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Steve's 2017 End of Session Report

2017-04-14

The 437th Session of the Maryland General Assembly came to a close at midnight on April 10. I want to thank the hundreds of advocates, constituents and other individuals who visited, called, emailed and wrote to me during the Session to share their opinions and express their concerns. They helped me better understand many issues and various points of view that I needed to take into account.

This was a very busy and productive year. As in recent years, my committee, the Environment and Transportation Committee, dealt with the most bills in the House.  I am honored to represent the residents of Baltimore County’s District 42A and the state of Maryland and to have, once again, served as the Chair of the Baltimore County House delegation.

Let me highlight some of the important legislation that we addressed this year. For further information on these, or any other bills, you can visit the Maryland General Assembly website at www.mgaleg.maryland.gov.

Education


Baltimore County School Board Selection

The legislature passed HB 88 to make some modest changes to the law regarding the selection of the Baltimore County School Board.  While all of the Board members are currently appointed, starting with the election in 2018, we will have a “hybrid” Board – one that is partially elected and partially appointed. 

Seven members (7) will be elected, one from each of the Council districts.  Four (4) members will be appointed through a Nominating Commission.  That Commission will begin its work this fall. One of the Commission’s goals will be to better ensure that the Board membership is diverse and represents the diversity of the county. These changes are intended to better ensure accountability and responsiveness by the Board.

Additional Capital Funding for County Schools

In the last days of the Session, Baltimore County was fortunate to obtain another $9 million, giving the County a total of more than $48 million for school construction and renovation needs. Although the County sought significantly more funds, these dollars will enable the county to move ahead on more air conditioning and other projects.

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.

Protect Our Schools Act of 2017

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act placed responsibility for school performance accountability with the states.  HB 978, the Protect our Schools Act of 2017, sets policy, parameters and plans to fulfill our responsibility.  It sets out seven school quality indicators to evaluate school performance. Sixty-five percent (65%) of the assessment will be academic performance and, since there are other factors in a school’s success,  such as access to quality teachers, class size, advanced placement courses, career and technology education and chronic absenteeism will also be part of the evaluation. 

HB 978 also prohibits the creation of a state-run school district or a new, 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 school board’s current authority to create charter schools.

Testing Drinking Water in Schools for Lead

I was very pleased that my bill, HB 270, passed on the last day! It will require the Maryland Department of the Environment, working with the Department of Education and others to develop regulations for testing for lead in school drinking water. It is clear that 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. That is an unacceptable danger for our children.

I worked closely with public health and environmental advocates, school system representatives and the Department of the Environment on the bill. It will require data to be gathered regarding current practices and needs in the county and private schools and to set standards for the testing, remediation if lead is found in the water and notification to parents and the health department.  We must be proactive to better ensure that children have a safe school environment and do not get exposed to lead.

Limiting Testing in Schools

In order to address the serious concerns of parents, students and educators about the over reliance on testing, the legislature passed HB 461, the More Learning, Less Testing Act of 2017. The bill requires the State Board of Education, working with local school boards, to adopt regulations limiting the amount of time that may be devoted to federal, state and locally mandated tests for each grade to 2% of the annual instructional hours. This does not include teacher-developed quizzes or tests, sampling tests, portfolio reviews or performance assessments that the teachers administer. This requirement will become effective in the 2018-2019 academic year.

Increasing Environmental Protection

Maryland Bans Fracking

One of the most significant bills we passed was a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. This came after more than six years of study, analysis and debate on the merits of fracking and the dangers and harm that could result. This will impact generations of residents, businesses and land owners in Maryland and in Garrett County, particularly.  After the House of Delegates passed HB 1325, Governor Hogan indicated his support for a ban, as well. This led the Senate to support the ban. With the Governor’s signature last week, Maryland’s legislature is the first in the nation to ban fracking.  I am proud to have supported this effort based on environmental, economic and public health reasons.

Protecting Oyster Sanctuaries

After much debate, the legislature passed HB 924 to prevent changes to the boundaries of the oyster sanctuaries that were established in the Bay and its tributaries. Sanctuaries were created to grow oysters outside of the commercial fishery in order to increase the oyster population and Bay’s health. In 2016, the legislature determined that no further changes should occur in the oyster fishery until there was a “stock assessment” to identify the extent and location of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. This included protecting the oyster sanctuaries. As a result of HB 924, the management plan must be in place before the boundaries of, and access to, the sanctuaries can occur. This truly is a victory for oysters and the Bay.

