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Steve's News from Annapolis

2017-03-27


The past three weeks have been the busiest and most intense part of the legislative session. In part, this whirlwind was due to the March 20 “cross-over” date . This was the date when House bills had to pass the House and Senate bills had to  pass in the Senate if  the bill would be guaranteed a hearing in the other chamber.  Leading up to March 20, we had long days, with double sessions on Thursday and Friday, followed by House and committee voting all day on Saturday and then throughout the day and into the night on Monday.  

 

Over the past few weeks, we also had a number of distinguished guests in the House. We recognized fallen soldiers and then honored outstanding soldiers from the National Guard and Air National Guard.  Relatives of Frederick Douglass joined us to announce a new initiative in his honor. Citations were presented to leaders of higher education, representatives of the resurgent horse racing industry and  the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s leadership as it marked its 50th Anniversary. We were also visited by the Baltimore Youth Cycling group and former Ravens players Ray Lewis and Torrey Smith.   

 

I know we heard, debated, and voted on dozens of bills. For all bills, you can go to the General Assembly’s web site, www.mgaleg.maryland.gov Here are some of the bills that were significant.


Maryland State Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 

 

The Governor presented his budget to the House for our initial review. The House passed a budget by an overwhelming bi-partisan vote and sent it to the Senate. Here are some of the budget highlights: 

  • Provides a record $6.4 billion to fully fund public education
  • Increase funding for community colleges
  • Limits the tuition increase for Maryland’s colleges and universities to 2%
  • Restored funds for FY 2018 and fully funds the Teacher Induction, Retention and Advancement Pilot Program in FY2019 to provide stipends to teachers in the state's poorer schools
  • Reduced funding for BOOST and now will restrict new funding to those students from low performing public schools who are already enrolled in private schools
  • Provides a 2% increase for most social service providers and restores a 1.5% increase to those providers who work with the developmentally disabled
  • Fully funds tourism and state arts programs
  • Adds funds for Chesapeake Bay programs
  • Cuts 400 vacant state positions and does not provide any pay increase for state workers 

 The Senate has indicated that it has a different budget so House and Senate leaders will now have to go to a “conference” to work out those differences.


Public Ethics Law 

 

Last week, the House of Delegates took decisive action to improve the State’s public ethics laws. In light of the recent reprimand of one of our members and the questions raised due to criminal charges filed against two former House members, we increased financial disclosure requirements and expanded provisions regarding conflicts of interest.   

 

As introduced, HB 879 would have basically eliminated the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics. However, this was deemed to be unconstitutional. As the Chair of the Subcommittee on Land Use and Ethics, I was part of a workgroup that struck the unconstitutional parts of the bill but strengthened the ethics law.  As revised, HB 879:

  • Defines a legislative action as testimony or other advocacy in an official capacity before a state or local government agency
  • Restricts legislators and certain officials from representing others on certain legislative matters for one  year after leaving office
  • Requires disclosure if a legislator is negotiating, and has arranged, prospective employment
  • Requires  disclosure of arrangements in which the legislator is paid or will be paid by companies seeking state contracts, licenses or awards
  • Adds disclosure requirements if a legislator is married to a regulated lobbyist
  • Makes financial disclosure statements available to the public on-line
  • Establishes a separate advisory board for the Legislative Ethics Committee for matters of procedures, processes and policies 

The Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics has done an outstanding job in the past few years. This bill will further strengthen its role in holding members accountable and maintaining the public trust in elected officials.

 

Protect Our Schools Act of 2017 

 

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act placed responsibility for school performance accountability with the states.  The House passed HB 978, the Protect our Schools Act of 2017, to set policy, parameters and plans to fulfill our responsibility.  It sets out seven school quality indicators, including class size, advanced placement courses, career and technology education and chronic absenteeism.  It further limits testing to no more than 55% of the means for evaluating student performance and requires a comprehensive support and improvement plan to improve student outcomes.  

