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Delegate Lafferty's 2018 End of Session Report

2018-04-17

The 2018 session of the Maryland General Assembly ended on Monday, April 9, 2018 at midnight. It also ended the four year terms of those of us elected in 2014. It was bitter-sweet for many of us since twenty-six of our colleagues have decided not to seek re-election to the House of Delegates. The Session was also marked by the death of one of our colleagues, Sen. Wayne Norman, and deaths in the families of a number of our members.

It has been an honor to represent the people in District 42A for the last 12 years. It was also my honor to serve as the Chair of the Baltimore County House delegation for the past four years. I have served the local needs of the district and county while also recognizing that I must address statewide needs.

It is usually said that the legislative session during an election year is relatively uneventful.  However, the 2018 legislative session was an exception to the truism. It was highly productive and remarkable as we addressed challenging issues in education, public safety, health care and taxes. Let me share some of these.

Education

SB 1265, Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018

The killings in Parkland, Florida and at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County drove home the need for enhanced safety in public schools. This comprehensive bill was passed unanimously and has already been signed by the Governor. It provides:

  • School Safety Grants: $12.5 million will be available from a School Safety Fund to help local school systems train school personnel and students, school resource officer (SRO) training, conducting school safety evaluations and funding wraparound services for individuals exhibiting concerning behavior.

  • A School Safety Subcabinet is created as the governing board of the Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS). MCSS will be responsible for overseeing the State's school safety improvements.

  • Active Shooter Training will be incorporated into the required drills for Maryland schools.

  • Assessment Teams: The State Department of Education and the Maryland Center for School Safety will create a model policy for the assessment teams in each school system. The assessment teams will ensure school systems have ways to identify individuals who pose a threat to school safety, formalize reporting systems, and have an efficient communications system for timely and coordinated response to a school threat.

  • School Safety Evaluations: Each school system is required to conduct safety evaluations by the end of the 2018-2019 school year and regularly thereafter.

  • Mental Health Services: Each school system is required to appoint a mental health services coordinator to coordinate existing services and referrals for services and to maximize funding for mental health and other services. The Maryland Center for School Safety is required to study and report on gaps in-school and community-based mental and behavioral health services.

HB 1415, Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwin Commission)

The General Assembly passed legislation that begins to implement the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission. HB 1415 modernizes Maryland’s educational system by improving teacher recruitment, getting more resources to students in low-income schools, and expanding career technical education programs. 

HB 1415 encourages the top 25% of high school graduates from each county to pursue a career in education and increases awareness of financial aid programs for teaching candidates.  It also implements an Early Literacy Program in low-income areas to help students build a strong reading foundation and expand pre-k to give children the head start they need. 

The bill also creates a competitive grant program for local boards of education to partner with community colleges and businesses to put students on a track for careers in technical education. It’s important we encourage more young men and women to consider technical careers of tomorrow.

HB 1783, 21st Century Schools Facilities Act (Knott Commission)

This important bill provides an additional $400 million in school construction funding and another $10 million in school safety funding. The Knott Commission’s recommendations came from a bipartisan group of construction experts, business leaders, and local school officials. 

HB 1783 transfers the responsibility for school construction decisions to the Interagency Committee on School Construction (IAC). It will have five appointees from the Governor and two appointees each from the Speaker and Senate President. The politicization of the Board of Public Works’ school construction decisions has led to damaging consequences for schools around the State. HB 1783 improves Maryland’s school construction decision-making process by placing responsibility for those decisions with the non-partisan IAC. Under the IAC, hearings and discussions will be accountable and transparent.

SB 1122, Casino Lockbox for Education Funding

SB 1122 allows voters to decide in a November referendum whether all of the State’s revenue from casinos should be spent on K-12 public education. If approved by the voters, the state would be required to gradually increase education funding until fiscal year 2023.  At that time 100% of the State’s casino revenues would be used to supplement current educational funding.

