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Steve's End of Session Report

2016-04-14

The 2016 Session of the Maryland General Assembly came to an end on April 11. I am honored to continue to represent District 42A and its great residents and businesses. I appreciated hearing from, meeting with and working with many of my constituents who took time to share their opinions and concerns about legislation that we considered.  As your representative, I am committed to addressing the needs of the district.

I believe this was a very successful session for our state, our citizens and for our future. It certainly was a very busy one. As the state’s policy setting body, the legislature established a number of significant policies through legislation and the budget. We took important steps to establish new transportation polices, improve our environment, address economic inequities, support Baltimore City, address needs that were not included in the Governor’s budget and to improve our criminal justice system.

I want to highlight some of the bills that I consider significant.  If there is a particular bill, or issue, of interest to you that I do not cover, please go to the Maryland General Assembly web site, www.mgaleg.maryland.gov to read about them and the votes that were taken.

State  Budget

Operating Budget

The Governor presented a budget of over $42 billion for Fiscal Year 2017. The Maryland Constitution requires that we have a balanced budget every year. Following extensive work by both the Senate and the House members, the legislature passed the State Budget by near unanimous votes. This indicated that cooperation can be found in Annapolis. The budget eliminated the $2 billion structural deficit left from the Great Recession and has a cash balance of $415 million.

The budget maintains the state’s commitment to public schools with funding of $6.3 billion.  This includes funds required by the legislatively mandated Geographic Cost of Education Index as well as money for five school systems that have lost enrollment. Additionally, the approved budget includes:

  • no new tax increases
  • funds for a much needed regional hospital in Prince Georges County
  • a 4.4% increase in healthcare funding
  • merit increases for State workers
  • a cap on higher education tuition rates to a modest 2% increase
  • and, an increase in funding for treatment and services for people with substance abuse disorders and opioid addiction

Capital Budget

The legislature’s capital budget stays within the Governor’s requested limit of $995 million.

While the Governor’s budget included $280 million for school construction, the House added another $51 million to help address the pressing needs for new and renovated schools. Additionally, there is $442 million for environmental projects and substantial funding for new academic buildings on college campuses.

Baltimore County benefited in the legislatively passed budget. Towson University and the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) both received funds to design new academic buildings. St. Joseph Medical Center/University of Maryland Medical System will receive $1 million in matching funds for renovations to provide birthing and maternity services.

Although the Governor did not include any funds for local initiatives, the legislature adjusted the budget to provide funds for local projects throughout Maryland. I lobbied hard to see that locally important projects in the district were funded. Many projects in Baltimore County will receive matching funds, including:

  • the construction of the Radebaugh Park
  • improvements and upgrades at Towson Manor Park
  • the creation of a memorial in Towson to veterans of Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom
  • the preservation of historic lime kilns and a log house at Cromwell Valley Park
  • renovations at the HopeWell Cancer Support Center
  • Good Shepherd School expansion
  • Irvine Nature Center improvements
  • Baltimore County Humane Society renovations

Criminal Justice

Justice Reinvestment Act

Since last year, the legislature participated with the Governor’s Office, prosecutors, the judiciary and defense attorneys on the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council (JRCC). They undertook a comprehensive look at criminal justice system in order to hold criminals accountable while reducing the state’s nonviolent prison population. The JRCC examined alternatives to prison sentencing, e.g., treatment for addiction and mental illness. Utilizing data and analysis from the Pew Charitable Trust, this bi-partisan group made recommendations that led to HB 1312/SB 1005.

Over the past decade, 58% of Maryland’s prison population has been incarcerated for nonviolent offenses. But, for many offenders, imprisonment can increase recidivism when compared to noncustodial sanctions. Maryland offenders are spending 23% longer in prison than they were a decade ago. At the same time, there is a shortage of treatment available to those who have been arrested and those released from prison. For instance, an offender who is ordered by the court into residential drug treatment has to wait an average of 167 days.

One of the bill’s primary goals is to alter the criminal penalties and guidelines for sentencing and parole in order to reduce imprisonment and recidivism rates. Non-violent offenders will be treated very differently, with an emphasis on breaking the cycle of addiction and providing substance abuse and mental health treatment.

