset in 2023. Though the insurance providers assess the fee, it's not hard to realize that this fee is a pass-through to the consumer, basically taxing the healthcare of some people to lower the healthcare premiums of other people. Therefore, this bill is a tax. I voted NO, but the bill did pass and will become law.
HB 1186 - Property Tax Credit - Elderly Individuals, Veterans, and Surviving Spouses - Alterations
This bill alters a local property tax credit for specified elderly individuals, veterans, or surviving spouses by increasing, from 5 to 10, the maximum number of years that the property tax credit may be granted and specifying that the maximum assessed value of the dwelling may not exceed $650,000. I voted YES. I am happy that this bill passed.
HB 809 - Property Tax Exemption - Disabled Veteran, Active Duty, and Surviving Spouse
This bill authorizes an individual to apply for the property tax exemption if the applicant is a disabled veteran, an active duty service member, or a surviving spouse before settlement. It also requires the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) to process and notify the applicant of approval or denial within 15 days. This increases the buying power on average by $100,000 and prevents them from putting property tax costs in escrow. It also helps the veteran by motivating the lender to help with the paperwork before settlement. I voted YES. I am happy that this bill passed.
HB 1468 - Retirement Income Modification and Senior Credit
Cutting retirement taxes has been a priority for a long time. This bill creates a nonrefundable credit against the State income tax for a resident at least age 65 and whose federal adjusted gross income does not exceed $100,000 ($150,000 if married filing jointly). Maryland is among the highest taxed states in America. This is a step in the right direction. I voted YES, and the bill passed.
SB275 - Family and Medical Leave Insurance program
This bill polls very high, as it promises 12-weeks of paid leave for several reasons. First, many do not understand that this is an additional payroll tax to be paid for by both employers and employees. This legislation requires businesses and employees to foot $1.6 billion in new taxes. This is money taken out of YOUR paycheck. Furthermore, the tax formula is based on a floating ratio, so the exact amount coming out of your salary cannot be identified and is subject to change. Finally, the bill requires a "reassessment" every two years and is connected to CPI. In other words, this tax is subject to an automatic increase. I voted NO, but unfortunately, the bill passed and will become law.
HB1080 - Maryland Assistance Program
This legislation requires Maryland taxpayers to pay for medical care for pregnant illegal immigrants and their babies. This is a magnet policy that would serve to increase the number of unlawful non-citizens in our state. I voted NO, but unfortunately, the bill did pass and will become law.
HB 304 - Legalizes Homeless "Tent Cities" in Any Public Spaces
The bill stops law enforcement from enforcing "failure to obey a lawful order," which can result in potentially numerous permanent homeless camps known as "tent cities" in places like parks, school property, and public areas such as sidewalks and around businesses. In addition, if passed, the legislation will prohibit police from asking them to move. I strongly opposed this legislation, as this is a bad policy. While we do need to find real solutions to homelessness, allowing people to live on the sidewalks is dangerous for everyone. Fortunately, the bill died in committee.
SB 861 - Public Safety- Firearms crimes
This bill passed out of the Senate with necessary amendments to the legislation, including making the theft of a handgun a felony and closing the "drug dealer" loophole. Unfortunately, when the bill crossed over to the House, the amendments were stripped by the progressive Democrats and replaced with a wage increase for prisoners. I voted NO, but in the end, the bill passed and will become law
HB 290 - Hate Crimes – Civil Remedy
This bill makes it permissible for anyone to sue for damages for anything which causes "emotional distress." In other words, a person who expresses an opposing viewpoint is now subject to a potential hate crime lawsuit. We have freedom of speech in this country, and this is simply another bullying tactic to silence the opposing views. I voted NO, but unfortunately, the bill passed.
