The 2019 session of the Maryland General Assembly ended on a very sad note—the passing of Speaker Mike Busch. In our grief at losing this wise leader and genuinely caring man, we can find some consolation in the fact that he can be proud of what we accomplished on behalf of Marylanders under his leadership, this year and over the past16 years. We successfully passed the bills that address the priorities we set together in January, including support for public schools that meet the needs of all students, taking care of our environment, providing health care for more residents, public safety and a fiscally responsible budget.
A total of 864 bills were passed this session. The highlights, which reflect those priorities, are provided here. Please note that most of these bills await the signature of the Governor before becoming law.
SB1030/HB1413: THE BLUEPRINT FOR MARYLAND’S FUTURE provides $255M additional dollars to bring Maryland’s schools back to a high level of national and international achievement for ALL students, based on the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. The funds provide early support and interventions for young children and their families, including full–day prekindergarten that is free for low–income three–and four–year olds; the bill requires the development of a college and career readiness (CCR) standard set at the level required to virtually guarantee success in the first year of a community college program, the creation of an Inspector General for education for increased accountability and provides funds for professionalizing a career in education by increasing salaries and providing effective professional development.
HB 440: P-TECH EXPANSION ACT 2019 expands the successful P-TECH program, which brings together public schools, community college and a private businesses to give students an opportunity to graduate high school with a high school diploma and Associate’s degree. This bill expands the current program to allow additional schools to participate.
SB 165: SAFE SCHOOLS MARYLAND codifies in statute the existence of an anonymous tip line, within the Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS) that will give individuals the opportunity to anonymously report behaviors of concern and other dangerous, violent, or unlawful activities, or the threat of these activities, involving one or more students.School systems and both public and non-public schools may choose to participate in this program.
HB 533: UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF MARYLAND – BOARD OF REGENTS – TRANSPARENCY AND OVERSIGHT will add more accountability to the University System Board of Regents in order to rebuild the public’s trust in higher education. The Board will be reconstituted over the next year and must follow all of the laws of Open Meetings and financial disclosures.
SUPPORTING MARYLAND’S FAMILIES
HB 166: LABOR AND EMPLOYMENT – PAYMENT OF WAGES – MINIMUM WAGE seeks to provide more economic security to our families, so they will be able to afford a place to live, food and the necessities of life, which are essential if our communities are going to grow and thrive. The current minimum wage of $10.50 per hour does not go far enough to provide that security. After an over-ride of the Governor’s veto, this new law will phase in an increase in the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour by January 2025 for any business over 15 employees. For businesses with 14 or less employees there is a longer phase in period.
HB 810: CHILDCARE TAX EXPANSION allows families with a single income, making up to $92,000 per year, and dual-income families making $143,000 per year to be eligible to receive a tax credit equal to up to 32% of the federal child and dependent care credit for child care. Annually, childcare can cost more than a year of college tuition so this bill will help working families afford high quality care for their children.
HB 338: SUMMER SNAP FOR CHILDREN ACT addresses the fact that 1 in 10 children in Maryland do not have enough food to eat. This bill creates a summer SNAP program for children, who are eligible for free and reduced priced meals at schools to help ensure they’re getting nutritious meals no matter if school is in session or not. It provides benefits of $30 per month per child in June, July, and August, and $10 per child in December.
HB 1209: PROPERTY TAX – COLLECTION OF UNPAID TAXES AND TAX SALES protects against being taken advantage of by tax sale investors who are charging excessive fees. These fees disproportionately harm low–income people, senior citizens, and people of color. Tax sale foreclosures displace the elderly, contribute to vacancy and abandonment, and destabilize communities. Many homeowners in tax sale do not understand what is happening and don’t know where to go for help. This bill reforms the tax sale process to protect low-income homeowners from losing their homes assessed at $300,000 or less. It also creates an Ombudsman to explain the process to homeowners and help them apply for tax credits and programs that would benefit them.
HEALTH CARE HB 697: PROTECTING THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT protects Marylanders with pre-existing conditions in the event that the Supreme Court overturns protections provided in the Affordable Care Act. It also renews The Maryland Health Insurance Protection Commission for an additional three years to continue working closely with the evolving healthcare landscape.
