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Steve's End of Session Report

2019-04-16

 Delegate Lafferty’s 2019 End of Session Report

 

It has been an honor to represent the residents of District 42A, Baltimore County and the State of Maryland in the Maryland General Assembly during the 2019 Session.

While we passed significant legislation, nothing defined the session like the death of House Speaker Michael E. Busch on the day before the legislature adjourned, Sine Die.  The Speaker had a liver transplant in 2017 and late last year, had a heart by-pass operation. He started the Session full of passion, fight and energy but became sick with pneumonia about a month ago and never recovered. His death led to a somber and very sad conclusion to the Session.

Mike Busch was a friend, colleague, leader and mentor. He was referred to as the “Coach” for his ability to provide guidance, help legislators succeed and keeping the entire House moving forward on policy.  He cared about all of Maryland and all Marylanders.  He was a man of high integrity who took time to talk with visitors, recognize the achievements of others and share stories.  His strong leadership enabled the legislature to take positive and forward looking actions for the betterment of all Marylanders during my 13 years in Annapolis. 

It is not easy to capsulize the 90 days that the legislature met.  There were 43 new House members elected in 2018.  This meant that all of us had many new people to meet and get to know and to establish new relationships. Good relationships are key to being successful as a legislator.

I have often been asked whether I have had a good or successful session.  Emphatically yes! While often used to measure a legislator’s effectiveness, how many, or which, bills I have gotten passed (more on those later) does not solely determine success.

During the 2019 session, I was part of the leadership of the Environment and Transportation Committee as the Chair of the Environment Subcommittee and as a member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee. This also gave me the responsibility for taking many bills to the House floor for presentation and debate.

Perhaps due to my length of service and my accomplishments over the years, a number of the new legislators asked me guidance, advice and support for their work and bills.  I was truly humbled that these “freshmen” would seek my counsel on a range of issues. It was interesting and, often intriguing, to hear their ideas and to listen to their articulation of new issues and the reasons their legislation can make the lives of Marylanders better.

While the legislature undertook, and advanced, many important policies for the state, it was a difficult year, as well.  In addition to Speaker Busch’s death, Senate President Mike Miller acknowledged that he is being treated for Stage 4 prostate cancer. When the President or the Speaker was unable to preside, Sen. Kathy Klausmeier and Delegate Adrienne Jones very ably led the chambers in their roles as President Pro Tem and Speaker Pro Tem, respectively.  It has been exciting to work with, and observe, Delegate Jones’ leadership of the House.

Additionally, the House of Delegates was compelled to take punitive actions against two of our members.  The actions were very unpleasant, although, necessary, to address inappropriate behavior and to protect the integrity of the institution. The House censured Del. Mary Ann Lisanti of Harford County for her use of the most offensive and racist word used about Black people.  Delegate Jay Jalisi was reprimanded for his pattern of bullying, berating and belittling his staff and others.

And, yes, we enacted many important pieces of legislation. Here are some that we addressed during the 439th meeting of the Maryland General Assembly.

Education

Education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future

In a strong, bi-partisan effort, the legislature passed SB 1030 to advance dramatic policies for the state’s education.  Generated by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (the Kirwin Commission), the Education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, addresses the need to change our policies and approaches in early childhood education, career and technical education, schools where there are a  significant number of children in poverty, teacher salaries and preparation, and accountability by local school districts. The state budget includes $255 million in the coming fiscal year to address these first initiatives, including:

  •  $31.7 million for Full day pre-K for 4 year olds
  •  $65.5 million for Special Education grants
  • $54.6 million for Concentration of Poverty Grants
  • $75 million for Teacher Salary Incentive Grants
  • $2 million for Mental Health Coordinators for Each Local School System

Build to Learn Act of 2019

By an overwhelming bi-partisan majority, the House passed HB 727 to create a funding strategy to generate an estimated $2.2 billion over five years for school renovations and construction throughout the state. However, the Senate failed to act on the bill so it died. The bill proposed using some of the state’s lottery revenues to purchase bonds that would fund the construction.  Baltimore County was scheduled to receive 18.2% of the construction funding or approximately $400 million!  My kudos go to County Executive Johnny Olszewski for his dogged advocacy and efforts to secure needed money for school construction.