SB 1005 focuses prison beds on the violent and serious offenders; strengthens parole and probation supervision; ensures oversight; and, will reduce the prison population, thereby saving money that can be reinvested in treatment, community supervision and reentry. The bill  includes:

  • reducing penalties for drug possession offenses and diverting offenders with substance abuse issues into more prompt treatment
  • raising the threshold for felony theft to concentrate longer prison terms on higher-level offenders
  • allowing drug offenders who were previously sentenced to mandatory minimum terms to be eligible for resentencing
  • expanding expungement eligibility for certain low level misdemeanors
  • focusing harsh mandatory minimum penalties on high level drug dealers and kingpins, targeting the leaders and organizers of crime
  • increasing the penalty for killing a child to life in prison
  • establishing recidivism reduction case plans and creating an administrative release policy for nonviolent offenders; no offender is eligible for an early release due to the policy
  • using evidence-based standards for supervision and utilizing a needs assessment tool
  • using graduated sanctions to penalize offenders for non-criminal, technical violations
  • establishes an Oversight Council and Advisory Committee to track the reforms and continue the use of data to evaluate performance and success

This bi-partisan legislation is a huge shift in the criminal justice system and was one of the most important bills that we passed. It will dramatically alter the ways non-violent offenders are handled while protecting the public from the most violent criminals. 

Noah’s Law

The legislature unanimously passed Noah’s Law, HB 1342, which was named in honor of Noah Leotta, a young Montgomery County police officer who was struck and killed by a drunk driver while he was working DUI stops. Noah’s Law requires the mandatory installation of an ignition interlock for a driver whose blood alcohol is .08 or more. Currently, the interlock requirement only applies to someone with a higher blood alcohol level of .15. The driver must blow into the interlock device to start the vehicle; and, if any alcohol is detected, the vehicle will not start. The Ignition Interlock Program is a highly effective deterrent to drunk driving.

The new law applies to both the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) and by the Courts. The MVA will have tougher administrative penalties. If the person is convicted in Court, he/she may have their license revoked and the MVA shall require the Ignition Interlock if the blood alcohol is .08 or above. The Interlock is required for 6 months for the first conviction and one year for the second conviction.

Environmental Issues

Pollinator Protection and Creating Habitat

This has been ‘the year of the bee’! Pollinators are critical to our food supply but have been dying off across the country. In 2014, Maryland lost 40% of its bee population! Neo-nicotinoids are a pesticide that has been shown to impair and negatively impact bees. The legislature passed two bills significant to help reverse the loss of bees.

The legislature passed HB 211, the Pollinator Protection Act of 2016. This is landmark legislation since Maryland is the first state to ban the retail sale of neo-nicotinoid pesticides. Sales are limited to businesses that also sell restricted use pesticides. “Neo-nics” can still be used indoors and by certified applicators, farmers and veterinarians. After January 1, 2018, it will be illegal to use or apply pesticides with neo-nics in them outdoors.

I was very pleased that the legislature passed my bill, HB 132, which will require three major state agencies to develop and implement plans to create, sustain and expand habitat for pollinators. The absence of adequate habitat is a major factor to the absence of pollinators. I believe that the state should lead by example and, with my bill, the state will undertake meaningful steps to better ensure that there is more habitat to support pollinators. I also encourage everyone to look at ways they can create or increase habitat on their own property.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2016

In 2009, the legislature passed a law that required the state, by 2020, to establish strategies and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% from the 2006 levels.  This led to efforts to increased energy efficiency, a greater reliance on clean and renewable energy and an increased emphasis on waste reduction. As we continue to experience climate change and the threats of sea level rise, such changes are vital.

HB 610 extends the time for the Act to 2030 and sets a greenhouse gas reduction goal of 40% by then. It requires the creation of a plan with the strategy and actions needed to achieve this goal. Analysis also shows that this new goal can provide an estimated net economic benefit to the state of between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion while creating and maintaining between 26,000 and 33,000 new jobs. Protecting the environment and public health can, and will, go hand in hand with economic growth in Maryland.

