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Steve's News from Annapolis

2014-03-14

The legislature is but a month away from finishing our 2014 session. Just last week, we honored veterans of the Vietnam Era as we marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the United States involvement in the Vietnam War.  Nearly 150 veterans filled the House chamber to continuous applause. Both the House and Senate recognized these men and women for serving the country in one of our most trying times and divisive wars.

As we head towards ‘cross-over’ on March 17 (when all bills have to cross to either the Senate or the House in order to have a hearing), we have had extended days, longer bill hearings and more debate on the House floor. During this very busy and intense time, more negotiations and debate occur on substantive issues. I cannot talk about all of the interesting or important issues but here are some that we are addressing.

Positive Movement to Establish a Hybrid School Board in Baltimore County

Yesterday, the Baltimore County House delegation approved an amended bill, HB 1453, that will provide a hybrid – partially elected and partially appointed- school board beginning in 2018. I have sought, for six years, to eliminate the County’s all appointed Board and to provide citizens and voters with an opportunity to choose the members of the school board. This year, it looks like we will get it done!

The bill provides for seven elected members (one from each Council district) and four appointed members. The appointees will be vetted by a School Board Nominating Commission. The Commission will make recommendations to the Governor who will then make the appointment. These concepts came together from a bill I introduced and one from Del. Adrienne Jones.

We got to this point due to the advocacy of many parents and community members and the hard work of Delegates Jones, John Olszewski and Dana Stein. I have spoken with the chairs of the House and Senate Committees who must act next. I feel confident that both committees will act favorably so that HB 1453 will be passed by the House and Senate.

Domestic Violence

A couple of weeks ago I reported on three bills, HB 306, 307 and 309 that would address domestic violence and better protect victims of domestic abuse in Maryland. I am pleased to report that the House of Delegates passed these bills! There was very little debate. This told me that there is agreement that these are important these bills for protecting people, particularly women, from abuse. HB 307 is particularly important since it changes the standard of proof required to obtain a ‘peace order’ so that one only needs to show a ‘preponderance of the evidence’ (proof by about 51%) in order to get a protective order. Maryland joins all of the other states who have this standard.

Minimum Wage

A person who works a full 40 hour week at the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour earns $15,080 a year. It is extremely difficult for a single person to live on this income and nearly impossible for a family to live on. Yet, this is the minimum wage in Maryland.

This past week, I was proud to vote for a change in the minimum wage that passed the House of Delegates. The bill changes the minimum wage to $8.20 in January 2015, $9.15 in January 2016 and $10.10 in January 2017. We did not change the minimum for tip wages nor did we provide an automatic escalator provision based on the consumer price index (CPI) as requested by the Governor.

I see this as an important effort to raise basic wages for lower income workers. That an increase will be a challenge and could cause a loss of jobs for some businesses is a valid argument. But, there is also ample evidence that this is a boost for our overall economy and that the benefits outweigh the negatives. I believe that by raising workers’ wages there will be more disposable income to spend and that businesses can minimize employee turnover and maximize productivity. The Senate now needs to act  on this important legislation.

Improvements in Speed Camera Programs

State law currently allows speed cameras on highway work zones and, if approved by the county, within a half mile of public schools. However, there have been a number of serious problems with the implementation of the law. As a result, the Environmental Matters Committee has spent significant time over the past two years trying to solve a myriad of problems that have emerged.

The House overwhelmingly approved a bill that will clarify the law. Key provisions of the Speed Systems Reform Act of 2014 will:

  • Require that a citation must be reviewed and affirmed by a duly authorized law enforcement officer
  • Clarify the definition of a “school zone”
  • Ensure that the sign that designates a school zone is proximate to a sign that indicates there is a speed camera before activating a speed monitoring camera
  • Alter the standards and requirements for new locations for speed cameras
  • Eliminate the “bounty” system which tied the payment to the vendor to the number of citations issued
  • Require a local government to designate a person to serve as a public liaison and a program administrator
  • Change the standards and requirements for daily self-tests and annual calibrations
  • Establish a detailed reporting requirement by the local government

These, cumulatively, are substantial changes that should reduce, and hopefully eliminate, erroneous violations and many of the operational problems seen in this program.

Capital Funding Requested for New Scoreboard at Towson High School

Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to present a request for funds for a new scoreboard at Towson High School. The Towson Sports Boosters, with great support from the Towson Recreation Council and the community, have been raising money for a scoreboard as a part of a larger set of improvements to the athletic complex. I was accompanied by Bruce Chesser, President of the Boosters, and Councilman David Marks. Bruce did a great job explaining the problem and how these funds were critical. We should know how this request fares very soon.

Balancing the State’s Budget

When the Governor presented his budget to the General Assembly, he was obligated to present one that is balanced. The budget is based on anticipated revenue from the various fees, taxes and other income sources that exist. As both the Senate and House develop the budget, we are confronted with another revenue shortfall of $253 million for FY 15 and FY 16. This is, in part, due the sequestration by the Congress, lower personal income and sales tax revenues and fewer dollars from casinos than had been expected.

Much to my frustration, the balanced budget included a $100 million reduction in the money committed to funding pension obligations. Although this reduction does not impact the current retirees, it reneges on the commitment that was made to former state employees. We have not seen the budget proposal from the Senate yet. However, I  understand that it will include other, substantial cuts in funds for education, the environment, retirement funds and personnel.

Osler Road Closure at Towson University

As an important part of improving safety on Osler Drive, Towson University is installing a pedestrian bridge to help students cross onto the main campus. The University has notified the community that Osler Drive will be closed between March 17 and 20 from Cross Campus Drive to Towsontowne Boulevard. Once construction begins, the road must be closed 24 hours a day until the bridge installed. Osler is scheduled to reopen on March 21. If you have questions, you can call Ray Feldman at Towson University at 410-704-4672.

There are many other issues that you may want to look into. If you are interested in legislative action regarding dog bite liability, the use of Google glasses while driving, fracking for gas, allowing wind turbines on preserved land, or expanded pre-K throughout the state, you can go to www.mgaleg.maryland.gov for more details. And, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or want to share your thoughts on any legislation.

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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