The Latest

Dear Friends,

The 2018 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly is now in the history books as one of the most active and intense sessions in recent years. There were a record number of bills considered in public hearings and there were many examples of advocates from all sides working to reach consensus, or at least compromise, on some important issues.

The session began with the override of two of the governor’s vetoes from 2017. The House and Senate reaffirmed their commitment to providing up to five days of paid sick leave annually and to helping individuals recover from previous mistakes by eliminating the criminal history box on applications at our universities and colleges.

Much of the significant new legislation this year was in response to what is happening on a national level. This letter includes the highlights of major bills and a summary of my personal bills this session. Unless noted, the bills reported here passed both chambers and are awaiting the governor’s signature. To learn more about any of the bills discussed in this letter, or any others, you can go to Maryland General Assembly 2018 Legislation.

PUBLIC SAFETY & GUNS

The focus of several public safety bills this session were laws designed to remove guns from those who might be inclined to use them to injure others. These include HB 1646, which allows law enforcement to confiscate guns from those convicted of domestic violence who did not turn in their guns voluntarily and HB 1302, which allows doctors, law enforcement or family members to petition the court to remove the guns from the home of someone a judge considers to be a serious danger to themselves or others. HB 888 bans “rapid fire trigger activators”; any kind of device or part that accelerates the rate of fire of a gun. This includes bump stocks and any similar devices.

Passage of HB 1, already signed by the governor, protects victims of sexual assault by allowing the court to remove the parental rights of their attacker. This bill has been considered for over a decade and Maryland finally joins 30 other states by enacting this legislation

PROTECTING MARYLAND TAXPAYERS IN RESPONSE TO FEDERAL CHANGES

It is really unknown at this point what the full effect of the federal changes in tax policy will be for most Maryland taxpayers. However, a package of bills has been put together to mitigate potential negative impact. HB 365 does two important things: it requires the Bureau of Revenue Estimates to continuously monitor and report back to the General Assembly on the constantly changing state revenue projections which result from federal tax changes and it restores the ability to use personal exemptions on State tax returns. This bill will save 92% of Marylanders an average of $400. In addition, HB 570/SB 318 increased our standard deduction by $250 for single taxpayers and $500 for joint filers — the first increases in three decades. To account for inflation, these bills will increase the standard deduction every single year moving forward like the federal government’s annual increases for social security benefits.

Two new tax laws were designed to help our retired veterans and first responders. HB 327 increases the exclusion of pension income to $15,000 per year for military veterans over the age of 55. HB 296, The Hometown Heroes Act, does the same for our retired law enforcement, fire and rescue and EMS workers.

One of the concerns we heard in in deliberating about earned sick leave policy was the effect if could have on small businesses. SB 134 addresses this issue by providing up to $5 million of tax credits per year as an incentive for Maryland’s small businesses to provide their low-income workers with paid sick leave. This bipartisan legislation creates a new tax credit that allows a small business to receive up to $500 for each worker making roughly $30,000 per year who receives paid sick leave.

Tax fairness was also in the spotlight list year. In order to assure that those most able to pay contribute their fair share, HB 308 decouples Maryland estate law from federal limits ($10 million) so that anyone who inherits an estate worth more than $5 million will pay taxes on that amount. This law prevents doubling the tax giveaway to the ultra-wealthy.

HEALTH CARE

The cost of care is rising due to insurance market uncertainty and the decrease of healthy people in the individual market, the result of eliminating the mandate. Providing health care to all residents is a priority of the General Assembly and this year we passed two pieces of legislation to curb the rising cost of premiums in the short-term and offer a long-term solution to stabilize the market. Decisions about how to move forward were made by workgroup which included the Maryland Insurance Administration (MIA), the Health Benefits Exchange, carriers, physicians and legislators. HB 1795 allowed the MIA to apply for a federal grant to use federal funds to help create a state-run reinsurance program. Reinsurance will allow insurance companies to subsidize the cost of care for high-risk individual market enrollees and curb the premium increases from having substantial effects on the rest of the insurance market. HB 1782 authorizes the State to collect the 2.75% ($380 million) in suspended federal fees from insurance companies to pay for the state reinsurance pool. It also requires a study to explore further long-term solutions for the insurance industry and stabilize individual market rates.

EDUCATION

Maryland’s Constitution prioritizes education; to begin to meet the needs of educational programing in a technological world, HB 1415 was passed to improve teacher recruitment, target more resources to students in low-income schools, and expand career technical education. In addition to programming, school construction processes are addressed in HB 1783, which will proceed with an override of the governor’s veto. This bill provides $400 million in school construction and an additional $10 million in school safety funding. It authorizes the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC), which will be expanded to include four appointees from the Speaker and Senate President and five appointees from the Governor, to make funding decisions. Under the IAC, school construction hearings will have the same accountability and transparency standards as the Board of Public Works.

Revising the funding formulas for education is necessary to move our education systems forward. SB 1122 mandates that there be a referendum on the ballot in November 2018 so that voters can decide whether all of the State’s casino money should be spent on K-12 public education. If this is approved by referendum, House Bill 1697 would require the State to gradually increase education funding until fiscal year 2023, when 100 percent of casino funds would be used for supplemental education spending.

