The 2017 90 day annual session of the Maryland General Assembly ended Monday, April 10th at Midnight. Here is my summary of the major issues of the session.
2018 Fiscal Year Budget – I was proud to once again lead the Republican budget effort in the House of Delegates as the Ranking Member of the Appropriations Committee. The General Assembly passed the Governor’s budget with few changes keeping spending under the “spending affordability limit” which limits budget increases to economic growth.
The budget grows about 1.5% over last year but provides record spending for education without any new taxes or fees. Funds are included to limit state college tuition increases to 2% and to provide scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools (BOOST). The Governor’s budget invests $51 million towards the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund, and $60 million for Program Open Space and other programs for land preservation and the environment. Record funds are provided to fight substance abuse and the opioid epidemic.
Moreover, the Governor sought limits on future spending in HB 420 – Commonsense Spending Act of 2017 – that would have automatically cut new mandated spending whenever revenue falls below projections, but the legislature rejected the measure.
Education – VICTORY!!! After 15 years of personal effort introducing and co-sponsoring legislation to give Anne Arundel County an elected school board the legislature has finally approved HB 716 Board of Education for the election of board members beginning in 2018. One board member will be elected from each of our seven county council districts with one student member selected by middle and high school students.
DEFEAT!!! At the same time education was damaged with the passage of a bad bill, HB 978 – Protect Our Schools Act of 2017 – which was pushed by the state teacher’s union and 1) weakens school accountability standards and 2) seeks to gloss over poor performing schools. Both the Washington Post and Baltimore Sun have attacked the law.
Under the new federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA), the State Board of Education is directed to set up a new accountability system for school performance. HB 978 imposes mandates and limits on that system. For a problem school it requires the State Board to wait three years before interfering and then limits what it is able to do. It protects the education bureaucracy over the needs of the students. As promised, Governor Hogan vetoed the bill but the veto was overridden.
Jobs – Businesses will close and jobs will be lost because of a heavy handed paid sick leave bill that passed HB1 – Maryland Healthy Families Working Act. This mandate by the legislature on businesses will be expensive and inflexible for the many small businesses that will be forced to implement the law and I voted against it. Similar measures have been introduced for several years but failed. In this session Governor Hogan sought a compromise by introducing a common-sense paid sick leave law, using tax incentives, that would have addressed the needs of employees without weakening our state’s business climate. The Governor’s proposal was fair and would have benefitted more employees, unfortunately that approach was rejected. With so many businesses struggling, particularly with the skyrocketing cost of Obamacare, it is wrong for the state to force yet another mandate on small businesses.
Crimes – The General Assembly failed to reinstate the requirement of bail for defendants awaiting criminal trials SB 983 – Criminal Procedure – Pretrial Release. Our 300+ year old system of bail was turned on its head last year with the decision by the Court of Appeals, effective July 1, that judicial officers should use cash bail as a last resort. Our bail system has worked well and judicial officers should be allowed the discretion in keeping our community safe.
Immigration – The legislature worked hard to make Maryland a sanctuary for illegal aliens with HB 1362 – Immigration – Community Trust which passed the House of Delegates, but the backlash of its passage created such an uprising of constituents that the measure died in the Senate. The bill would have prohibited local and state officials, including police, from cooperating in the apprehension and detention of violent criminals who are illegal aliens. Any delay in the removal of these fugitives puts our state in danger.
Assisted Suicide – I have been a leader in the effort to defeat state sanctioned assisted suicide. Introduced and defeated for the third time, HB 370 – End-of-Life Option Act was withdrawn in the Senate before a vote could taken, though it appeared to have enough support to pass the House. The bill claims to provide “dignity”, but its prescription of 100 pills of the medicine used to execute felons, and its lack of safeguards was opposed by many who felt the bill would have allowed the coercion of the disabled and elderly into taking their own life. Moreover legalizing assisted suicide cheapens the value of life and increases the suicide count among all groups.
Elections – In 2015, the Governor established a bipartisan Redistricting Reform Commission to study Maryland’s abuse of gerrymandered legislative districts and how to implement a system more transparent and fair. Their recommendations were introduced and failed in a proposed constitutional amendment, HB 385 – Redistricting Reform Act of 2017 which would have allowed a nonpartisan commission to draw the districts. Maryland is often cited as an example of the most extreme cases of gerrymandering. The bill would have established reasonable requirements of compactness, geographic integrity and jurisdictional integrity. We will work again on this important issue next year.
Transportation – In an effort to obscure the failings of mass transit and to use more transportation trust fund monies paid by motorists on mass transit, the legislature passed HB 271 – Maryland Transit Administration – Farebox Recovery, Goals, and Performance – which repealed the requirement that the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) recover at least 35% of its total operating costs from transit fares. Our transit system has not been able to meet this very modest goal, with light rail only recouping 18% of its operating costs in 2016. This is yet another tool being used to funnel money away from road projects and into mass transit. The bill passed the House on a party-line vote of 85-50.
Veterans – The legislature helped veterans get jobs with two bills, HB 349 – Income Tax Credit – Hire Our Veterans Act of 2017 gives tax credits to small businesses that hire veterans, and HB1466 – Disabled Veterans – Noncompetitive Appointment makes it easier for a disabled veteran to be selected for a job with the State of Maryland.