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Delegate Steve Lafferty's End of Session Letter

2015-04-16

The 2015 Session of the Maryland General Assembly has now come to a close, having adjourned sine die on Monday night. I am honored to continue to represent the new district 42A.

The Session was different in many ways from my previous ones.  I was privileged to serve as Chair of the Baltimore County House delegation and as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Land Use and Ethics in the Environment and Transportation Committee. This gave me the opportunity to work with members of both parties to address issues important to our County and State. I also enjoyed working with, and helping to mentor, many of the 60 new House members.

I believe it was a very productive session. It is very difficult to describe, or even summarize, all of the legislature’s important work. You can look up all legislation at the General Assembly’s web site, www.mgaleg.maryland.gov.  We passed a sound and responsible budget, enacted strong and wide ranging protections of the environment, took steps to strengthen the state’s business climate and reduced barriers to employment for many. 

Maryland’s State Budget

In late March, the House and Senate passed versions of the budget for 2015-2016 by 129-10 and 46-0 respectively (HB 70/SB 55). It was a non-partisan vote which showed how different needs could be addressed. We even got notes from Governor Hogan’s Budget Secretary thanking us for supporting the budget. After a “conference committee” met to address the small differences, we had a budget that would reduce the state’s structural deficit by 69% and did not raise taxes. It was important to the legislature that funds for public education be restored, the promised 2% COLA for state employees be returned and health care provider rates were restored while providing health care services for some of the most vulnerable in our communities.

The legislature also changed the way our pension plan will be calculated, moving to an “actuarial” approach. This ensures that retirement funds are available for retirees we 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.

However, within a couple of days before the session’s close, the Governor indicated that the legislature’s funding priorities differed from his and that he would not accept them. Governor Hogan has indicated that it is “very unlikely” that he will restore the education funds, COLA or funding for various health care services.

On a very positive note, Baltimore County will receive an additional $4.2 million in school construction funds. This is part of a $20 million fund for school construction that will be available to the five counties where student enrollment growth exceeds 150% of the state average and where school systems have had an average of 300 portable classrooms. Legislation that Protects our Environment

        Managing Phosphorous In the Application of Chicken Manure

Reducing pollutants that go into the state’s waters continues to be an important part of my legislative work. Phosphorous, along with nitrogen and sediment, is the most significant source of pollution in Maryland’s waters. 

I introduced HB 381 to reduce the application of chicken manure – which contains large amounts of phosphorous - through a new Phosphorous Management Tool (PMT). I eventually withdrew the bill because of positive negotiations with the Hogan Administration, the Senate and representatives of the farming community and environmentalists that lead to an agreement to better identify the amount of chicken manure applied on farms and create a plan to reduce the phosphorous.

Instead of legislation, the reduction of phosphorous will be addressed in regulations published on April 3, 2015. The regulations 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. This is a positive approach will should lead to a substantial reduction in the amount of chicken manure being applied to farm fields and the phosphorous load that contaminates the Bay.

        Reducing Pollution Through Stormwater Management

Repealing the stormwater utility fee, or the misnamed “rain tax”, was a central part of Governor Hogan’s campaign. His proposed bill HB 481/SB 588 to fully repeal the law was rejected by the House and Senate. Pollution from stormwater runoff remains the fastest growing source of pollution entering Maryland’s waters.

Subsequently, the Senate passed President Miller’s bill, SB 863, which would allow counties to repeal their stormwater fees. It required a “financial assurance plan” (FAP) so that counties would show how they would fund efforts to reduce stormwater pollution without a fee. When the bill came to the House, I was appointed to a workgroup that met with stakeholders (builders, environmentalists, county representatives, commercial property owners and others) and, after many hours of deliberations, made significant improvements to the bill. The bill was supported by all of the Republicans and Democrats in the Environment and Transportation Committee.

The bill passed with nearly unanimous and bi-partisan support in the House (138-1) and unanimously in the Senate (47-0). The legislation will:

  • allow the 10 counties to repeal their stormwater fee
  • require the approval of a financial assurance plan  (“FAP”) by the state before such a repeal
  • requires the 10 counties to provide the FAP every two years

o   the FAP is subject a public hearing before it is submitted

o   the local governing body must also approve it before submission

  • requires annual reports on projects, expenditures and progress
  • establishes penalties for non-compliance

This bill provides a way for counties to repeal their stormwater fee and to better assure accountability for protecting the environment. It is an example of a win-win.

        ”Fracking” in Maryland

After a number of years of extensive hearings and often heated and passionate floor debate, the legislature has banned hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, in Maryland for two years HB 449/SB 409. 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.  The House Environment and Transportation Committee remains very concerned about the public health aspects and will be working with public health experts to further evaluate whether there are significant public health risks if fracking is allowed.

        Microbeads

Microbeads are found in a large number of personal health care products. They are made of plastic and have been used as abrasives in products such as creams, shampoos and tooth paste. However, once they enter the waters, they do not biodegrade and can be consumed by fish and other sea life.

