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Steve's News From Annapolis

2012-03-19

The Maryland General Assembly is entering its last three weeks of intense work. We will be voting on the budget and the pace of our subcommittee meetings and votes in committee and on the floor will greatly increase.

Since we pass legislation on a very wide range of issues, I suggest that you get information about any of the bills I do not mention in this newsletter, at www.mlis.state.md.us. At this web site, you can also listen to House and committee proceedings and see what is being discussed and voted.

The Senate’s budget

Last week, the Senate passed their version of the state budget; now, the House version of the  budget is being developed by the House Appropriations Committee for our debate and passage by the full House. I doubt that our version will be the same as the Senate’s. The Senate largely relies on an income tax increase for most individuals, a shifting of teachers’ pension obligations over four years and reforming the funding of public schools’ maintenance of effort (MOE).

The Senate proposes to raise the income tax by .25% for most Marylanders. An individual with a $75,000 income would see the tax rate go up to 5.5%. The most significant change would be for the small number (about 18,000) people with the highest incomes in the state. Those with a $500,000 income, or more, will have a tax rate of 5.75% on the entire income. There is also an increase in the earned income tax credit for lower income earners, and a tax increase on more tobacco products and internet sales.

I am opposed to the increased income tax as the Senate has proposed. I am also concerned about the Senate’s increase on highest income earners since the entire income is subject to the higher tax and not based on an incremental change. I know that this approach to raising money for education and other public needs will be debated extensively.

The Senate also proposes to shift teacher pensions to the counties more gradually than the Governor proposed. Librarians and community college employees are still not included. And, the MOE will require all counties to meet their ongoing obligations to pay for public education. Unfortunately, for many years, a large number of counties have continued to lower their own contribution, causing the state to make  up the difference. The counties have to take greater responsibility for their own schools. Those of us in Baltimore County have seen excellent budget management. Schools have been fully funded without raising any taxes for 20 years.

Gas Tax

Last week, I heard testimony on the Governor’s proposed 6% sales tax on gasoline. We had approximately 85 people speak on this issue. The advocates made a very compelling case for the need for added funds, describing the decaying roads and bridges, the aging transit vehicles and the potential for significant job creation. I agree with the Governor that we cannot continue to defer our growing transportation needs.

However, just as compelling is the dramatic financial impact on so many businesses and individuals. The added costs for hauling grain from the Shore, moving any products by truck, motor coach operations and for individuals who drive to work and taxi their children are just too difficult to bear at this time. I cannot support the Governor’s proposal but do believe we need to find funds to rebuild infrastructure and address the growing pressure on the roads and transit.

Environmental Issues

An issue that has captured a lot of attention over the past year is the process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” that is used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in western Maryland. There have been numerous disasters in Ohio and Pennsylvania with damage to water supplies, leaking ponds of toxic chemicals and the loss of a way of life. Yes, we need natural gas. But, we need to move cautiously to ensure that there is minimal environmental damage and residents do not see their water infiltrated with dangerous chemicals as has been seen in other states.

We are in the process of passing two bills that will further the work of the Marcellus Shale Commission established by Governor O’Malley but deferred other bills until the Commission makes it final findings later this year..

The House has passed my bill, HB 1, to require apartments and condominiums to provide recycling for their residents. I am pleased that we can further our recycling efforts and provide that opportunity for residents in apartments. My other bills regarding plastic bag recycling have not yet come out of committee. We are also close to passing legislation regarding lead paint poisoning in older apartments.

The Environmental Matters Committee will be acting on two big bills this week. I expect us to vote on the increase in the “flush tax” to fund the Bay Restoration Fund and also take up the growth and septics bill which addresses future growth in Maryland.

Criminal Law and Penalties

The House has also acted on a number of bills to strengthen criminal penalties. This includes:

  • HB2  will require parents or custodians to report a child under the age of 13 missing within the first 24 hours.  Commonly known as Caylee’s law, violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to imprisonment for up to 3 years. The bill also requires a parent/guardian to report the death of a child within 5 hours of learning of the death.  Timely reporting of missing or dead children is an important factor in locating these children and bringing their attackers to justice.
  • HB211 requires a state or local elected official who is found guilty of a felony or certain misdemeanors be suspended and, in some cases, immediately removed from office. Currently, the guilty public official is forced out only when they have been sentenced. I was proud to co-sponsor this strong step forward in restoring the public’s confidence in their elected officials. 
  • HB349 doubles the statute of limitations from 1 to 2 years for misdemeanor possession of child pornography including film, videotape, photos or other representations of children under 16. I expect this to lead to more arrests and convictions. There were 29 convictions for misdemeanor possession of child pornography in the circuit courts in fiscal 2011.  

Other Issues and Matters

We had extensive floor debate were SJ 3, which set the compensation for judges and others in the judiciary. A salary recommendation from the Compensation Commission was for a 6% salary increase annually for four years. The Senate recommended a 3% increase. Under current law, if we rejected the 3%, the 6% increase would automatically become law! While many of us wanted an even lower raise, we knew the Senate would not reconsider so we agreed to the 3% increase after much debate.

HB 366 was also contentious since many argued that each county should set its own fire safety standards. This bill requires all counties to adopt a fire safety code that includes sprinklers in homes. I supported this bill which prevents local counties from using a lower standard for safety. HB 366 was strongly supported by the Fire Marshall and fire associations in every county.

We were also visited by the Towson High School Law and Public Policy students. As a result of an important committee meeting called the day before, I regret that I could not meet with them personally. I always enjoy their visits and it is always great to have students come and see the legislature doing its work.

The House also honored three Tuskegee Airmen for their outstanding military service. In fact, two of them live in Baltimore County and the other lives in the City. It was an honor to hear these veterans’ remarks.

I am privileged and honored to represent the 42nd District in the legislature. As always, I welcome contacts and comments from my constituents at 410-841-3487 or at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us.

Best wishes,

Steve

Contact Steve

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

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

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Tuesday, October 2, 2018, 7:30 - 9:00 AM
The Country Club of Maryland