HB 258: INDIVIDUAL MARKET STABILIZATION ACT requires insurance companies to contribute a 1% assessment rate through 2023 to the Maryland’s Reinsurance Program. The state reinsurance program was established in 2018 to stabilize health insurance costs by bringing more certainty to the market.
HB 814: MARYLAND EASY ENROLLMENT HEALTH INSURANCE PROGRAMestablishes Maryland’s Easy Enrollment Health Program (MEEHP) — a simple, seamless system for enrolling uninsured Marylanders into free or low cost health insurance coverage by adding a checkbox on state income tax returns. This new system will allow those who qualify to be enrolled automatically in Medicaid – an estimated 50,000 Marylanders. For those who are uninsured, but do not qualify for Medicaid, the exchange will offer information on health plans, including possible federal premium tax credits to help ease the costs of health insurance. Maryland will become the first state in the country to implement this program allowing families to use tax information to qualify for health programs.
HB 768: HEALTH – PRESCRIPTION DRUG AFFORDABILITY BOARD seeks to address the increasing costs of prescription drugs which is causing folks to make hard decisions between their medicines and other needs, like food. This bill establishes a board of people who have knowledge and expertise about drug pricing and health care economics to study the issue, consider a number of options to control cost and look at the possibility of setting “upper payment limits”—the amount that the State will pay for some expensive pharmaceuticals—in 2021. SB 946: STATE PERSCRIPTON DRUG BENEFIT – RETIREE BENEFITS – REVISIONS creates programs to help retirees eligible for the state benefit plan and Medicare drug plans to pay for prescriptions. For those retired before 12/31/18, the state will reimburse those members for annual costs above $1500 (individual) or $2000 (family). It also sets up programs for reimbursements for coverage of medications for catastrophic medical needs and for life-sustaining drugs that are not covered by Medicare drug benefits. In all three programs the individual must enroll in a Medicare drug benefit plan.
HB 1272: TITLE X FAMILY PLANNING would remove Maryland from the Federal Title X program if new rules are enacted at the Federal level that would not allow any facility that counsels or educates women on abortions, or provides abortions in that facility to receive funding. Title X is a long-standing federal grant program for family planning services, including education, preventive services, breast and cervical cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection (STI) prevention, and pregnancy tests for women with low-incomes. Under federal law, Title X funds do not pay for abortions. If enacted in response to Federal changes. Maryland will be the first state in the nation to ensure this continued access by creating state funding for comprehensive health services for women.
HB 1169: BUSINESS REGULATION – TOBACCO PRODUCTS AND ELECTRONIC SMOKING DEVICES –REVISIONS bans retailers from selling a tobacco product to anyone under the age of 21 and requires retailers to post this age restriction in their stores. At current smoking rates, roughly 92,000 young people now under 18 years old in Maryland will die prematurely from smoking. Furthermore, illnesses related to tobacco costs Maryland about $2.71 billion annually in health care costs. This will help to keep these addictive products out of high schools, and reduce teen smoking and addiction.
SB 516/HB 1158: CLEAN ENERGY JOBS ACT (CEJA) increases the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) from 25% by 2020 to 50% by 2030. It will also help to preserve and create jobs in the clean energy sector, while also reducing Maryland’s reliance on fossil fuels. Recent studies show that the environment has reached a critical stage for sustainability, so this is a huge step in the battle against Climate Change.
HB 720: NATURAL RESOURCES – FISHERY MANAGEMENT PLAN will set up a group, staffed by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, to make decisions on a Fisheries Management Plan for oysters. This group brings all interested stakeholders to the table: 60% of the group is industry watermen and 40% are advocacy groups for conservation. The goal of bringing these stakeholders together is to get them to make compromises and agree, which is why decisions are required to pass with 75% approval.
HB 109: ENVIRONMENT – EXPANDED POLYSTYRENE FOOD SERVICES PRODUCTS – PROHIBITIONS prohibits the use of Polystyrene (Styrofoam) containers by any food service provider after July 1, 2020 and requires the Department of the Environment to provide a public education and anti-littering program. These food containers are one of the greatest risks to the environment due to their incredibly long shelf life.