Renewable Energy

Building upon the plan for reducing greenhouse gases is a need to incentivize and use more clean energy.  Maryland’s current goal is to generate 20% of our energy from clean sources, such as wind and solar energy, by 2022. The legislature made an important statement about the challenges of climate change and our need to accelerate the use of clean energy by passing legislation HB 1106 which requires that 25% of our energy be from renewable sources by 2020.

Oyster Harvesting

The oyster population in Maryland has declined significantly over the last decades due to disease, sediment run-off from development and over-harvesting. There are a few signs that Maryland’s oyster population is coming back: measurement of the “biomass index” which looks at densities and the amount of “spat” or first start of oysters, seem to be positive.

But, even with good signs, we do not have a complete picture of how many oysters are in the Bay or whether the current harvests are depleting the oyster population. While there have been studies on oyster biology, there has never been a comprehensive study of the oyster population.  SB 937/HB1603 require the use scientific data to determine the extent of the oyster population in the Bay and its tributaries.

I was proud to be part of a Committee workgroup that crafted a bill that directs the Department of Natural Resources, in consultation with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, to conduct a science-based assessment so we have an idea whether oysters are plentiful or whether we need new strategies for managing the oyster harvest. The legislature overwhelmingly passed this bill on the last day of session.

Transportation Policy

Transparency in Transportation Funding

HB 1013, the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016, establishes a more transparent process for evaluating and funding state and local capital transportation projects of over $5 million.

Governor Hogan vetoed the bill. The legislature overrode his veto. HB 1013 does not strip either the Governor or the Secretary of Transportation of their authority. Neither does it reduce the local governments’ input on their priorities.  HB 1013 will provide clarity and create a more transparent way to evaluate projects. Since the State proposes to spend $15.7 billion taxpayer dollars over the next six years for road, bridge and transit projects, the decisions of this magnitude should be data driven. The bill requires that each major project be ranked and scored   based on specific criteria:

  • Safety and security
  • System preservation
  • Quality of service
  • Environmental stewardship
  • Community vitality
  • Economic prosperity
  • Equitable access to transportation
  • Cost effectiveness and return on investment

The Department of Transportation will establish weighted criteria to help determine the scoring for each project. The bill applies to future projects and will not prevent existing projects from going forward.

Oversight of the Mass Transit Administration

The Mass Transit Administration (MTA) is responsible for rail service, the light rail, and buses that serve the region and state. It is the only agency in the Department of Transportation that does not have an oversight board. HB 1010 creates an MTA Oversight and Planning Board to increase oversight and better ensure strategic transit planning and accountability. It also creates a more transparent process for involving local government and citizens. The Board will participate in reviews of MTA spending, performance, policies and progress in attaining the MTA goals.

Support for Baltimore City

The uprising in Baltimore City last April highlighted many of the City’s deep seated problems. The legislature recognized the importance of Baltimore and enacted an extensive package of legislation to address many of the challenges. I was proud to work on some of these initiatives and to support the various bills that create or expand opportunities for City neighborhoods, residents and businesses.

The legislation addresses immediate needs, fosters collaboration between the City, State and non-profit community, improves neighborhood conditions and supports the needs of youth.

More specifically, legislation:

  • Provides middle school students a guaranteed college scholarship if the student meets rigorous academic and social criteria until graduation and additional financial support while in college. HB 1403, Next Generation Schools, also provides similar support for seven other county school systems with significant poverty
  • Creates and expands after school and summer enhancement programs which will provide safe havens and prevent academic loss in the summers; HB 1402 also provides grants to seven other counties with significant poverty
  • Affirms the Governor’s commitment to demolition projects by providing $18 million annually over the next 5 years in the Strategic Demolition and Smart Growth Impact Fund, HB 686,
  • Puts the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative into law, HB684. There will be an annual appropriation of $12 million in flexible funding to community development groups the City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County that implement neighborhood revitalization strategies and are able to leverage private funding.
  • Funds the Construction and Education Innovation partnership, HB 1404, at Towson University for a construction management program to train people who work in the City
  • HB 290 created an apprenticeship program in the construction trades that will provide employers located in the city zip codes with a poverty rate of at least 20% with $1000 for each new apprentice
  • Funds projects in four large city parks and for 80% of the cost to keep libraries open in low income city communities.
  • Matches funds for “anchor institutions” to engage in community redevelopment and revitalization

 Support for the Middle Class

Encouraging and Fostering Retirement Security

An estimated one million Marylanders lack adequate retirement saving and are at risk of financial distress when they do retire. The primary reason is that their employers do not offer a pension plan or other retirement savings opportunities at work. Retirement security has been, and remains a big concern.