In response to the recent school shootings in Great Mills and Parkland, Florida, the General Assembly passed SB 1265, comprehensive legislation to improve safety at Maryland schools. This bill includes $12.5 million in grants for training for students, school personnel, school resource officers (SROs) and school safety evaluations, It also establishes the Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS) to oversee safety improvements, active shooter training, mental health services and development of a plan to increase/improve the role of the SRO.

BUDGET FISCAL YEAR 2019

The General Assembly passed an overwhelmingly bipartisan, fiscally responsible budget which leaves a fund balance of $201.4 million and produces a structural surplus of $158 million, including $879 million in Maryland’s Rainy Day Fund. The budget maintains our commitment to public schools by providing record funding (over $6.5 billion) for K-12 education. This is a 2.9% increase on last year’s K-12 education funding. Direct aid to local schools increases by over $160 million and school safety programs will receive an additional $41 million. The budget also provides a 4.1% increase in funding to public colleges and universities, allowing our public higher education institutions to cap tuition increases at 2%. Funding for health care is increased by $11.4 billion to cover 1.4 million residents.

Locally, State aid to Montgomery County increased in all areas, most significantly in the areas of transportation (county highway user/capital grants) and Recreation and environment.

I worked with my fellow D19 team, Senator Roger Manno and fellow Delegates Ben Kramer, Maricé Morales to secure $150,000 for that will provide matching funds towards repairing the roof of our Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, a vibrant community center serving the broader public community.

TRANSPORTATION

This session the General Assembly sought to fund both transit and road projects to improve our transportation systems. HB 372 allocated additional funding of $167 million annually to the WMATA Metro system, with a 3% inflation factor, contingent on Virginia and DC contributing at the same or greater levels. It also allocates and $178 million over three years to the Metro system in Baltimore. The bill provides for greater oversight of the systems.

For local projects, HB 807 increases the amount of highway user funds distributed to Baltimore City, the counties, and municipalities. These increases in funding will start in fiscal year 2020 and scale up through fiscal year 2024. At full phase in, this legislation will provide $60 million per year to Maryland’s counties and $37 million per year to Maryland’s municipalities.

ENVIRONMENT

Concerns about the negative impact of climate change is very much on the minds of state legislators and we are interested in working with others around the country and the world. HB 3 which requires the Governor to join the U.S. Climate Alliance. The U.S. Climate Alliance is a group of states that have committed to greenhouse gas reduction goals. HB 230 requires legislative approval to withdraw from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Given the federal government’s desire to expand offshore oil and gas drilling along the east coast (except Florida), HB 1456 was passed establishing that a person that causes an oil or gas spill while engaged in offshore drilling activity is strictly liable for damages.

BONNIE’S BILLS IN THE 2018 SESSION

As chair of the Health and Government Operations Insurance Subcommittee, a great deal of my time was spent meeting with the ACA workgroup to address the changes in federal health care laws and the rising cost of health care. That work is reflected in the bills mentioned earlier. I was also heavily involved in negotiating an agreement between Pharmacy Benefit Managers and independent pharmacists that will protect these small businesses who have been put at risk by cuts in reimbursements. At the request of the hospice providers, I passed a bill that created safe processes for hospice workers to dispose of opioids used to lessen pain for those at end of life (HB 407). This was needed to prevent these drugs from entering the black market. My work to help mid-level health providers included statues to define the standards for practice for both nurse anesthetists and midwives (HB 863 and 1437). For the last several years, members of the visually impaired community were looking for a way to enforce accommodation requirements for state websites. I was successful in passing a bill that defined the guidelines for enforcement, including penalties for companies who did not comply (HB 1088).

A MOST AMAZING MOMENT OF THE 2018 SESSION

This year I sponsored HB 902, which prohibited the use of “conversion therapy” by licensed health professionals. This “therapy” is an ineffective and unsafe practice used to “convert” an individual with a differing sexual orientation to heterosexual. The Senate cross-file (SB 1028) came to the House floor first and I was the floor leader on this bill. The youngest member, Del. Meagan Simonaire, stood up and told the story of a girl who discovered that she was bisexual in high school and how her family had recommended conversion therapy so she could become heterosexual. She spoke poignantly about the self-loathing and depression, which lingers today, because of that sense of rejection. It was only at the end of her remarks that she revealed that it was her personal story. Debate was closed and the bill passed, 95—27. We wanted her moving words to be the final debate on this issue and we did not proceed with HB 902; the Senate version has passed both houses and is with the Governor awaiting his signature.

BE IN TOUCH

If you need assistance or have any questions about process or opportunities, or ideas for future bills, please do not hesitate to contact my office, bonnie.cullison@house.state.md.us, or 301-858-3883. During the intersession the office is only staffed three days a week, but we will respond as quickly as we can.

Thank you again for your engagement. I wish you and your family all the best over the next nine months.

 

All the best,

Bonnie Cullison

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