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Steve's News from Annapolis

2016-02-21

The past two weeks have been an intense time of working with constituents, advocates, business people, colleagues and state agency staff to address various issues and concerns.  Last week, alone, I presented three pieces of legislation, participated in lengthy committee hearings and chaired both the House Delegation meeting and the Regional Revitalization Workgroup.

I also held numerous meetings about highway safety, the negative impact of foreclosures on communities, protecting the Bay, public education, housing opportunities and transportation funding.  It is rewarding to see the number of people engaged in and committed to these issues.

I take my responsibility seriously to represent my constituents, district and state as best I can. As I have frequently said, there are a large number of important matters being addressed by the legislature. Let me comment on a few of them.

Transportation Needs and Proposals

The D.C. and Baltimore metro areas are the first and fifth most congested regions, respectively, in the nation. The legislatively created Augustine Commission on Economic Development and Moody’s Analytics have both recommended expediting plans to upgrade transportation infrastructure of all types in the Baltimore/Washington area to support business growth.

Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016 (HB1013)

State transportation funds should be spent on projects that create access to jobs, reduce congestion, and support a healthy environment. This bill will establish goals and measures for scoring the planning and funding of transportation projects. An objective process for reviewing and ranking projects will look at anticipated benefits, including the reduction of congestion and increasing economic development. This process should greatly improve transparency and accountability.

Maryland Transit Administration Oversight and Planning Board, (HB1010)

The Maryland Transit Administration is the country’s 13th largest transit system. There are more than 370,000 trips taken each day by commuters, the elderly, disabled and school children on buses, light rail, metro subway, and trains. But, MTA does not engage in long-term planning and does not produce regular performance and reliability reports for the public, local governments or General Assembly.

This legislation would create the Maryland Transit Administration Oversight and Planning Board. The Board would include transit riders and citizens appointed by the Governor, the House Speaker and Senate President and the County Executives in the MTA service area. An MTA oversight board is long overdue.

Income Tax Credit - Commuter Benefits - Eligibility and Credit Amount (HB1012)

As MTA, MARC and DC Metro fares, as well as parking and carpool expenses, have increased, the tax credit to businesses to provide commuter benefits to their employees has not kept pace. Employers have found commuter benefits to be less and less attractive to provide. A commuter benefits tax credit is an important tool for employers and to help ease congestion in our metro regions.

This legislation will double the commuter benefits tax credit from $50 a month to $100 per employee. It also reduces carpool eligibility from 8 riders to 6 riders in order to encourage more carpooling. Additionally, it acknowledges the current growth in ridesharing that use apps and technology such as Uber and Lyft.

Revitalization Initiatives

I have long been a strong supporter for efforts to increase resources and investments in the State’s older communities. This year, I introduced (HB 123) which would provide tax credits for home purchasers in communities in order to encourage more investment and stabilize neighborhoods.

I have also been working on legislation that will retain state programs that focus investment in what are referred to as “Sustainable Communities”. These are county designated areas where there is a written plan that support businesses, housing, environmental protection, transportation and strategies to improve the quality of life. One such bill codifies the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative (HB 684). This has been a very successful pilot program that came from the Regional Revitalization Workgroup of which I am the Chair.  I am working to help secure on-going funding so more communities can benefit.

End of Life Options Act

This very difficult and emotional issue was heard, jointly, by the Health and Government Operations and Judiciary Committees. Their hearing involved many hours of testimony regarding a proposal to allow an individual to end his/her life with dignity (HB 404).  This is the second year for this issue. Health care professionals, family members and individuals whose lives are declining all shared their views and opinions.

The bill is based on legislation that exists in other states and provides:

  • Only a patient may request medicine to end his/her life
  • The patient must make 3 requests for a life ending prescription; the third one must be at least 15 days after the initial one
  • The attending physician and consulting physician  must certify that the patient is competent and that the prognosis is that death is likely within 6 months 
  • The patient may withdraw the request at any time
  • The patient self-administers the medication

This is a complex issue that will be subject to much discussion, thought and debate.

Legislation to Support the Middle Class

In my last newsletter, I reported on legislation that would be introduced to provide relief, support and assistance to Maryland’s middle class.  Some of the proposals did not have bill numbers at the time so here are the references for you:

Student Loan Refinancing Study (HB1015)

Equal Pay for Equal Work Act (HB1003)

Retirement Security Act (HB1378)

My Bills

During the past two weeks, I was extremely busy preparing for and presenting a number of bills before committees. These included establishing a private sector paint recycling program (HB 332), protecting roadside trees (HB 178), strengthening the 3’Rule for increased safety for bicyclists (HB 214), requiring the state to establish pollinator habitat plans (HB 132), expanding the rights of citizens to challenge comprehensive rezoning decisions (HB 243) and requiring a lender to file a deed more quickly when a property has been foreclosed upon (HB 508).

Fortunately, all of them went as I expected. There was lively give and take with the opponents. I continue to meet with both the opponents and proponents on these bills. And, I sincerely thank all of those who came to Annapolis and waited for hours to testify in favor of my bills.  Their presence and comments were invaluable.

I have also submitted “bond bill” requests to help fund four very worthy projects in the district. While the Governor did not include any local bond bill funding in his capital budget, I am working with many others to obtain these important dollars. My requests are for rebuilding the lime kilns at Cromwell Valley Park (HB 89), a memorial in honor of those who fought in Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan (HB 552), demolition and improvements at the future Radebaugh Park (HB 625) and for improvements to the Towson Manor Park (HB 945).

As always, I welcome your comments on these and other bills that we will be addressing this session.  Please feel free to contact me at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us or at 410-841-3487.

Best wishes,

Steve