Use of Pesticides in State Pollinator Habitats

In 2016, I succeeded in getting legislation that requires the State Highway Administration, Maryland Environmental Services and the Department of Natural Resources to establish pollinator habitat plans for designated portions of their properties. Those plans are to be completed in July 2017. This year, HB 830 was adopted to provide further protection to pollinators by limiting the use of neo-nicotinoid pesticides in those state habitat areas. Following much debate, the legislature passed HB 830 so that the habitat plans cannot include neonicotinoid pesticides, neo-nic treated plants or seeds, and other pesticides labeled as toxic to bees.

Some Important Environmental Legislation That did Not Pass

Of course, not every bill that is introduced gets passed. Three such bills that were considered in the Environment and Transportation Committee (E&T) were HB 281 which would have required the best available technology (BAT) septic systems throughout the Bay watershed, HB 599 that alters the Forest Conservation Act and a ban on polystyrene, HB 229.

I introduced HB 281 after the Administration rolled back regulations to limit the BAT systems to the state’s Critical Areas. This is the 1000’ area around the Bay and its tributaries.  Since the BAT systems remove 50% more nitrogen pollutants than conventional septic systems, I believe we should require the most efficient pollution removing systems to protect all waterways.  We will study this issue over the summer.

HB 599 would have increased the replanting requirements when trees are removed during development, construction or grading. Currently, the replacement is only one tree for every four that are removed.  This bill would have required a one-for-one replacement. While unsuccessful, this issue will also be studied before next Session.

HB 229 was a highly controversial bill that had a three hour hearing in E&T. It would have prohibited a person from selling or offering for sale expanded polystyrene (what we refer to as Styrofoam) or certain food service businesses from selling or providing food in these products. The widespread use of these “styrofoam products” is a major contributor to trash and to waste that goes into landfills. More study is expected on this issue, as well.

Strengthening Public Ethics Laws

As the Chair of the Subcommittee on Land Use and Ethics, I was helped craft the first set of changes to the public ethics laws in fifteen years. 

The legislature unanimously passed, and the Governor has signed, the Public Integrity Act, HB 879, to improve and strengthen the State’s ethics laws applicable to legislators and members of the Executive Branch. In light of the recent reprimand of a legislator and the criminal charges filed against three former House members, we increased financial disclosure requirements and expanded provisions regarding conflicts of interest.  Unfortunately, ethics laws cannot always prevent criminal behavior.

As revised, HB 879:

  • Defines a legislative action as testimony or other advocacy by a legislator in an official capacity as a member of the General Assembly 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 with a business
  • 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 and sets the terms and conditions for removal of a member
  • Increases the state penalty for a conviction bribery of a public employee of the State 

I believe that the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics has done an outstanding job in the past few years while addressing some challenging issues. This bill will further strengthen its role in holding legislators accountable and maintaining the public trust in elected officials.

Supporting Maryland’s Workers

Healthy Working Families Act

The General Assembly passed HB 1 in order to provide sick and safe leave for nearly 700,000 people in Maryland. The bill now goes to the Governor. It will require companies with 15 or more employees to provide up to 40 hours (equivalent of 5 days) of paid sick time each year. Part-time workers will earn 1 hour of leave for every 30 hours worked unless that person is a minor, works less than 106 days in a year or less than 12 hours a week. Companies with fewer than 15 employees must provide unpaid sick leave. Employers that provide comparable benefits do not have to change how they are providing benefits.

I supported this bill as an appropriate way to better ensure that workers, often those with low hourly wages, can take care of themselves and family members and not have to choose whether to stay home or go to work when sick.  Home health care workers, food service workers and thousands of other employees should not have to make that choice.

 An employee would be able to use sick days to recover from an illness, care for another sick family member or to seek preventative care. Days may also be used by an employee as safe days to obtain treatment or seek assistance for a family member in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

Manufacturing Tax Credit

SB 317, the More Jobs for Marylanders Act of 2017, provides $10 million in income, sales and property tax relief to manufacturers that create jobs in Baltimore City and Maryland’s distressed counties. This includes a 5.75 % credit against income taxes for the wages they pay. The bill is a compromise between Governor Hogan’s goal to increase manufacturing and the need for workforce development among workers.  To be eligible for the credits, the company must offer programs that enable employees to improve their job skills.

