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Steve's News from Annapolis

2015-03-30

There are just two weeks left in the 2015 legislative session! In many ways, it has gone pretty quickly. It has been interesting and exciting for me since this is the first year of a new term, there is a new Governor and many new legislators and I have new responsibilities as the Chair of the Land Use and Ethics Subcommittee and as Chair of the County House Delegation. Now is our last big push to complete the work of the legislative session.

Maryland’s State Budget

The House and Senate have each passed the budget for 2015-2016 which reduces 75% of the state’s structural deficit. The two versions are not the same so a “conference committee” will be convened to work out the differences. In the House, it was important to restore funding for public education, reestablish the 2% COLA for state employees and ensure that Medicaid funding remains available and that provider reimbursements are retained.

We have provided more funds for some of the most vulnerable in our communities. The House increased funds for community mental health needs, adult day care, heroin addiction services and protection for seniors. We restored a rate increase for those service providers for the developmentally disabled, rejected a rebasing of funding formulae and protected employee savings.

We also changed the way our pension plan will be calculated, moving to an “actuarial” approach. This will ensure that retirement funds are available for retirees, and remain on track to reach our goal of 80% system funding by 2023.  This will be achieved even with a reduced supplemental contribution to the pension fund.

After coming out of the Appropriations Committee unanimously, the budget passed in the House by an overwhelming 129-10 vote.

Additional Funding for County Schools

In a very exciting development, House and Senate leaders announced that another $20 million in school construction funding will be added in the coming year. Focusing on the counties where student enrollment growth exceeds 150% of the state average and where school systems have had an average of 300 portable classrooms, the money will be split among 5 counties. Baltimore County will receive $4.2 million which will be matched by the county. As Chair of the County’s House Delegation, I was proud to stand along fellow legislators to announce this added funding so that more of our ageing schools can be renovated.

Managing Phosphorous From the Application of Chicken Manure

Since my last report, a very important agreement has been reached regarding the management of phosphorous that gets into Maryland’s waters from chicken manure. Phosphorous, along with nitrogen and sediment, is one of the three most significant sources of pollution in the Bay and its waters. 

I introduced legislation to reduce phosphorous from the application of chicken manure through the use of a new Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT).  After positive negotiations with the Hogan Administration, the Senate and representatives of the farming community and environmentalists, we have reached an agreement.

Instead of legislation, regulations will be published that will:

·         set strict reduction requirements on the application of chicken manure

·         set new standards for measuring the amount of phosphorous that are on the fields and that can be applied in the future

·         immediately halt the application of manure on fields with the highest measured amounts

·         require reports from the farmers about their applications and the amount of phosphorous

·         establish a review committee that will determine whether there is sufficient infrastructure or capacity to prevent farmers from reaching their goals

Reducing the application of chicken manure has been a very difficult issue for a number of years. Hopefully, this agreement will enable us to lead to a substantial reduce the amount of phosphorous that contaminates the Bay.

”Fracking” in Maryland

Last week, the House passed a bill that will ban hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” in Maryland for three years. There are many unanswered questions about the public health impacts of this form of gas drilling as well as its impacts on the economy and tourism in Garrett and Alleghany Counties.  A panel of experts will be looking at the public health studies that are now being released regarding fracking to assist in determining whether future drilling permits should be issued. Fracking has been hotly debated over the past legislative sessions and this year’s debate was no different as passions and strong arguments were offered by both sides before we voted.

There is More to Come

There are a number of major bills that have still not come to the full House. We have not taken up the capital budget;  a possible reduction of the gas tax; whether to provide a retirement pension break for retired military and public safety personnel; a bill that would allow certain individuals can make their own life ending choices (HB 1021);  the Senate’s proposal regarding stormwater fees; and, legislation to expand charter schools.

I expect that all of these will still be addressed before we adjourn, Sine Die, on April 13.

I want to thank the more than 500 people who contacted me regarding legislation to place a 5 cent tax on chickens in order to raise money to help reduce phosphorous from chicken manure and clean the Bay. As I responded to them, after the bill was heard in the Environment and Transportation Committee, the sponsor withdrew the bill so there will be no action this year.

As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any comments or suggestions. I can be reached at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us or at 410-841-3487.

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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