 

HB 978 also prohibits the creation of a state-run school district or a local school system in addition to the twenty-four that exist. The state school board cannot take other actions to establish an alternate set of schools that, frankly, would establish a charter school system in Maryland beyond the local authority to create charter schools that the counties already have.

 

Family Planning Services – Continuity of Care 

 

Legislation has been initiated in Congress and by the new Administration to restrict or eliminate funding for family planning service providers, particularly Planned Parenthood. These actions would deny Title X funding or allow Medicaid funds to be used. Title X is the only federal program dedicated to providing family planning and related preventative services. These include inpatient education and counseling, cervical and breast cancer screening, pregnancy diagnosis and counseling and available contraceptive methods. Funds cannot be used for abortions. If federal funding is ended, over 25,000 patients in Maryland would lose access to health care at Planned Parenthood. 

 

Responding to the threatened loss of federal funds, the House of Delegates passed HB 1083. The bill establishes a Family Planning Program in our Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to ensure continuity of services if federal funds end. In that case, the state will be required to maintain the level of funding and, subject to state funding, ensure access to family planning services for low income people through Medicaid. 

 

This is an important bill that will prevent the loss of vital health care services should the federal government act to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and other providers.


Banning Fracking 

 

The House of Delegates voted to ban hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the State.  While the Senate has not made its decision, those of us who support the ban were extremely pleased that Governor Hogan has announced that he, too, supports the ban.  After more than six years of hard work on the issue of fracking, once again the House led the way on this important environmental, public health and economic issue.


Protecting Oyster Sanctuaries 

 

In 2016, the legislature determined that further changes in the oyster fishery should not take place until there was a “stock assessment” to identify the extent and location of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. This included protection of the oyster sanctuaries established more than five years ago. However, it was becoming clear that the Administration was seriously considering opening up or altering the existing sanctuaries so that commercial watermen could harvest these protected oysters. 

 

As a result, HB 924 was introduced in order to prevent changes to the boundaries of the sanctuaries in the Bay and its tributaries until a management plan is in place. It is necessary and appropriate to have the stock assessment completed, using science, before making any changes or opening publicly funded sanctuaries for commercial oystering.


Immigration and Community Trust Legislation 

 

The House of Delegates recently passed HB 1362 which adheres to court decisions and clarifies the circumstances when local law enforcement personnel can participate in immigration enforcement.  Nothing in the bill prevents local law enforcement from investigating or prosecuting criminal acts such as the heinous rape that occurred at Rockville High School. 

 

The bill does not create a sanctuary state! It is intended to maintain community trust in governmental operations and law enforcement. HB 1362 states that a law enforcement agent may not, while performing his/her duties inquire about one’s immigration status, or place of birth during a stop, search or arrest and may not transfer the individual to federal immigration authorities without a judicial warrant. 

 

Police can continue to respond to a request for a person’s criminal record pursuant to state law and obtain subpoenas for information. With a judicial warrant: 

  • Police can transfer someone to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
  • Police can detain someone solely because of an immigration violation
  • Police can give ICE the person’s address
  • Correctional facilities can detain an individual due to an immigration detainer and keep the person in jail  after their state sentence expires

I also want to separate this bill from the horrific tragedy that took place in Rockville HS. My heart goes out to the 14 year old victim and her family. Such abusive and criminal acts should be punished fully. But, immigration was not a part of this criminal act. By federal law, children are entitled to attend public school, regardless of immigration status.  So, the two men were legally in the school.  

 

One of the alleged rapists had been, in fact, detained by ICE last August but was released! Why wasn’t he taken to an immigration judge and deported at that time?  Until the rape, neither man committed any act that brought them to the attention of the County police or school system. If these two are convicted of the rape and sent to jail, Montgomery County Corrections will notify ICE before either of them are released so they can be deported. 

 

The exploitation of this horrible act is disgusting. All immigrants are not criminals and people should not become suspects because of their immigration status.  I want to focus on those policies that do not convert local law enforcement into federal agents and provide the appropriate legal safeguards so that no one is threatened or feels threatened in their community.


