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Steve's News from Annapolis

2018-03-18

The very busy past week was the lead up to “cross-over” on Monday, March 19. This is the last day to pass a bill in order to guarantee that it will have a hearing in the other chamber. Of course, that meant a pretty frenetic pace, a lot of debate and many hearings, meetings and voting sessions. We had a double session last Thursday, going in at noon and again at 6pm. We were also in session on Saturday, March 17 to get ahead of our work.

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting with Towson High School’s Law and Public Policy students, and had visits from bankers, advocates for election law changes and for strengthening our forest conservation laws. The County House delegation took up a number of issues related to alcohol, community nuisances, tax credits and the school system.  As a subcommittee chair in Environment and Transportation, I led our members in discussions and voting on permitted activities on farms, historic preservation, the location of solar facilities on agricultural land, future development and “complete streets” policies and design for bicyclists, pedestrians and better transit access.

Local Education Issues

The Baltimore County House Delegation passed two bills related to the Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). Unfortunately, many more residents have lost faith in the BCPS and its Board.  It is understandable in light of the guilty plea by former Superintendent Dance and the news of the criminal conviction of a former BCPS executive employee.

HB 76 will require the BCPS Board to provide a formal record of actions it takes and maintain a record of votes taken.  This information will need to be posted on the web site and available to the public. While BCPS Board meetings are currently live-streamed and records of their meetings are maintained, this bill should enhance transparency.

HB 1600 will establish a Task Force on Bullying in the schools.  Legislators have heard more and more about disciplinary problems and bullying in the schools. This Task Force, comprised of BCPS personnel, administrators and students, will examine the data, policies, range of disciplinary actions in place and make recommendations for addressing this continuing problem.

 I, and other legislators, wrote the Interim Superintendent with concerns about discipline, disciplinary procedures and the data around discipline. She did not adequately respond so, as delegation Chair, I wrote her a second time, on behalf of the entire delegation. Her response stated that federal law prevents certain information from being disclosed but she did share that the number of incidents with real or look-alike guns are less than last year. Furthermore all incidents in the last and current school year has resulted in some form of suspension for the student involved.

Another major issue was the procurement of education technology equipment since the beginning of Dr. Dance’s tenure in 2012.  The BCPS has now issued an extensive RFP to hire an outside, independent audit of the procurement practices and related activities covering 2012-2017.

The Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission is still accepting applications for the Board’s four at-large seats. The deadline has been extended to Monday, May 1, 2018. According to Commission Chairman Aaron Plymouth, “Interested Baltimore County residents are urged to submit applications.” The application form has been posted on the Baltimore County Public Schools’ website since February 1. Applications will be accepted through May 1, 2018.  Applications can be mailed or hand-delivered to the Baltimore County School Board Nominating Commission, c/o Debi Decker, 6901 North Charles Street, Towson, MD 21204. Electronic submissions will not be accepted.

Budget and Taxes

The State Budget

The Senate unanimously passed a $44.5 billion budget for the coming fiscal year (July 1, 2018- June 30, 2019). It will now come to the House for our review and consideration. The Senate’s budget includes funds for school safety grants, violence prevention initiatives, more money for providers serving the elderly and children in foster care, an increase in the reimbursement rate for those working with people who have developmental disabilities, $40 million more to address the state’s growing opioid epidemic and an additional $200 million for education. The bill also eliminates the structural deficit.

State Tax Changes

There are a number of changes being made in the State’s tax laws, largely driven by the 2017 changes in the federal tax law. Dozens of bills were filed this year.  Here are three of the bills that were passed by the House:

HB 327 expands the existing subtraction modification for military retirement income to 100%, phased-in over three years beginning in 2019.  This means that military retirement income, after 2022, will no longer be taxable.

Although federal tax law no longer provides a personal exemption, HB 365 provides that for state income tax purposes a taxpayer can deduct a personal exemption for the taxpayer’s spouse and the taxpayer’s eligible dependents.