The Environment and Transportation Committee took the lead to ban the use and sale of microbead products in Maryland. HB 216/SB 200 The personal care industry worked with environmentalists to create a definition of biodegradable, to set dates for phasing out the existing use of microbeads and to give direction to the state to implement this legislation. It is another victory for the Bay!

        Notice of the Vibrio Bacteria

The vibrio bacteria can be found in many of Maryland’s waterways when water temperature rises and certain conditions exist.  While it is not widely found, if a person who has open wounds or cuts comes into contact with the bacteria infested waters, it can be extremely harmful and even cause death. SB 83 provides for a public information campaign by the Department of the Environment in order to educate and inform boaters, commercial fishermen and others that the bacteria can occur and how to proceed. It is a common sense and simple notification so that the severe risks can be avoided.

Maryland’s Business Climate

        Legislation from the Business Climate Commission

In early 2014, House Speaker Mike Busch and Senate President Mike Miller established a commission to address the perception that Maryland is not business friendly, to examine our business climate and to propose recommendations. The Commission was chaired by retired CEO Norman Augustine and issued a report this year with 32 recommendations: http://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc5300/sc5339/000113/020000/020838/unrestricted/20150235e.pdf  which led to five pieces of legislation:

  • HB 943 establishes a new cabinet position, the Secretary of Commerce, in order to combine various business related agencies and ensure better coordination and stronger emphasis on workforce development and innovation
  • HB 942 creates a pilot apprenticeship program involving businesses and school systems in order to provide alternative pathways and educational opportunities for young people to enter the workforce
  • HB 940 establishes a customer service training initiative for employees in agencies that deal extensively with businesses
  • HB 939 creates an advisory council of agency heads, lawmakers and small business owners to look at the impact of state regulations on the competitiveness and success of businesses
  • HB 941 sets up a task force to improve the ability to transfer technologies and innovations – particularly those developed in the universities - into the marketplace

These are important first steps that the legislature, in a bi-partisan manner and in conjunction with the Administration, is committed to finding ways to support businesses and improve Maryland’s competitiveness.

        Tax Obligations by Online Travel Companies

The legislature passed SB 190/HB 1065 to ensure that online travel companies pay the correct sales tax based on the retail price charged to consumers. Currently, online travel companies (Orbitz, Travelocity, et al.) pay a wholesale rate when they book a room for a consumer and only send the State the tax paid for that wholesale price. However, the consumer is paying the retail price for the room along with the full amount of tax. The difference is kept by the online travel agency instead of being remitted to the state

Let me provide a simple example about the value and impact of this bill. If a person reserves a hotel room that costs $100, he/she pays $106 that includes the 6% sales tax on the full amount of the room. But, if their wholesale cost to the online company is $90, they pay a tax of $5.40 and remit this money to the state. At the same time they still charge the consumer $100 plus the 6% tax. The company keeps the difference.

Since we all pay taxes, the online travel companies should be paying the state the taxes it is obligated to.

Maryland Second Chance Act

Very often, individuals are denied the opportunity to get a job, or even be interviewed for a job, if he/she has a criminal record. Over the past few years, the legislature has debated ways to open up job opportunities for those individuals. At the same time, there are very legitimate reasons why a criminal record should be known before hiring someone.

The Maryland Second Chance Act, HB 244/SB 526, strikes that balance. The legislation enables an individual who has been convicted of certain crimes to petition a court to have certain convictions “shielded” from public access to the on-line Judicial Case Search. There are twelve (12) “shieldable” offenses provided in the law; there are nine (9) categories of groups who will still have access to the criminal records. This includes law enforcement and the courts, those who supervise minors or vulnerable adults and those with a statutory requirement to conduct a criminal background check.

Someone who seeks to shield the offenses must wait for three (3) years after they have completed their sentence and can only have the offenses that arose in a single case during his/her lifetime. I supported this bill so that more people who have misdemeanor offenses can have a second chance.

Charter Schools

While Maryland law currently allows charter schools, Governor Hogan introduced legislation that would have broadly expanded the law. The House and Senate did not fully agree but did enact SB 595 which clarifies and updates the current law, providing:

  • retention of control by the local school boards,
  • greater flexibility for the successful schools,
  • greater weight to particular student’s lottery status,
  • that the charter school can propose a geographic attendance area, and
  • a study of broader funding issues associated with charter schools

In Closing

I appreciated hearing from constituents and advocates throughout the Session. These contacts helped me to better understand the interests and concerns of those who live in district 42A.

I want to extend my thanks to my terrific Legislative Aide, Marsha Tracey, who helped many constituents and offered steadfast assistance so that I had a successful Session. I also thank Barb McLean who provided great help as the staff to the Baltimore County Delegation and to my Session Intern Emily Harris.

Finally, during the interim period until the 2016 legislative session, my office will be open only three days a week. We will try to be responsive to any of your inquiries as quickly as we can. I can be reached at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us or at 410-841-3487. Once again, thank you for the privilege of serving District 42A, Baltimore County and the State of Maryland.

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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