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Steve's News from Annapolis

2010-04-04

With just a week to go in the 2010 Session, the House continues to address the budget and other substantial issues. As with every year, this is "crunch time" for all of us as bills move into their final stage of approval or demise. It was good to have this past weekend off to visit people in the district and to recharge my batteries for the long week ahead.

State Budget

Simply put, the budget is stark. Revenues are still not strong and with the increase in our unemployment rate, they will not rebound quickly. On Friday, after two days of debate on the budget, the House passed a General Fund budget that is lower than the previous year's. Most of the Governor's reductions were adopted and we made more cuts. This FY 2011 budget eliminated another 500 state positions; nearly 4,000 have been eliminated in the past three years. Unfortunately the budget provides no pay increases or added benefits for state workers. This budget also reduces the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, cut funds to local governments and increased college tuition by 3%.

Just as we have to juggle various accounts and funds to address family and household needs, the legislature and Governor have transferred some funds and will rely on federal funds to get us past these tough economic times. These are one time shifts to enable us to meet the obligations citizens want and to keep a balanced budget. The House did not agree to shift teacher pension obligations to the County.

We kept our commitment to maintaining public education funding, to retaining health care services and to public safety. Many agencies, including colleges and universities, were level funded and some future, mandated increases were reduced.

The differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget -- including teacher pensions and legislative scholarships -- now need to be reconciled.

The Economy

As I surveyed residents in the district, well over half identify jobs and the economy as their first priority. This past week, we also saw Maryland's unemployment rate increase. A large manufacturer, BP Solar in Frederick, has now cut over 320 jobs. The House passed a job creation tax credit and reduced the Unemployment Insurance burden on employers. We also passed a bill that enables construction projects to stay alive rather than expire due to lack of funding. Giving them a chance to survive can help create jobs. We have also continued to fund both public education and higher education in order to ensure our future work force is prepared.  While we can set the stage for, and help fund job creation, the vast majority of jobs will need to come from the private sector.

Education

My bill that would have required an elected school board was amended to create a part-elected and part-appointed "hybrid" Board. It did not pass in the Senate and, therefore, is dead for this year. Very interestingly, though, our Delegation received an informative letter from the school board President, summarizing a recent Board meeting. This was clearly a response to the pressure that I and others placed on the school system to be more open and responsive.

HB 348 was passed by the House to require Towson University to notify the surrounding community when it is engaged in large construction projects on campus. Due to the work that I and community members have done over the past few years, Towson University has improved its communications about its growth plans. HB 348 furthers its role in providing necessary notice.

The House passed HB 1160, the Safe Schools Act, to break down the barriers and improve communications between the schools and law enforcement to better ensure the schools know when pupils have been involved in illegal activity. This should help school personnel deal with students who are disruptive and to coordinate efforts to identify and guard against gang activity.

We also passed HB 1263, the Education Reform Act, to position Maryland to apply for the federal Race to the Top funds. This bill was developed in conjunction with educators, the state Board of Education and others. I am concerned that we are changing our outstanding education system just to seek federal funds and we will make commitments that will require state funding later. I will be watching this effort closely. The State anticipates applying for this next round of funds.

Stormwater Management Legislation


The tug and pull over the 2007 Stormwater Management Act was recently resolved by the House by passing a severely amended HB 1125. This amended version was developed by a stakeholder group that included Chesapeake Bay Foundation and 1000 Friends of Maryland, home builders, local government representatives and legislators. Most importantly, the bill protects the stringent regulations that will improve water quality and remove pollutants from runoff from parking lots, roof tops and other surfaces. The "trade-off" was to afford developers time to transition into the regulations so that their investments can be somewhat protected. While I am not happy with the length of time being granted, it is a good compromise that does not impair water protection efforts.

Other Bills of Note and Interest


The House passed substantial legislation to require that a home cannot be foreclosed until the borrower and lender meet to find a way to prevent the foreclosure. This mandatory mediation will force lenders to work out a solution if possible. It is an excellent step to preventing more families from losing their homes.

My bill to require a notice to advise homebuyers that they should get housing counseling before they purchase a home was approved by the House and will have a Senate hearing this week. I am optimistic since lenders and housing counselors are in support. Similarly, another of my bills, HB 1042, will have a Senate hearing after passing unanimously in the House. This is an important bill that prohibits any documents with either driver's license or social security numbers from being filed with the State and gives individuals a chance to have them removed if they are on file.

Let me thank my constituents, again, for taking time to contact me about the issues that concern them. It is essential in my ability to represent the 42nd district and the state.  

Best wishes,

Steve Lafferty

Contact Steve

Contact Delegate Lafferty
By Phone: 410-841-3487
By Email: stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us

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By Phone: 410-377-4521
By Email: lafferty@delegatelafferty.com

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