The Latest

Dear Friends,

The 2020 session of the Maryland General Assembly was historic in many ways, not the least of which was adjournment after only 70 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Since then, the news has been completely focused on the impact and responses to this public health crisis.  In spite of its early ending, the 2020 session was productive passing good policies that will help Marylanders.

Many significant pieces of legislation were passed by both the House and the Senate and went to the Governor’s desk for his signature. By law, the governor must sign, veto or allow a bill to pass without his signature by May 15.  With the exception of the emergency bills, the others are in limbo until that date.

Below are brief summaries of some of the major bills that were passed by both the House and the Senate.  If specific bills you were interested in are not covered in this message, please contact me to learn more about them.

COVID-19 EMERGENCY BILLS 

Among the bills that absolutely needed to get passed in this shortened session were those that would allow the Governor to take specific actions to address the public health emergency presented by the COVID-19 virus. Since the end of session, the Governor has made a number of executive orders in order to keep Marylanders safe, and these actions are being updated nearly daily as the needs are identified.  We have attempted to keep you updated on those changes with emails. Here are two of the bills that were passed during session to help our residents be healthy and to try to mitigate the economic impact of the shut down of most business—for employees and employers.

HB 1661 – State Budget – Revenue Stabilization Account Transfers – Coronavirus – The Speaker: this emergency bill allowed the Governor to transfer up to $50 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to mobilize the necessary resources to address the COVID-19 outbreak.

The funds provided are being used toward activities such as COVID-19 testing and research, coordination with various state agencies and local governments to develop preparedness plans and outreach to vulnerable communities to limit the spread of infection.

HB 1663 – State Government – State Of Emergency and Catastrophic Health Emergency – Authority of Governor (Covid-19 Public Health Emergency Protection Act Of 2020) – The Speaker: this emergency bill allowed the Governor to take several actions to expand healthcare coverage, including covering the cost of testing, unemployment benefits, restrictions against firing employees who are quarantined, increased access to telehealth, protection against price gouging.

STATE OPERATING BUDGET

There are two things that are required to be accomplished during the session—the passage of a balanced budget and the funding and organization of public education.  That was accomplished before the economic impact of the pandemic could be fully comprehended.  Given the loss of anticipated revenues to the state—less personal and business tax income and sales tax revenue since many more people are not able to work and therefore buy things—it is possible that there will be a special session to address budgetary issues, when it is safe to do so.

Budget Bill (Fiscal Year 2021) – SB190 – The President:  the General Assembly passed a balanced budget with bipartisan support that eliminated the structural deficit for next year and left over $1 billion in cash reserves to guard against an economic downturn. Here are the highlights:

  • funds education formulas completely
  • continues investment in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future
  • funds a staffing plan and vacancy elimination in Parole & Probation, Juvenile Services and Corrections to provide more resources that prevent recidivism
  • funds more resources for targeted prosecutions of the most violent offenders, particularly gun offenders, and increase monitoring of the Port of Baltimore for guns and illegal drugs.

On the last day of session, the House and Senate amended the budget to allow the Governor to access up to $100 million extra in funding to support small business and re-open hospitals in the COVID-19 crisis.

EDUCATION

Blueprint for Maryland’s Future – Implementation – HB 1300 – The Speaker:

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is a policy blueprint based on the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission). This is a once in a generation plan to revolutionize education in Maryland. It’s built on the principle that every child deserves the best education regardless of their zip code so they have a chance to compete for the jobs of the future.