HB16, Near Completers and Maryland Community College Promise Scholarships

Many argue that it is essential to have a college degree or advanced certification to obtain well-paying jobs and to advance economically. Consequently, there has also been a push to provide free tuition to those who attend community colleges after graduating from local public schools.  HB 16 will provide $15 million a year for scholarships up to as much as $5,000 for low and middle income students who are beginning their education at community colleges. Another $2 million will be available to assist current students who are close to completing their degrees.

Crime and Public Safety

In addition to the protections addressed in the Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018, the General Assembly worked hard to address violence in Baltimore City and the state. Two major bills included efforts to address crimes of violence:

HB 101, Criminal Law – Crimes of Violence, Expungement and Drug Treatment

This bill covers a number of penalties but also provides for the expungement of some convictions for the first time:

  • Adds the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony as a “crime of violence” while the definition, previously, only applied to handguns

  • Provides that a person convicted of a second crime of violence, and who previously was confined to a prison, must serve at least 10  years and is not eligible for parole

  • A person may seek to have his/her record expunged for certain felonies 15 years after completing the sentence

  • Precludes the court from ordering an evaluation for drug treatment until certain defendants are eligible for parole

SB 1137, Criminal Law- Prohibitions, Prosecutions and Corrections

This bill altered a number of aspects of criminal law and increased certain penalties.  The bill:

  • Expands risk assessments of inmates to better identify needs and mental health

  • Increases the penalties for witness intimidation

  • Expands the wiretap statute to include the sale of hand guns used in crimes

  • Adds the sale of the deadly drug fentanyl to the statute regarding volume sales in order to increase the penalties if the dealer is selling larger amounts, and

  • Creates a Task Force to examine the statutes regarding gangs and gang activity

Protecting Maryland’s Taxpayers

The changes in federal tax law will have a large, and as of yet, uncertain, impact on Maryland taxpayers. The federal government is still revising federal regulations and guidelines. Initially, it was estimated that more than 30% of Marylanders who file taxes would see an increase in their taxes due to the federal changes. Before making dramatic changes to Maryland’s tax structure, it is critical that we continue to monitor the impacts so we can effectively respond and protect Marylanders from damaging tax increases.  

HB 365, Income Tax- Personal Exemptions

This bill requires the Bureau of Revenue Estimates to continuously monitor and report back to the General Assembly on state revenue projections due to the federal tax changes.  HB 365 was passed unanimously by the House and Senate and ensures that Marylanders will be able to continue claiming their personal exemptions on their State tax returns.  Without this legislative fix, 92% of all Marylanders who claim personal exemptions would have paid $1.2 billion more in State and local taxes this year.  House Bill 365 will save 92% of Marylanders an average of $400.

HB 570, Income Tax- Deduction- Alterations

The General Assembly also unanimously increased the standard state deduction by $250 to $2,250 for single taxpayers and $500 to $4,500 for joint filers -- the first increases in three decades.  To account for inflation, we also provide that the standard deduction will increase each year moving forward like the federal government’s annual increases for social security benefits.  The bill will save nearly 60% of Maryland taxpayers close to $90 million every year.

HB 327, Military Pension Exclusions

House Bill 327 provides an additional $6 million of tax relief to our Military retirees annually.  It expands the existing pension exclusion from $10,000 per year to $15,000 per year and lowers the age for claiming the pension exclusion to age 55, down from 65 years old.

 SB 134, Small Business Relief Tax Credit 

An estimated 43% of low-income workers have access to paid sick leave, while nearly 70% of all private-sector workers receive the same benefit.  Senate Bill 134 provides up to $5 million of tax credits per year as an incentive for Maryland’s small businesses to provide their low-income workers with paid sick leave.  This bipartisan legislation creates a new tax credit that allows a small business to receive up to $500 for each worker making roughly $30,000 per year who receives paid sick leave.

Health Care Protections

In the past two sessions, we focused significant attention on health care access and affordability. The cost of health care is rising due to insurance market uncertainty and the individual mandate repeal by Congress. This year, the General Assembly passed two pieces of legislation to curb the rising cost of care in the short-term and offer a long-term solution to stabilize the market.

