End of Session 2021 Wrap-Up

Forgive the lengthy updates to follow, but the 2021 Legislative Session was the most intense and tightly scheduled session that I have experienced in my 11 years in the House of Delegates. When the session began, there was some skepticism that the session would last the full 90 days due to the COVID-19 virus.  But not only did it run to full completion, it did so with the passage of several really significant bills that I believe will positively affect the lives of Marylanders in both the short and long term.  Speaker Adrienne Jones called this a “miracle session” (https://www.marylandmatters.org/2021/04/21/josh-kurtz-you-could-call-it-a-miracle-session-speaker-jones-says/) and I have to say that I agree with her. I am preparing an end of session letter that will address the session more comprehensively and will have that available later this week.  In this message, I will just speak to some of the highlights. As a nation, we are seeing the need to transform our law enforcement systems to assure more social justice and equitable treatment for all.  In this session, the MGA addressed those issues in passing—and then overriding vetoes of–several bills that were arduously negotiated between the two chambers.  These bills will become law on July 1. Here are just a few things these bills do:

– Create more transparency in the filing and managing of complaints against police, investigation of incidents resulting in serious injury and death
Include civilians in the police disciplinary processes
– Assure that penalties for police misconduct will be uniformly and justly administered and will be severe in extreme cases
– Mandate the use body cameras after 2025 
Define and limit the use of force to situations where it is clearly needed, based on evidence.
– Limit the use of “no knock” warrants to cases where there is evidence of risk of personal safety and may only be implemented during the day, except under extreme extenuating circumstances. 

Also across the nation, states are dealing with the economic impacts, for the state and for individuals, of the pandemic.  The MGA took on this challenge early in session and passed the Recovery for the Economy, Livelihood, Industries, Entrepreneurs and Families (RELIEF) Act, which was signed into law on February 15.  Some of the things this bill does include the following:

Puts cash in the pockets of low income Maryland taxpayers by increasing the earned income tax credit
Raises earned income tax credit for individuals with no children from nearly $100 to $530.

– Exempts Unemployment Insurance payments from the State income tax
– Provides stimulus payments of up to $500 to Marylanders who qualified for the earned income tax credit in 2019, putting over $175.0 million immediately in the hands low–income individuals and families
– Allows small businesses to keep sales tax collections of up to $9,000 over three months
– Helps up to 100,000 small businesses and nonprofits to defer paying unemployment insurance taxes until the first three months of 2022 to help cash flow (they employ ¼ of MD workforce)
– Forgives MD taxes on COVID loans and grants
– Converts up to $50,000 in Equity Participation Program loans to grants for Minority and Small Businesses (MSBDFA).

Senator Craig Zucker (D14) and I sponsored HB812/SB719 2–1–1 Maryland – Mental Health Services Phone Call Program (The Thomas Bloom Raskin Act) in order to create a proactive way for individuals suffering from mental health issues to make connections and get the help they need in the timeliest way. It provides for individuals to opt into getting a regular check-in call from a mental health professional to identify if support is needed at that moment and assure that the individual has the pathway to getting that support.  This bill was signed into law on April 13 and we are hopeful that the program will save lives. Many other bills passed in both the House and Senate and are awaiting action by the Governor.  As chair of the Insurance and Pharmaceuticals subcommittee of the Health and Government Operations Committee, I was responsible for shepherding two significant health care bills through the process.  The first bill is related to the use of video telehealth visits. While we have some pre-existing regulations, given the increased utilization many questions were raised.  To address those questions in ways that best benefit patients we passed HB 123/SB 3 – Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2021. This bill expands the definitions of “telehealth” and the coverage and sets reimbursement requirements for health care services provided through telehealth for both Medicaid and private insurance.  On December 1, 2022, the Maryland Health Care Commission must submit a report on the impact of providing telehealth services in accordance with the bill’s requirements. As part of the report, the Maryland Insurance Administration must study how telehealth can support efforts to ensure health care provider network sufficiency and the impact of changes in access to coverage of telehealth services under health benefit plans on the ability of consumers to choose in–person care versus telehealth care as the modality of receiving a covered service. This bill was signed by the Governor on April 13th.The second bill addresses an issue that has become more prevalent since the implementation of high deductible health plans—medical debt.  To create a more compassionate and productive process for collecting on medical debt, HB 565/SB 514 – Health Facilities – Hospitals – Medical Debt Protection makes requirements relating to hospital debt collection policies and payment plans and prohibits a hospital from taking specified actions when collecting debt. To monitor the scope of the problem there will be an annual medical debt collection report and a study on the impact of uncompensated care if specific refunds were provided or if hospitals were required to forgive specified judgments. This bill is on the Governor’s desk.If you have followed my legislative career, you know that I am committed to working on bills that increase access to health care, especially for those who are affected by poverty.  School Based Health Centers are one way to help accomplish this goal.  Over the years I have passed several bills that create infrastructure for the operations of SBHCs.  This year both chambers passed HB 1148 Secretary of Health – School–Based Health Centers – Guidelines and Administration of Grants.  This will assure that the clinical operations of these community clinics are transferred from the Department of Education to the Department of Health, which is where this expertise resides. The most significant bill that did not make it through both chambers was the Climate Solutions Act 2021.  Unfortunately the leaders in the House and Senate could not agree on the level of emissions to set and how to meet the target standards.  I am confident that there will be work on this bill over the interim and it will be considered next session.