HB 570 will change the way a standard tax deduction is calculated; starting with the 2018 tax year, the standard deduction for an individual will be $2000 and for $4000 for spouses filing jointly, a head of household or a surviving spouse. (The Senate passed a similar bill which provides for standard deductions of $2500 and $5000. The differences will be reconciled in a conference committee.)

Opioids and Treatment

The House Speaker created an Opioids Workgroup to develop a unified approach to addressing the scourge of opioid addiction and abuse. HB 922 captures the essence of the workgroup’s recommendations. The House bill would create a tip line (likely 211) to report suspected abuse or violations of medication prescription laws. Furthermore, HB 922 requires an extensive report in order to get local and multiple state agency assessments of the data, impacts, interventions and services concerning opioids. This is expected to lead to new models for delivering help and a more comprehensive website that will modeled on the one in Massachusetts. Additionally, since each county is addressing opioids differently, efforts will be made, and funded, to identify the best practices to help each government undertake appropriate steps for their citizens.

Funding for County Roads and Bridges

Over the past ten years, state funds for local highway, road and bridge projects have decreased significantly.  This year, the House, with near unanimity, passed a bill that will increase funds to Baltimore County by over $4 million.  This should help the county accelerate many of its projects that serve our communities.

Gun Legislation

Two weeks ago, the House Judiciary Committee held extensive hearings – until 1:30 a.m. – on more than 35 bills that addressed guns, gun violence and gun rights and ownership. Respecting the concerns and interests of hundreds of witnesses, the Committee listened carefully and worked hard to move legislation forward.

It was appropriate that, on the day that tens of thousands of students walked out of school for 17 minutes to remember those who were killed in Parkland and to protest our gun laws, that the House debated four gun bills. On Thursday, the House overwhelmingly passed:

·         HB 888 which bans “rapid fire trigger devices”, including “bumpstocks” like that which was used in the mass killings in Las Vegas. Owning, possessing, selling and transferring such devices will now be illegal.

·         HB 1302 is a “red flag” bill that enables an individual to seek a court order when it is believed that a person poses an immediate and present danger to oneself or others due to access to a firearm.

·         HB 1646 requires the State’s Attorney to notify a defendant that he/she is being charged with a crime that would disqualify that person from owning or possessing a firearm and that, upon conviction, that person would have to give up possession.

While we must protect an individual’s 2nd Amendment right and guarantee public safety, it is important to act to further limit access to guns by those who present a danger to others.

Sexual Harassment

Over the past couple of years, the Legislative Women’s Caucus has been examining sexual harassment in the legislative workplace.  They issued a stunning report which described harassment of legislators, lobbyists, staff and interns by legislators, lobbyists and others.  This led to the introduction of HB 1342 which was followed by extensive work by a number of legislators, the State Ethics Commission and the legislature’s ethics advisor to craft a bill to address the various problems and issues.

The bill will:

·         require additional training for legislators, staff and lobbyists on sexual harassment,

·         provide for the hiring of an outside and independent investigator under certain circumstances,

·         clarify actions to be taken by the Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics,

·         directs the Legislative Policy Committee to review and update, if necessary, the General Assembly’s anti-harassment policies and procedures,

·         specify that a regulated lobbyist may not sexually harass others and

·         direct the State Ethics Commission to convene a workgroup to develop recommendations to implement this law as it relates to sexual harassment by regulated lobbyists

Scholarship Applications are Due on April 2, 2018

Applications for my Maryland House of Delegates Scholarship Program for 2018-2019. The April 2 deadline is quickly approaching! Current residents of legislative district 42A who are high school seniors, students attending a private career school, and degree-seeking undergraduate and graduate students are eligible. Scholarship awards are only given to students applying to an institution of higher learning in Maryland, unless they have a unique major as determined by the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

If you know of a student who is interested in receiving a scholarship from me, he/she should go to my web site, www.delegatelafferty.com. Further information can be also obtained by calling 410-841-3487.

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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