The Blueprint is a transformational plan that makes 5 key investments, implemented over 10 years:

  • Expanding full-day prekindergarten for low-income 3 and 4 year olds and provides more family support centers in high-poverty areas;
  • Hiring and keeping high-quality, diverse teachers by paying teachers a salary comparable to other fields, providing more rigorous teacher preparation programs and implementing career ladders to provide more opportunities for career advancement.
  • Raising the standards for college and career readiness so students can compete with their international peers.
  • Providing more resources for the students who need them most
  • Implementing an accountability board to monitor progress and ensure tax-payer funds are being used effectively

Built to Learn Act – HB 1 – The Speaker, Dels. McIntosh, Dumais, and M. Jackson:

The Built to Learn Act is the largest one-time school construction investment in Maryland history. This historic bill invests an additional $2.2B into school construction, on top of current school construction program funding ($400M per year) and helps counties across the state build new schools and jumpstart much needed maintenance projects.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Funding – HB 1260 – The Speaker:

House Bill 1260 resolves the 13-year ongoing litigation around Maryland’s historically black colleges and universities, Bowie State, Coppin State, Morgan State and University of Maryland Eastern Shore.  It establishes a special fund and dedicates $577 million over 10 years that will help eliminate the vestiges of program duplication and put Maryland’s HBCUs on par with the other universities. Beginning in FY22, each of the state’s HBCUs can use the funds in five major areas:

  • Creating new academic programs and invest more dollars to boost existing, under-enrolled and under-utilized programs;
  • Providing more scholarships and financial aid programs;
  • Recruiting new faculty and providing training programs for existing faculty;
  • Providing additional academic supports to students;
  • Developing marketing plans to attract new students.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND CRIME

Increasing Penalties for Hate Crimes – HB 5 – Del. Chang:

Hate and bias incidents have no place in our communities, but these incidents continue to occur around the state. This bill makes it a crime to place or inscribe an item or a symbol, including an actual or depicted noose or swastika, on any person’s property, public or private, without the permission of the owner or specific persons, with the intent to threaten or intimate any person or group of persons. Violators are guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for up to three years and/or a $5,000 fine.

Auditing and Tracking Gun Crimes – HB 1629 – Del. Clippinger:

Require a statewide audit of gun crimes to pinpoint where the breakdown exists in the criminal justice system, from 911 call to disposition. The better we can track this information the better law enforcement will have the ability to allocate resources where communities need them.

Maryland State Crime Plan and Law Enforcement Councils – SB 907 – Sen. Smith (HB 1579, Del. Clippinger):

Emergency legislation creates the Law Enforcement Coordinating Council to prevent and reduce crime by (1) coordinating and focusing State resources and (2) ensuring interagency communications and intelligence sharing throughout State and local law enforcement agencies. The legislation also requires the Department of State Police to establish regional councils throughout the State to: identify regional crime trends; strategize on the deployment of resources to respond to regional crime — particularly violent crime; review outstanding warrants and discuss community engagement efforts as well.

Background Checks on All Private Gun Purchases – HB 4– Del. Atterbeary:

This legislation would close a loophole in the background check process for long gun (rifle and shotgun) transfers by requiring a licensed firearms dealer to facilitate a private long gun sale. Currently, there is no law that requires that background checks be conducted for private firearm sales. Passage of this bill will result in tens of thousands of additional background checks conducted and ensure each and every transaction is properly vetted.

ENVIRONMENT

Pesticides – Use of Chlorpyrifos – Prohibition – SB 300/HB229 – Sen. Lam and Del. Stein:

Prohibits the use of a specific chemical in pesticides that has not been conclusively shown to be safe for humans. The bill also establishes a transition fund and a task force that will support farmers in their transition away from this pesticide

HEALTHCARE

Protecting the Affordable Care Act – HB 959 – Del. Pendergrass:

Maryland has been committed to protecting the key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), regardless of the outcome of the Texas vs. United States lawsuit. This legislation aims to expand access to quality healthcare for Maryland residents by making state law consistent with the federal ACA law. The bill codifies key provisions of the ACA including:

  • Allowing young adults to stay on their parents’ plan until they turn 26
  • Eliminating co-pays for certain preventive services
  • Prohibiting health insurance companies from limiting how much they would pay for any individual’s medical bills over a lifetime
  • Expanding coverage for individuals with “pre-existing conditions”
  • Providing base level healthcare plans

Reverse Auctions – HB 1150 – Dels. Pendergrass & Cullison:

This bill requires the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to use a “reverse auction” to select a pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) for the Maryland Rx Program under the State Employee and Retiree Health and Welfare Benefits Program. With this model, companies who wish to supply vital prescription medications will be required to bid against each other and ultimately drive down drug prices. This bipartisan legislation will save consumers hundreds of millions of dollars in prescription drug costs.