HB 1795, Establishment of a Reinsurance Program 

HB 1795 was one of the most significant bills we passed this year. The legislature’s bipartisan Joint Workgroup on the Affordable Care Act worked to lower premiums in the individual market. This bill directs the state to seek a federal waiver to have flexibility to use federal funds to create a state-run reinsurance program. Reinsurance will allow insurance companies to subsidize the cost of health care for those high-risk individuals in the market and curb the premium increases from having substantial, negative effects on the rest of the insurance market.  

HB 1782, Maryland Health Care Access Act of 2018 

This authorizes the State to collect 2.75% ($380 million) from insurance companies to pay for a state reinsurance pool. This fee was suspended by the federal government as part of the changed tax laws so it does not add any more cost. The bill, which was also supported by the Governor and insurance companies, further requires a study to explore further long-term solutions for the insurance industry and stabilize individual market rates.

Gun Violence in Maryland

Gun violence, whether mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida or shooting of individuals on the streets or in homes, continues to plague our communities.  This year, the legislature took action to better safeguard our schools and to address access to firearms.

HB 888, Firearm Crimes – Rapid Fire Trigger Activator

Last October, a gunman used a “bump stock” on his automatic weapon to kill 58 people in Las Vegas.  These are “rapid fire trigger devices” which convert a semi-automatic weapon into a fully automatic one. HB 888 bans the ownership, possession and sale of such devices in Maryland.  However, if the federal government moves to regulate these devices, an individual who already owns one would be able to apply to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to retain ownership.

HB 1302, Extreme Risk Protective Orders

This is referred to as the “red flag” bill. This bipartisan bill enables an individual to seek a court order to prohibit a person from accessing a firearm when there is evidence that a person poses an immediate and present danger to oneself or another. If a judge issues such an order a law enforcement officer can confiscate the firearms and a hearing must be held.

HB 1646, Criminal Procedures - Firearms

HB 1646 allows law enforcement, with a search warrant, to remove guns from a domestic violence offender’s home if a court believes the offender failed to turn in his/her gun upon conviction. Once convicted of a domestically related crime, an individual must turn in the firearms to law enforcement or a federally licensed firearm dealer within two days. If the court finds probable cause that that individual did not surrender all of the firearms, a search warrant can be ordered to retrieve the missing weapons. This is an important step for ensuring that violent ex-convicts are not armed.

Protecting Maryland’s Environment

This was not a particularly good year for environmental legislation.  Efforts to ban polystyrene, strengthen the forest conservation laws, increase the renewable energy portfolio, expand the use of best technologies in septic systems and require air quality testing in larger animal facilities all failed. Bills that passed include:

HB 1456, Offshore Drilling Liability Act

With the potential of federal government approval of oil and gas drilling of the coast of Maryland, HB 1456 will provide protections for the waters and coastline of Maryland. A person who causes harm or damage from oil spills during the drilling or in transporting oil will be strictly liable for any damages.

HB 3, U.S Climate Alliance

This bill requires the Governor to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, regardless of action by the federal government.  This Alliance is a group of states that have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

HB 1765 – Septic Stewardship

My bill regarding septic pollution passed both the House and Senate. Nitrogen pollution from septic systems continues to be significant in part of the state.  The bill incentivizes local governments to develop plans to assist homeowners who have septic systems.  Owners with these “best available technology” systems would need to have operation and maintenance contracts and those with conventional systems could get assistance to pump out their systems regularly, therefore extending the life of the system and further reducing nitrogen pollution.

