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Steve's News from Annapolis

2014-02-16

 

I hope you made it through the snows, ice and rain safely. It created quite a mess throughout the region and forced the General Assembly to modify our schedules and cancel hearings since it was not safe for people to travel to Annapolis to testify.  While both the House and Senate continued to meet, almost all hearings and committee meetings were canceled on Thursday, delaying part of our work. The Baltimore County House Delegation meeting on Friday was also canceled since we did not know whether traveling would be safe for constituents who wanted to attend.

There still has been a lot of legislative action on many significant bills during the past weeks. Here are a few of them:

Domestic Violence Legislation

We continue to seek ways to reduce domestic violence in Maryland. It is clear that we cannot always prevent violent people from finding ways around the law and cause harm. Our emphasis has been, largely, on criminal penalties and reducing the chances a perpetrator may have to engage in such violent acts. Here are three bills that are before us this year:

  • HB306,  Criminal Law-Crimes Committed in the Presence of a Minor-Penalties: This bill increases the penalties for certain crimes of violence that are committed in the presence of a minor. Research has shown that violence witnessed by a minor can significantly impact a child’s development, behavior and temperament. The bill is intended to hold abusers accountable by allowing courts to impose a tougher penalty for violent crimes committed in the presence of a minor.
  • HB307, Peace Orders and Protective Orders-Burden of Proof: This bill alters the standard of proof for the issuance of a final protective order from "clear and convincing evidence" to a “preponderance of the evidence” standard. Currently, Maryland is the only state that has the standard of clear and convincing evidence which is a tougher standard required for conviction. This bill should allow more individuals to obtain protection from abusers.
  • HB 309,  Family Law-Domestic Violence- Permanent Final Protective Orders: This bill requires the court to issue a permanent final protective order against an individual who is convicted of certain acts of abuse and sentenced to serve a prison sentence of at least 5 years. This bill also adds second degree assault as a crime which can subject a person to the issuance of a permanent final protective order. This is the most common charge in domestic abuse cases.

Education Reform Legislation

The legislature is taking a hard look at issues such as the Common Core standards, teachers’ evaluations, local decision making and what is dubbed the ‘’tsunami of education reform’’ in Maryland. Here are a few of the significant ones:

  • HB 117 directs the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to seek a waiver from the U.S, Department of Education from the administration of the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) test this spring. This would give the state the chance to ensure that the MSA is aligned with new changes proposed by the Common Core standards.
  • HB 1001 provides some legislative oversight when the MSDE seeks waivers from the U.S, Department of Education from the No Child Left Behind law. There is serious concern that some of the recent waiver requests granted by USDE have placed undue burdens and unrealistic timelines on local school system. These have further limited innovation and flexibility in the local systems.
  • HB 1167 reaffirms that local school districts can establish the criteria for teacher and principal evaluations.  While the legislature gave MSDE general authority in 2010 to establish standards, it was with the expectation that ‘’one size does not fit all’’ and that local school systems would set specific standards applicable to them.
  • HB 1164 creates a Workgroup to assess the professional development needs, identify technology gaps necessary to successfully implement new Common Core State Standards and examine the overall readiness to implement Common Core. There is tremendous anxiety amongst many teachers, principals and administrators about how the Common Core standards will be implemented. While there is broad agreement with the Common Core standards, there is a lot of concern about teacher preparedness, curricula changes and the adequacy of resources.

Human Trafficking

I am a co-sponsor of HB 701 which raises the penalty for the abduction of a child under age 16 from being a misdemeanor to a felony. It also raises the penalty from a maximum of 10 years to 30 years. This is aimed at crimes of prostitution by children. Prostitution of a child is sex trafficking; by raising the penalty for abduction, we can provide more harsh penalties for traffickers and, hopefully, deter further abductions of children. We cannot forget that these young people are compelled to engage in sexual activity to enrich others and, as a result, are victims.

Pesticide Registration Fee

A recent poll indicated that over 75% of Marylanders support efforts to obtain more information and data on pesticide usage. Last year, I sought to establish a statewide database on pesticide usage so that we could better identify where and when pesticides are being applied and determine whether there are any public health or environmental health problems associated with their usage.

Even though last year’s bill failed, a Workgroup was formed (which I co-chaired) to examine the issue further. One major recommendation was to increase the pesticide registration fee so that funds could be generated to gather information and data on pesticide application. I filed this bill, HB 621, to increase the fee by $10 and to direct these funds be used for data gathering and analysis.

HB 621 was heard in committee this week and, there was no opposition! Farmers, environmentalists and the Department of Agriculture all supported it. Pesticide applicators and the pesticide industry were silent. I am optimistic that we can pass this bill and raise added funds to gather data on pesticides usage in Maryland.

Wildlands Designation

HB 296 furthers Maryland’s efforts to protect unique ecological, geological, scenic and recreational areas. This bill places the Wildlands Designation on an additional 21,890 acres of State owned lands in nine counties. One such area is the beautiful Soldiers’ Delight property in northwestern Baltimore County. This legislation will help protect Maryland’s most scenic views; rare, threatened and endangered plants and animal species; and, wetlands, old growth forests and numerous pristine areas. The State will be engaged in enhanced management practices to protect these lands.

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments on these bills or other legislative action. I can be reached at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us or at 410-841-3487.

Best wishes,

Steve

 

Delegate Steve Lafferty
Maryland House of Delegates, District 42
410-841-3487
stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us