Some of My Bills 

 

Fair Housing Opportunities Based on Source of Income 

 

I introduced HB 172, the Housing Opportunities Made Equal Act, to eliminate housing discrimination based solely on one’s source of income. Current fair housing laws protect people based on race, ethnicity, familial status, disabilities, sexual orientation, sex, marital status and other classifications. My bill expands protection in housing (rental, purchase or transactions) to income whether it is a salary, alimony, child support, Social Security or other government assistance. This includes housing choice vouchers and veterans’ vouchers. 

 

This bill will not destroy neighborhoods! In fact, research shows that there is no observed relationship between voucher holders and crime and there is no clear relationship between voucher holders and declines in property values.  Conversely, research shows that children who have the opportunity to relocate, thrive and benefit greatly. 

 

The bill has two primary goals: to expand housing opportunities so that people can improve their quality of life and to make strides to deconcentrate poverty in many communities. The bill does not increase the number of vouchers. It provides a voucher holder a chance to find a place to live that is closer to family, in a safer neighborhood or where the schools are better for their children. 

 

The bill does not apply to single-family homes under federal law. The voucher provision in HB 172 provides:

  • That it applies to apartment complexes of 7 units or more
  • It does not apply to the rental of any apartments in a dwelling with 5 or fewer rental units if it is the  owner's primary residence
  • The landlord, or property manager, can still screen for credit history, previous tenancy, criminal background and, of course, the ability to pay the rent. Vouchers may not be used for a deposit and may not fully cover the rent; the potential tenant is responsible for any rent above the voucher payment.
  • If the applicant does not have the money to meet the rent requirements, there is no obligation to rent to that person.
  • An apartment complex owner of 7 units or more need only to rent, or make available, 15% of the units for voucher holders
  • No units must be held out or set aside but a voucher holder’s application only occurs when units become available
  • In Baltimore County, Baltimore City, Prince Georges County and Montgomery County, if the apartment   complex is in a zip code where at least 6% of the jurisdiction’s voucher holders live, the apartment complex is exempt 

There are only 6,000 voucher holders in Baltimore County. While 30% of those who benefit from vouchers are children, 32% are elderly, 30% are people with disabilities and 25% are working in low wage jobs!  Let us open up opportunities for people to rent in communities where they will be afforded a chance for a better life.  

 

Testing Drinking Water in Schools for Lead 

 

I was successful in getting the House to pass HB 270 which will require public and private schools to test the drinking water for lead. No blood lead level is safe. Lead exposure can increase a child’s risk of brain and nervous system damage, slow growth and development and cause severe learning behaviors. 

 

I worked closely with public health and environmental advocates, school system representatives and the Department of the Environment to require that data be gathered regarding current practices and needs in the county and private schools and to develop regulations for testing and for remediation if needed.  We need to better ensure that children have a safe school environment and do not get exposed to lead. 

 

Bicycle Safety 

 

After a few years of trying to better ensure that bicyclists can safely ride on the roads, I worked with Sen. Zirkin this year to create a Task Force of Bicycle Safety, HB 192. This task force will examine safety issues related to bicycling, how motor vehicles operate in relation to bicyclists, infrastructure needs to support safe bicycling, public education and outreach and best practices.  I am pleased to have the state take a more comprehensive look at how we can encourage and support safety for bicyclists while being realistic in accommodating motor vehicle operators. 

 

Funding for Additional Bleachers at Towson High School 

 

Working with great parent volunteers at Towson High School, I was successful in getting $30,000 in the State’s Capital Budget to fund the expansion of the bleachers at the Towson High’s stadium.  This expansion is part of an overall strategy for upgrades at the stadium and should help seating the school band as well as accommodate visitors for sports events.  

 

As you can see, the General Assembly has taken up major legislation during last few weeks. As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts on these pieces of legislation and others.  I can be reached at Stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us or at 410-841-3487. 

 

Best wishes, 

 

Steve