PUBLIC SAFETY AND GUNS
HB 1343: PUBLIC SAFETY – HANDGUN REVIEW BOARD – REPEAL disbands the Handgun Review Board, and sends appeals of rejected concealed carry permits to the Office of Administrative Hearings. Currently the Handgun Review Board, the group that decides who can have a permit to carry a concealed weapon is made up of political appointees. Over the past year, that board has overturned State Police decisions and issued concealed carry permits at a record rate. This law will enhance the State Police’s ability to determine who should be allowed to wear and carry a handgun – not a board of political appointees.
HB 123: TANNING DEVICES – USE BY MINORS prohibits the use of these devices by individuals under the age of 18. The research on the long-term negative health effects of using tanning devices is now compelling; young people who use them are at significantly greater risk of developing life-threatening skin cancer.
HB 1096: CRIMINAL PROCEDURE – SEXUAL ASSAULT EVIDENCE KITS –ANALYSIS protects victims of sexual assault by requiring rape kits to be counted and tested. It requires law enforcement to submit a rape kit to a forensic laboratory within 30 days and must be processed at the laboratory as soon as possible. It also establishes an independent review process for any rejected evidence kit.
HB 181: CRIMINAL LAW – ELECTRONIC HARASSMENT AND BULLYING (GRACE’S LAW 2.0) improves the first version of Grace’s Law by increasing the potential maximum fine from $500 to $10,000, and from one year in jail to three. If a child commits suicide due to cyber-bullying, the bully can now be sentenced up to 10 years in jail. As the use of social media continues to influence and shape the lives of children, bullying and online harassment have become serious issues.
HB 421: GENDER NEUTRAL DRIVER’S LICENSES will make Maryland the sixth state in the country to allow a gender-neutral designation on driver’s licenses. As we learn more about gender-identity and the fact that there is a continuum of “male” and “female”, this bill will protect gender-non-conforming or transgender individuals by allowing them to identify openly by choosing an “x” designation on their driver’s license.
HB 397: PUBLIC SAFETY – 9-1-1 EMERGENCY TELEPHONE SYSTEMmodernizes the 9-1-1 system to make it more effective for Marylanders in crisis by adopting the Internet-based Next Generation 9-1-1 system. This would allow people to send a text message to 9-1-1 in an emergency, including pictures and videos. It will improve location accuracy and help officers have a better understanding of a situation before arriving on the scene.
BUDGET FISCAL YEAR 2020
- Financial Responsibility
- Fund balance of $118.2 million
- $26 million structural surplus for fiscal 2020
- $1.1 billion in the Rainy Day fund
- State support for public schools total a record $7.0 billion
- Direct aid to local school systems will increase an estimated $435.2 million, or by 7.5%
- At least $255 million for Kirwan
- State support for Maryland’s public four year colleges grows by $110.7 million (7.3%) allowing for a tuition increase of only 2%
- Final Kirwan Deal in Budget
- $31.7 million for Full day preK for 4 year olds
- $65.5 million for Special Education grants
- $54.6 million for Concentration of Poverty Grants
- $75 million for Teacher Salary Incentive Grants
- $23 million for Transitional Supplemental Grants
- $2 million for Mental Health Coordinators for Each Local School System
- $2.5 million for Teacher Collaboratives
- $300,000 for Outreach and Training
- $500,000 for Maryland Department of Education Information Technology System
- Total: $255 million
- Medicaid funding totals $11.2 billion, allowing the State to provide coverage to 1.4 million residents
- 3.5% rate increase for providers serving the needs of developmentally disabled individuals and people with behavioral health needs
- 3% rate increase for most other health and human service providers
- State Employees and Public Safety
- 3% general salary increase for state employees
- 5% salary increase for law enforcement officers
- Additional 6% salary increase for correctional officers
- $4 million to establish a Rape Kit Testing Grant Fund
PRIORITIES THAT WERE NOT ACHIEVED
There were several important bills that passed the House, but we were not able to get concurrence with the Senate. These included one that would have significantly increased our investment in school construction (HB 727), and one that would have banned the use of a dangerous pesticide (HB 275). Two other bills that were not “returned passed” would have banned the creation, sale or possession of 3D printed guns (HB 740) and required background checks for private sales of rifles and shotguns (HB 786). This means that more work needs to be done over the intersession to get to agreement and I am confident it will be done.