Other Bills Of Significance that Were Passed

HB 315, Maryland Cares for Kids Act

This bill addresses the growing need for nutritional meals in schools.  It makes the state responsible for the student share of the cost of reduced priced breakfasts and lunches in both public and non-profit private schools. This will begin in 2020 and be fully phased in by 2023

HB 301, Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act

This important bill authorizes a court to admit into evidence, for certain sexual offenses, prior sexual assaultive behavior (“prior bad acts”) by the defendant that occurred before or after the alleged criminal violation for which the defendant is on trial

HB 152, Secure and Accessible Registration Act

HB 152 will automatically register Marylanders to vote when they are renewing a driver’s license, signing up for health coverage with the state Health Benefit Exchange, or receiving help from a social service agency. If the individual does not wish to register, he/she may opt out during the process.

HB 532, Registration and Voting at Precinct Polling Place

The General Assembly passed a constitutional amendment to allow voters to both register to vote and vote on Election Day. This measure will be on the ballot in November 2018 and, if confirmed, will then go back to the General Assembly for final confirmation. The earliest this constitutional amendment could take effect would be the 2020 election.

SB 875, Electioneering Transparency and Accountability Act

By wide  margins of votes in both the House and Senate, Maryland was the first state in the nation to pass legislation requiring social media and websites to track and disclose political campaign and issue ads. These online companies must keep data that can be used to investigate foreign interference or illegal spending in State races. It applies to Google platforms, Twitter and any other site with at least 100,000 unique monthly users. The Board of Elections will have the authority to investigate possible violations and enforce the law.

 HB 372, Maryland Metro/Transit Funding Act

In light of the many problems that have occurred with the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority and, more recently, with the Baltimore Subway and bus systems, we passed a multi-faceted bill:

  • Metro Funding: The General Assembly passed legislation to provide additional funding of $167 million a year on the condition that Virginia and the District of Columbia contribute the same or more. The annual amount of funding will incrase by 3% annually to account for inflation.

  • Changes in the Metro Board: The bill also requires that the State transportation secretary or another official from the Department serve as one of Maryland's two voting members on the Metro board. The legislation also would strengthen the agency's Inspector General.

  • Baltimore Mass Transit Funding: HB372 allocates $178 million to the Maryland Transit Authority (MTA) over the next three years. The legislation requires funding to the MTA to increase each year to account for inflation. The funding can be used for the Baltimore Metro Subway system or other MTA systems, such as the MARC commuter trains or commuter buses. The MTA is also required to conduct a comprehensive assessment of all of its capital assets, such as Baltimore buses, MARC locomotives, and the tracks and cars of its Metro and light rail systems.

The Fate of My Own Bills

While seven of my bills passed out of the House, four survived in the Senate and were passed by both chambers.  I mentioned HB 1765 which will enable counties to address their septic pollution with Septic Stewardship Plans, previously.  Another was HB 744 that requires the Department of Transportation to develop and implement policies for “Complete Streets”.  All users of the roadways and transportation facilities – whether pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists or transit users – should have safe, comfortable and convenient access.  The bill sets different design standards and considerations and recognizes that the roadways do not only belong to motorists. The other two bills, HB 108 and HB 109, addressed funding needs for community development organizations that are working to strengthen and improve communities throughout the region and state.

During the very last two days of the Session, I was able to amend SB 621Deletion of Ownership Restrictions Based on Race, Religious Belief and National Origin so that Rodgers Forge and similar neighborhoods can remove offensive covenant and deed restrictions. These restrictions were created to prohibit the sale of property to people based on race and religion. While unconstitutional, this language has remained on deeds.  SB 621 will enable the deeds to be cleared of the offensive language.

I greatly appreciated the opportunity to continue serving the residents of District 42A.  I know that our office responded to constituent letters on a range of issues and was able to address individual constituent needs. It would not have been possible without my outstanding Legislative Aide, Marsha Tracey, and my intern Joe DeWitt.  Furthermore, as Chair of the County’s House delegation, I got great support and help from the Delegation Staff Person, Barbara McLean.

Although we are not in Session, my legislative office is staffed three days a week until the 2019 Session begins.  If there are issues of concern, or if you need assistance, please contact us at 410-841-3487 or at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.us.

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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