Existing manufacturers that create new jobs are also eligible to claim an income tax credit for each new job created along with depreciation for new equipment.

Opioid and Heroin Treatment

The devastating impact of opioid and heroin addiction cannot be overstated.  Between 2013-2015, Baltimore County had over 580 overdose deaths, the second highest in the state! Having heard from health experts and law enforcement on this matter, it is clear that Maryland is well behind in treating the addictive behavior, preventing abuse and  preventing overdoses. In a bi-partisan manner, the legislature passed two very significant bills this year that should enhance efforts underway at the state and local levels.

HB1329, the Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort (HOPE) and Treatment Act of 2017, looks at treatment, punishment and the need for greater cooperation. The bill:

  • Requires an assessment of drug court programs to determine how to increase these programs to meet each county’s needs
  • States intent of the General Assembly that the Governor provide at least $2 million in FY19 to award grants to expand the scope of drug court programs
  • Requires the state health department to establish a treatment center to serve individuals who are in a substance use disorder crisis Requires each hospital to have a protocol for discharging a patient who was treated by the hospital for a drug overdose or was identified as having a substance use disorder.
  • Requires  a plan to increase substance abuse treatment, including medication-assisted treatment in prisons and jails
  • Authorizes Local Fatality Review Teams to review overdoses
  • Requires the Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish guidelines for the co-prescribing of opioid overdose reversal drugs that are applicable to all licensed health care providers who are authorized to prescribe a monitored prescription drug

The other bill, HB1082, the Heroin and Opioid Education and Community Action Act of 2017 (Start Talking Maryland Act) focuses on education and outreach needs. It requires the development of a Heroin and Opioid Addiction and Prevention policy for each grade band level (3-5, 6-8, and 9-12) and a separate unit in high schools during the required semester of health education. Furthermore,

  • Schools will be required to keep Naloxone or other appropriate overdose-reversing drugs on hand and school health personnel will be immune from liability for administration;
  • Major public relations efforts must be undertaken including parent contact, use of  electronic media, and public service announcements to increase family and  community awareness
  • $3 million will be provided in grants to county school boards for implementation and training of personnel or development of programs for Community Action
  • Institutions of higher education receiving State funds will be required to have a heroin and opioid education and prevention program for incoming students and to have appropriate overdose-reversing drugs on hand for campus police

Preventing Sexual Assaults and Protecting Victims

The legislature addressed the serious problem of sexual assaults in a number of ways this session.

I was proud to stand with the County Executive and members of our Baltimore County legislative delegation to support recommendations to address sexual assault allegations. The recommendations were presented by retired Judge Barbara Howe and Lisae Jordan, the Executive Director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault after reviewing over 130 sexual assault cases in the County.

These six recommendations are:

  • Continue to require sex crimes detectives to interview both victims and suspects in sexual assault cases
  • Change the sexual assault statute to eliminate the requirement for “physical force or threat of force”,  which is addressed in HB 429
  • The County Police should implement a system to track cases received from residential facilities (nursing homes, residential treatment homes, etc.) to look for trends and identify any serial cases
  • Provide further training for the police to address issues of mental illness, trauma informed interviewing and intoxication
  • Increase and further document communications between sex crimes detectives and the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office
  • Strengthen the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART)  and require law enforcement officers to attend SART sessions


The legislature passed two critically important bills to address rape and sexual assault. HB 429 altered the law dramatically by clearly stating that “evidence of physical resistance by a victim is not required” to prove a rape or other sexual crimes under that provision of the criminal code.  The requirement for physical resistance had been a barrier to prosecuting numerous allegations of assault and rape.


HB 255 has changed the requirements for the handling and retention of sexual assault evidence collection kits (“rape kits”). Now, a law enforcement agency will be prohibited from destroying or disposing of the rape kit or other crime scene evidence relating to a sexual assault for 20 years where the State’s Attorney indicates it is relevant to a prosecution. Notice must be given to the victim if the kit is to be destroyed or disposed of. The kit must also be transferred to a law enforcement agency by a hospital or child advocacy center within 30 days after an exam has occurred or by a government agency that possess a kit.