Perhaps my greatest disappointment was that we failed to pass End of Life Option legislation. We did make progress, in that it passed out of the House. However, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee amended the bill in such a way as to make it useless. A tie vote on the Senate floor killed the bill for this year. This bill is about giving people personal autonomy to make health decisions at the end of their lives. There is a great deal of public support for this right and I know I will continue to support this important legislation in the future.
One issue that was not addressed in the session was redistricting. We understand that this is a priority for many of our constituents, but the strategy right now is to wait for guidance from the Supreme Court, which will rule this year on Maryland’s districts. It seemed premature to guess what their guidance will be and we will have time to make the approved adjustments for the 2022 election, after the census is completed in 2020.
BONNIE’S PERSONAL ACHIEVEMENTS
In the 2019 session, I was honoured with the position of Assistant Majority Whip, which added to my responsibilities for providing information to my colleagues so they could make informed decisions on bills. I also continued as the Chair of the Insurance Subcommittee, which means that I was responsible for shepherding the major insurance and pharmaceutical bills through the entire passage process. I am grateful to my deliberative subcommittee members for helping us to pass major, ground-breaking legislation in this session.
With respect to my personal bills, we passed a bill to require businesses that want to contract with the State to provide health insurance to their contractors and subcontractors (HB 680); we created a new position for hospitals, Registered Cardiovascular Invasive Specialists, to assure that the health catheterization labs are always fully staffed; nurse practitioners will now be able to direct School-Based Health Centers (HB 47). With the help of the Attorney General’s office, we were able to pass the Senate cross file (SB 495) of my bill (HB 526) to allow medical labs to advertise so individuals could have direct access to appropriate tests. In addition, my bill to allow our academic research institutions and bio-medical facilities to do research on medical cannabis was folded into another bill that passed, so ultimately the goal was achieved.
As the result of several of my bills, workgroups were set up to study how to create effective professional development programs for health department nurses (HB 823), infrastructure for Maryland 2-1-1 to better serve residents (HB 793) and the definitions and roles for Dental Service Organizations (HB 470).
District 19 was awarded state funding for two Legislative Bond Initiatives: $150,000 to help in the building of a new Humane Society facility and $100,000 for the Jewish Federation of Group Homes for help in modernization and renovation of homes for some of our most vulnerable residents.
For four years I have worked to pass a bill that would allow an individual who experiences discrimination in places of public accommodations. I have collaborated with the business community to find compromises that work for residents as well as businesses. As a result, this is the first session that HB 317 actually got a vote in the House and was passed 99—39. However, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee did not take any action on it, so it did not get a vote in the Senate.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
If you would like to know more about any of the bills in this letter, or any other of the bills discussed this year, you can go to the Maryland General Assembly Website, mgaleg.maryland.gov or feel free to contact my office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 301-858-3883. Please remember that during the intercession we are not in the office every day, so we would ask for your patience.
Overall, the 2019 session was intense and very busy, but a successful one for not only our District 19 constituents, but for all residents of Maryland. I was grateful for the collaboration with my House new colleagues, Delegates Charlotte Crutchfield and Vaughn Stewart. They both established themselves as thoughtful policy-makers who seek to understand the issues from all perspectives and are eager to make recommendations to improve policy.
During the intersession, before the next session begins on January 8, 2020, I will be following up on many of the issues addressed in this session. I will participate in the workgroups named above and will work closely with insurers and the Maryland Insurance Administration to assure that the laws passed are being implemented. Most importantly, I hope that you will contact me with your questions, concerns, thoughts and ideas so that I might serve you and our community better.
Thank you for your support. Have a wonderful spring and summer!
All the best,
Bonnie Cullison, Delegate, District 19