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Steve's News from Annapolis

2019-02-10

This past week was the busiest we have seen since the Session began. Thursday at 5 pm was the deadline for filing a bill and being guaranteed a hearing date.  On Wednesday and Thursday, over 550 bills were filed with the Clerk, or “dropped in the hopper”! Committees began bill hearings and there was a flurry of activity to get bills finalized, corrected and filed.

The Environment and Transportation Committee completed our agency and issues briefings with presentations by the Department of Transportation on the MTA, highway projects, the Purple Line, a public-private partnership (P3) to widen the DC beltway and I-270 and the Port of Baltimore. We also heard from the Departments of Agriculture, Housing and Community Development, Natural Resources and the Environment.  The most detailed and extensive briefing was about the status of oysters in the Bay and tributaries. My committee also began our bill hearings, including hearing five hours of testimony on bills Thursday!

Baltimore County Funding and Impact Fees

A few weeks ago, the Baltimore County House delegation got a sobering briefing by County Executive Johnny Olszewski about the county’s fiscal condition. He described the lack of funds to fulfill the commitment to the Schools for the Future program, to meet the County’s obligations under a consent decree and to address the $81 million gap between known revenue and spending.

On Friday, I introduced (HB 449) that enables the County Council to impose development impact fees.  It does not require the Council to do so but gives the County one more possible tool to use should revenue have to be raised. Impact fees are not a panacea and will not raise all of the money necessary to build schools, improve roads or replace and upgrade sewer and water. Thanks to education advocates and others who are supporting this bill.

Study Group on Economic Stability

I was honored that Speaker Busch appointed me to Chair a House study group to examine the challenges that hundreds of thousands of Marylanders face to maintain economic stability. Over the years, the legislature has addressed many aspects of poverty but has not taken a more comprehensive look at what is needed to help individuals and families be economically stable, be positioned to strengthen their circumstances and  avoid slipping further into poverty. The group had a great first meeting and will be briefed by the United Way and experts at the University of Maryland this week.

Poverty is a complicated issue that faces our communities and country. It has many causes and tentacles; we will work to create a rationale policy and set of strategies to help Marylanders be economically stable.

Some Important Legislation That Has Been Introduced

Many significant bills have been filed. Let me describe a few of them:

The state budget is the most important bill we get every year. (HB 100) is being reviewed by the various subcommittees in the Appropriations Committee to understand the Governor’s proposals, to determine if state policies are being followed and to determine if cuts or adjustments are needed.

(HB 153) is the Governor’s Building Opportunity Act of 2019. It establishes a new process for funding school construction. In short, funds from casino revenues would be used to purchase bonds for school construction that would be overseen and managed by the Maryland Stadium Authority. All counties, including, Baltimore County, would be required to use the Stadium Authority for school construction projects if they wanted state funds. The County could seek a waiver. 

(HB 166), which raises the minimum wage in Maryland, was the subject of a controversial, eight (8) hour hearing Friday.  Well over 100 people testified on this bill that will increase the minimum wage from the current $10.10/hour to $15/hour over four years, hitting $15/hr. in July 1, 2023. It changes the way tipped workers and workers in agriculture are paid as well as increasing the pay for community services workers. I believe that too many people find it extremely difficult to move ahead economically at the current minimum wage, I am a co-sponsor of the bill.  I do see flaws in the bill and will work with others to amend the bill so it will the best it can be for Maryland and Marylanders.

Last week, our Committee heard testimony on (HB 109), a bill that will largely ban the use of polystyrene. The bill will prevent the sale and use of polystyrene cups, plates, containers and other items in order to prevent these materials from getting into and damaging our environment.  They do not biodegrade and are one of the largest sources of aquatic pollution.  The subcommittee on the Environment, which I chair, will take up the bill this week.

While meeting with community groups during the past two years, I have repeatedly commented on the scourge of opioid addiction and the losses suffered in our communities and a nation.  Over 70,000 people died from opioids last year! (HB 139) provides a different approach that has been successful elsewhere – creating safe overdose and disease prevention sites where drugs can be used safely, education and help can be provided to drug users and trained professionals can provide assistance. Only 6 programs would be established in the state; they would be operated by hospitals, clinics, mental health facilities and others approved by the state Department of Health.

Recognition for My Previous Legislation

I received notice that my work last year to establish a Complete Streets policy for the state’s roadways was nominated for the Best Improvement for Biking in 2018 by the Washington Area Bicyclists’ Choice Awards! The award celebrates critical improvements for better bicycling and the people who push for needed change. I sponsored the bill to require the State Highway Administration and other agencies to consider all users – drivers, transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians in planning and designing transportation improvements.

I was also honored by the Maryland League of Conservation Voters as a Maryland Green Champion.  This year three of my bills are being supported by MdLCV and are on their “Hot List” of important legislation. These are (HB 1 )that prevents the dredging of the Man O’War shoal; (HB 117) which will create a Smart Growth Investment Fund to provide vital capital investment in areas that have declined but where there are opportunities for redevelopment; and, (HB 272) that requires local government accountability for reforestation when they have collected fees instead of having developers plant trees.

My bills

I have introduced thirteen (13) bills this Session.  As in the past, the majority are focused on environmental issues that are in my committee. I have already had hearings on (HB 1) that will prevent the unnecessary dredging of the ancient oyster reef known as Man O’War shoal; (HB 83) that will eliminate the requirement for a minor who wants a name change to publish a notice and, therefore, intrude upon her/his privacy; and, (HB 112) that creates stronger penalties for a driver who kills or causes serious injury to a bicyclist, pedestrian and others on the roadway.  I have worked on this issue for a couple of years to deter bad driving and better protect vulnerable individuals.

This coming week I will have hearings on my bills to hold local governments accountable for money they collect from developers instead of meeting the requirement to reforest or plant trees (HB 272); to establish a definition for failed septic systems (HB 190); and, to create a Smart Growth Investment Fund using state and private funds to support investment in communities (HB 117).

My bills and all bills can be seen at the General Assembly web site, www.mgaleg.maryland.gov.

Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about, or want to offer your comments on, legislation.  I can be reached at 410-841-3487 or at Stephen. Lafferty@house.state.md.us.

Best wishes,

Steve

Delegate Steve Lafferty
Maryland House of Delegates, District 42A
410-841-3487
stephen.lafferty@house.state.md.us

   
     
 

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