Reaction and Response to Federal Actions

Right after the federal election last November, I became concerned about the impact the new President and Congress would have on Maryland and Marylanders.  It presented great uncertainty about the future of health care under the Affordable Care Act, civil rights and consumer rights protections, funding of federal programs and the well-being of the Bay. I was not alone in my anxiety and concern.  As a result, the legislature addressed a number of these issues through law and resolutions. This included:

The Protection of the Federal Affordable Care Act

HJ 9 reflects the General Assembly’s serious concern for and disapproval of the Congress’ attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a clear and appropriate replacement to ensure that Marylanders are covered and that care would be affordable. It asked Congress to protect specific provisions in the Act to ensure Marylanders have access to affordable health insurance coverage, free from discriminatory rates and policies.

Challenging Reductions in Chesapeake Bay Restoration Funding

HJ 10 expresses the legislature’s opposition to the President’s proposed elimination of $73 million in federal funds for the Chesapeake Bay Restoration effort. The House vote was overwhelmingly bi-partisan in support. In addition, the Resolution urges the Governor to join in the opposition. Environmental experts and legislators from both parties at the state and federal level feel that the elimination of the funding would lead to a reversal of decades of progress in the cleanup.

Maryland Defense Act of 2017

HB 913 gives the Attorney General the authority to take action against the Federal government, in emergency situations, when it is believed that the Federal government has acted unconstitutionally, or harmed the rights and well-being of Maryland citizens. This tool is similar to common law powers which most states’ Attorney Generals have in order to protect their citizens. This pre-approval is needed due to the short time when the General Assembly is in Session when the legislature can provide direction.

Ensuring Continuity of Family Planning Services

In light of threats by Congress and the new Administration to restrict or eliminate funding for family planning services providers, the legislature passed HB 1083 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.  The bill became law without the Governor’s signature.

Congress’s actions are aimed at Planned Parenthood. They would deny Title X funding or allow Medicaid funds to be used for family planning and related preventative services, including inpatient education and counseling, cervical and breast cancer screening, pregnancy diagnosis and counseling. 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. The legislature wants Maryland to be prepared should the federal government act to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and other providers.

Maryland Consumer Financial Protection Commission

In anticipation of steps by the new Administration to strip or radically scale back consumer protections, the legislature HB 1134/SB 884 established a consumer financial protection oversight Commission. Its members will assess the impact of potential changes to federal financial industry laws and regulations, budgets, and policies, including changes to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, the Department of Labor as well as any other federal financial regulators. The Commission is to provide recommendations for federal and State actions that will protect residents of the State in financial transactions and when receiving financial services.

Protecting Internet Consumer Privacy Rights

About two weeks ago, Congress made a startling decision to repeal Federal Communications Commission rules intended to protect internet customer privacy.  The rules require the internet providers to obtain your explicit permission to share or to sell things such as your personal data or that or your child’s.  Such a repeal would allow internet providers to use customer data, to share data plans you have purchases, to sell highly targeted ads and to sell your personal information.

In response to this threat to Marylanders’ privacy, a Delegate sought to introduce the Internet Consumer Privacy Rights Act of 2017, HB 1662, to prevent an internet service provider from selling or transferring a consumer’s personally identifying information to another without the consumer’s express and affirmative approval. The provider also could not refuse to provide its services to the consumer because of a refusal to grant permission.

A little over a week ago, a very unusual event took place on the House floor- a member was denied the right to introduce a bill! The Republicans stood in unison (except for one) and blocked his effort to have a hearing on ways the legislature can protect the privacy rights of our residents.  This was extraordinary, and frankly, bizarre.

My Bill on Bicycle Safety

I have tried, for a number of years, to change the laws so that bicyclists can safely ride on the roads. This year the legislature agreed 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 that the state will take a more comprehensive look at how we can encourage and support safety for bicyclists while being realistic in accommodating motor vehicle operators.

With the end of the legislative session, my office will now be open on a part-time basis: on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 am to 5 pm. My contact information remains the same. If you need to reach me or my office, you can call us at 410-841-3487 or email us at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us

I want to thank my terrific Aide, Marsha Tracey, my intern Ben Fleury and the Baltimore County House delegation Aide, Barbara McLean, for all of their help and assistance this session. Their help was invaluable to me.

Delegate Steve Lafferty

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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