Maryland Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Registry and Referral System – HB 1121 – Del. Peña-Melnyk, et al.: 

This bill establishes an online, statewide registry system for healthcare workers to track and share patient information and available resources. Hospitals have been experiencing a shortage of beds for patients needing substance abuse and mental health treatment. The registry will help healthcare workers have an accurate count of the available beds, get real-time updates and connect patients with resources.

ELECTIONS

“Shut the Revolving Door Act” – HB 315 –  Del. Stewart:

Prohibits former administration secretaries from lobbying their department for a year after leaving office. Cabinet positions should not be exploited for personal gain. This conforms law to similar restrictions in place for elected officials. It also increases the maximum criminal penalty for bribery to $25,000 (previously $10,000).

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS AND BALLOT QUESTIONS

These are questions that will be on the ballot for voters to decide in the General Election on November 3, 2020.

Sports Betting Referendum – SB 4 – Sen. Zucker:

Maryland has been at a competitive disadvantage to its surrounding states who already have sports betting as part of their gaming offerings. If passed by voters, Maryland would become the 15th state to legalize sports betting.

Balancing the State Budget – SB 1028 – Sen. Rosapepe, Del. Acevero:

This Constitutional Amendment will be on the 2020 ballot so voters can decide if the General Assembly can move money within the budget, like 49 other states allow. The State budget will still have to be balanced every year.

BLUEPRINT REVENUES 

This is a set of bills designed to provide the additional funding for the programs created by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.  Given the current economic changes due to the pandemic, it is likely that these bills will be considered if there is a special session later this year.

Digital Download Sales Tax – HB 932 – Del. Korman: would charge taxes for downloading music and games just as you would if you purchased them from a brick and mortar store;

Tobacco & Online Advertisements Tax – HB 732 – Dels. Luedtke & Peña Melnyk: would increase the existing excise tax on cigarettes by an additional $1.75 and it includes electronic vaping devices. It also charges online companies’ taxes on the revenue they make in Maryland on advertising.

There were a number of important bills that passed the House only and did not have time to complete the process through the Senate. These bills covered many areas, including the environment, more gun safety laws, other public safety laws and campaign finance revisions.  I suspect that these will be among the first topics discussed in the 2021 session.

BONNIE’S SUCCESSES

This session was my most successful thus far. It began with my appointment as Deputy Speaker Pro Tem, a position that allows me the opportunity to support the work of the new Speaker more directly.  We were able to pass bills that expand the kinds of agencies that can sponsor School Based Health Centers so we can increase their numbers and fund positions to regulate them. After 4 years we were able to revise the definition of the practice of dentistry to assure that Dental Service Organizations can be appropriately regulated, which will enable them to expand.

Only the Senate crossfiles of two of my bills completed the process, one of which would prohibit the use of dangerous chemicals in children’s toys and furniture and the other provides those who serve people with developmental disabilities the appropriate electronic infrastructure and processes that assure they can get the staffing and resources they need to serve their residents.

Of course all of these bills are now awaiting the decision of the governor. One bill passed early in the session that protects consumers from liabilities if their long-term care company defaults in payments. It has already been signed by the governor.

THANK YOU!

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to serve you in the Maryland House of Delegates. Thank you for the confidence you have placed in me to represent you.  If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me at bonnie.cullison@house.state.md.us or 301-858-3883.

Take care,

Bonnie Cullison

Previous Legislative Sessions

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