HB 425 -"Ghost Gun" Ban
This bill bans untraceable firearms or "ghost guns." This bill is a solution to a problem that does not exist. Though it has been claimed that untraceable guns are increasingly being used in crimes, the fact is that un-serialized guns have been used in merely 0.36% of all homicides between 2006 and 2021. "Ghost Guns" have been used as the latest gun control bogeyman. It targets gun hobbyists who like to build their own firearms for personal use. It does not address the fact that criminals find it easy to obtain and use stolen guns to commit crimes, nor does it address that the theft of a gun is not considered a felony in Maryland. This bill will do nothing to stop violent crime in Maryland. I voted NO, but unfortunately, the bill passed.
HB 862 - Election Law - Ballot Canvassing - Multiple Ballots Cast by an Individual
This bill alters procedures for canvassing absentee and provisional ballots when the same individual casts more than one ballot. This raises several questions, but most concerning is why would a voter receive two ballots in the first place? Not to mention that there are many documented and criminally prosecuted examples of voter fraud, especially when relating to absentee mail-in ballots.
I offered an amendment that would have prohibited any donation or grants by an individual, non-profit, or government entity to fund election-related outreach or voter programs. This amendment would have stopped the "Zucker- bucks" type influence on elections. Unfortunately, the Democrats voted down my amendment. I voted NO to the bill, but the bill passed.
SB 528 - Climate Solutions Act
This legislation is part of the far left's "Green New Deal" efforts, as this bill initially attempted to ban Natural gas, propane, and oil. This bill, as drafted, is not realistic and is based on politics, not economics or science. Unfortunately, even though this bill was heavily amended, it will further increase energy costs and mandate less efficient energy sources. In addition, it requires the state to achieve net-zero statewide Green House Gas emissions by 2045. The taxpayer is strapped, and the increase in energy costs is another nail in the coffin for the consumer. I voted NO, but unfortunately, the bill passed.
In a year of historic budget surpluses, the General Assembly passed Governor Hogan's $61 billion budget.
This budget included some good things like providing funding to reduce the number of autistic youths on the Autism Waiver waiting list and increase provider rates for those who care for vulnerable populations, including the elderly, the developmentally disabled, and those in foster care. In addition, funding was restored for providers serving victims of crime. The budget also includes funding for economic development and grants for art and tourism – two sectors still recovering from the COVID economy. The budget again made record investments in public schools and save funds for the expensive Blueprint Implementation (Kirwan). Cash was used to fund $800 million in capital projects, reducing the amount of borrowing the state would otherwise have to do. The budget also boosted Maryland's savings, putting an extra $2.4 billion into Maryland's Rainy Day Fund and leaving a $211 million cash balance in the General Fund.
One of the best things about this year's budget is that it includes $350 million in tax relief. This consists of an income tax credit for retirees, a work opportunity tax credit for businesses that hire individuals with barriers to employment, and sales tax exemptions on diapers, baby products, medical devices, oral care products, and diabetic products. While we would have preferred a more expansive tax reduction that would have benefitted more households, any tax cut is good in a high-tax state like Maryland.
St. Mary's County received nearly $28M in funding for various capital projects, including upgrades to Med Star St. Mary's, Charlotte Hall Water Treatment Plant, and St. Clements Island State Park improvements.
As the Chair of the St. Mary's County Delegation, it is my duty to introduce legislation on behalf of the county. Please check out the Maryland General Assembly website for a list of county legislation.
As the 2022 session concludes and the election year begins, I hope the future will bring a continued and steady return to normalcy. We saw a little over 2500 proposed bills in this legislative session, and it is important I continue to hear your opinions. I hope that we keep this dialog open for the rest of the year and into the 2023 convening of the General Assembly.
If you have a concern, legislative idea, or a constituent issue you need assistance with, please call my office at 410-841-3170/ 301-858-3170 or toll-free 800-492-7122 ext. 3170 or email me at [email protected] Thank you for your interest in Maryland's critical issues today. Also, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the most up-to-date information.
I hope you have a great summer. I'm sure that I will see you at one of the many great community events that St. Mary's County is known for, so please stop me and say hi!
State Delegate 29A