HB 1378/SB 1007 creates the Maryland Small Business Retirement Savings Program and Trust to promote efforts of employers to adopt retirement plans for employees and assist employees who do not have access to an employer sponsored retirement plan. It requires that private sector employers with at least 10 employees who work at least 30 hours a week and are paid through a payroll system provide a mechanism for employees to pay into a retirement account unless they currently offer an employer sponsored retirement plan. As an incentive, the employers who participate in the plan or otherwise create a retirement savings plan would be exempt from various business filing fees. This cannot be implemented, however, until legal counsel or the federal government determines that the plan qualifies for favorable federal tax treatment.

College Affordability

Over the last ten years, the legislature has limited tuition increases at Maryland’s colleges. This caused undergraduate tuitions at four-year institutions to drop from the 7th most expensive in the country to the 24th most expensive! Since college is increasingly important for economic success, we had to enhance the opportunity for more young people to attend college. This year, the legislature kept increases to college and university tuitions to only 2% for the coming year.

Nonetheless, higher education costs continue to increase, making college more and more elusive. 529 Plans are used by very few. HB 1014, the College Affordability Act of 2016, encourages the use of 529 Plans by providing a match of $250 per beneficiary to families that make the required contribution tied to their family income.  If a family is not eligible, it still may claim a $2,500 state tax deduction for their 529 Plan contributions. The bill also contains a Student Loan Debt Relief Tax Credit for students who have over $20,000 of undergraduate student debt.

 Equal Pay for Equal Work

In 2016, women make an average of 79 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men. This inequity should not continue. I supported the passage of HB 1003, Equal Pay for Equal Work which prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees due to their sex or gender identity for salary purposes or by providing less favorable employment opportunities. The bill will allow for greater sunlight on existing pay disparities and broadens State standards used to determine whether unlawful compensation discrimination exists.

 This is a big step forward for working women in Maryland.

Supporting People With Disabilities

HB 431, Maryland Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Program is a unique way to assist individuals and families save money in order to support individuals with disabilities maintain their health, independence and quality of life. The bill creates an income tax subtraction modification for contributions to an ABLE account that is similar to the existing 529 savings plans for college. HB 431 will provide more secure funding for individuals and for disability-related expenses.

University of Maryland Strategic Partnership Act of 2016


SB 1052 creates a strategic partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). This will bring the professional schools (law, medical, dentistry and social work) under the university umbrella and provide greater opportunities for research and collaboration. This has the potential to be a huge economic development initiative for Baltimore and the state.

The legislation requires the University System of Maryland to establish its headquarters in Baltimore. A new Center for Maryland Advanced Ventures will be located at that University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) campus to pursue and support the transfer of technology developed at the University to the private sector. An additional $4 million will also be provided to Towson University to increase its annual funding level. Towson is currently funded at one of the lowest levels of the colleges in the System.

 Certainly, there were many other pieces of legislation that the House passed and Senate did not pass. There were also a number of important bills that were introduced but the House Committees did not pass or act upon. So, as we say in Annapolis, there is always next year!

 With the end of the legislative session, our Annapolis office will return to a part-time schedule. While I still encourage, and welcome, your calls, emails and letters, response time may be slowed since staff will not always be present. My contact information remains the same, 410-841-3487 and Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us.

 In closing, I want to give a very special thanks my Legislative Aide, Marsha Tracey, the House Delegation Aide, Barbara McLean, and my legislative intern, Cait Kerr, for their help and support throughout the Session. Finally, many thanks to my terrific wife, Betsy, without whose support I could not commit the time and energy I do to serving as your Delegate.

 Best wishes,

 Steve