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Steve's News from Annapolis

2014-03-31

The past two weeks have been a mix of long days, frenetic schedules and lulls in legislative business. We met in a daylong session on Saturday, March 15 and reconvened on Monday, March 17 for a double session to debate and vote on bills that needed to get to the Senate by the end of the day. As a result, the week of March 18 had a lighter schedule of hearings and work by the full House as we waited for more bills to be sent over. However, this past week was marked by extensive debate on the budget and the Fairness for All Marylanders Act.

During this same period, the 9th graders from the Towson High School’s Law and Public Policy Program visited. I had the opportunity to speak with them about our work and answer their questions before they went to hear debate on the state budget. We also honored Willard Hackerman and Dr. Edward Papenfuse, who retired as the State Archivist after 38 years, for their commitment to preserving the history of Maryland. And, we celebrated Maryland’s 380th Anniversary – Maryland Day – on March 25th . We also honored he Pikesville High School indoor track and field champions.

State Budget

After many hours of debate, the House of Delegates passed the state’s budget for the next fiscal year. The operating budget for FY 2015 is over $36 billion; the portion funded with state taxes and other revenues is slightly more than $16 billion. The budget includes no new taxes and grows 4%.  Nearly half of that growth is from federal funds, primarily from Medicaid.

A substantial reduction in estimated revenue made it difficult to balance this budget. The Governor proposed to reduce the state’s contribution to the pension fund. The House did not agree and is providing a supplemental contribution of $100 million in both FY 2014 and 2015; this contribution will increase in the following years. The state is still contributing $1.7 billion to the pension fund in FY 2015. Unions representing pensioners recognized that the House solution improved the budget presented by the Governor.

The FY 2015 budget includes:

·         Full funding of $6.1 billion for public education

·         $4.3 million to expand prekindergarten programs

·         Added funds for higher education in order to keep tuition increases at only 3%

·         Increased funds for economic development programs

·         Expanded access to affordable health care with $8.1 billion in Medicaid

·         State employees received a merit increase for the first time since 2009 and will get a cost of living increase of 2% starting January 2015

Differences between the Senate and House versions now must be reconciled. The House will consider the capital budget next week.

Medical Marijuana

The House passed HB 881 that will allow specially licensed physicians in Maryland to prescribe marijuana when it may be medically indicated. The House bill limited the number of growers and distributors to ten. The Senate disagreed and passed a version less restrictive asserting that greater competition is needed to foster competition which should help keep the price down.  

The Senate bill, SB 923, allows the Medical Marijuana Commission to determine the number of  licensed growers, sets a minimum number of distributors of the prescribed marijuana and sets a two year  licensure period for the prescribing physicians. The differences now have to be reconciled in a conference committee of the House and Senate.

Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014

Following often acrimonious debate, the House passed SB 212 which prohibits discrimination against transgender individuals in public accommodations, housing and employment. This bill adds gender identify  as a protected class of individuals to Maryland’s anti-discrimination laws. I voted along with 81 colleagues to support this civil rights bill.

The bill is about extending protections to transgender individuals who have been denied employment, housing opportunities and the basic right to public accommodations, including restaurants and other places that sell food, a hotel or motel or public facilities. Religious organizations and private facilities are exempted.

Unfortunately, the opponents castigated the bill as providing an opportunity for criminal behavior. They reduced the debate on this civil rights bill to whether people would invade bathrooms and attack others. They made the victims of discrimination into criminals. The bill does not sanction nor provide more opportunities for criminal behavior by predators or those who want to prey on women or young girls.  These criminal acts will be treated as crimes and prosecuted.

SB 212 prevents employers from failing to hire individuals because  they are transgender; prevents a restaurant from denying entry or service to one who is transgender and prohibits a property owner from failing to rent or sell to someone who is transgender. The remedy in the bill is for a person who believes they are subject to discrimination to file a complaint with the Civil Rights Commission which will then investigate to determine if there is a violation.

Wind Energy

I support the development of renewable energy sources in Maryland, including wind energy. During the last two weeks, I have been involved with two bills that could generate energy from wind.

Maryland has a program that buys the rights to develop on farmland, paying the farmer to continue farming in perpetuity. One bill, HB 861/SB 259, would allow the farmers who have been paid money to keep their land in agriculture to build wind farms on their easement land. I opposed this bill. I believe if the farmer agreed to take state money and to continue farming, a wind farm would take land out of farming and the purpose of the easement has been violated. I was in the minority and the bill passed.

I also fought to preserve the opportunity to create a wind farm on the lower Eastern Shore. However, the House passed HB 1168 to prevent such construction due to the potential impact on the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in southern Maryland. I tried to amend the bill so the wind energy project could proceed if PAX River signed an agreement to require the wind turbines be shut down to prevent interference with any tests. This seemed reasonable so that both the wind project and PAX River could co-exist. However, my amendment failed.

Prekindergarten Expansion

HB 297 establishes the Prekindergarten Expansion Grant Program, which would provide grants for four-year-olds to attend qualifying prekindergarten programs. To qualify, the child must be in a family with an income that is no more than 300% of the federal poverty guidelines. For instance, since the poverty level is $19,790 for a family of 3, a 3 person family would be eligible if their income was no greater than $59,370.

Studies have shown that children who attend prekindergarten programs are significantly better prepared for school than those who do not. I voted for the bill and support efforts to expand prekindergarten opportunities throughout the state. This bill overwhelmingly passed in the House and has been heard in the Senate’s Budget and Taxation Committee.  

We now move into the final week of the Session for 2014. I expect this last week to be very busy as the debate and give and take on legislation comes to a head. As always, if you have questions or comments, please get in touch with me 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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