Screening of Students with Reading Difficulties

This was one of the most important bills of the session for students.  SB 734 requires, beginning with the 2020-2021school year, each local school board to ensure that certain students are screened to determine if the student is at risk for reading difficulties. If the screening shows there is a risk, the local board must provide additional, appropriate reading instruction and notify the student’s parent. The state Department of Education must develop and update resources for local school boards every four years and provide technical support to local boards.

 Community Control of School Calendars Act

SB 128 allows county boards of education to choose the start and end dates for the school year. Schools are still required to follow state and federal guidelines such as hour requirements and maintaining a 180 day school year over 10 months.  Local boards may still decide to start school after Labor Day or end after June 15th; this legislation just gives them the autonomy to decide.  This bill also allows schools to extend the year without seeking special waivers from the State board.

This bill replaces the Governor’s Executive Order that mandated that all public schools open after Labor Day and end classes on or before June 15.  Local boards have had a difficult time accommodating snow days, teacher training days, and religious and secular holidays. The Governor chose to veto the legislation but, by a vote of 93-43, the House overrode the veto. The Senate also voted to override the veto so local boards can now set a calendar that is appropriate for its respective jurisdiction!

Safe Schools Maryland

SB 165 establishes the Safe Schools Maryland program. This is an anonymous tip line in the Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS).  The program will develop procedures for anonymous reporting of behaviors of concern and other dangerous, violent, or unlawful activities, or the threat of these activities, involving one or more students. Participation in the program is voluntary for local school systems, public schools, and nonpublic schools

Environment

Clean Energy Jobs Act

SB 516 increases the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) from 25% by 2020 to 50% by 2030.  This means that 50% of the state’s energy is to come from renewable energy sources. This bill will help preserve and create jobs in the clean energy sector, while also reducing Maryland’s reliance on fossil fuels.  The bill does not change the current law as it pertains to tax credits available for the renewable energy credits.  However, this is a huge step forward in the battle against Climate Change.

Oysters

HB 298, sponsored by Speaker Busch, protects, and will restore, five (5) oyster sanctuaries.  Growing the oyster population is critical to the long-term well-being of the Bay. Significant public investments have been made to support these large-scale restoration projects and this bill will further protect those investments by placing these five tributaries off-limits to oyster harvesting in perpetuity. 

HB 720 sets up a group, staffed by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, to make decisions on a Fisheries Management Plan for oysters.  This group brings all interested stakeholders to the table: nearly 60% will be industry watermen and slightly more that 40% will be from advocacy groups for conservation.  The goal is to get the numerous stakeholders to work together to develop a Management Plan for the oyster fishery so that the oyster population grows, is sustainable and available for harvesting in the future.

Ban on Polystyrene

HB 109 bans the sale and use of various single use, expanded polystyrene products. We often referred to this material as Styrofoam but that is a trade-marked name. I was the “floor leader” in the House who presented both bills, advocated for and defended them in debate. Maryland is the first state to pass this ban. This bill:

  • Defines “expanded polystyrene food service product” as one that is used for selling or providing food or beverages, is intended for single use and is generally recognized as an item to be discarded after a single use
  • Includes food containers, plates, hot and cold beverage cups, trays and cartons
  • Creates an exemption for packaging raw meats, seafood and poultry and for packaging that comes into the business or store pre-packaged from out of state
  • Applies to food service businesses, the government and institutional cafeterias
  • Requires a public information, anti-littering and education campaign
  • Goes into effect July 1, 2020 so businesses can use up their inventory and switch over

Efforts to Prevent Lead Poisoning

With HB 1233, the legislature lowered the actionable level to address lead poisoning from 10 micrograms per deciliter to the level established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The current CDCP standard is 5 micrograms and not 10. This means that more children can receive treatment if this lower amount of lead is found in their blood stream.  This is a great step forward since no level of lead is safe and the damage to a child’s brain – and his/her future - can be irreversible.

Health Care

Individual Health Insurance Market Stabilization Act

HB 258 will help continue to stabilize health insurance costs by bringing more certainty to the individual market. This bill requires insurance companies to contribute a 1% assessment to the Maryland’s Reinsurance Program through 2023. The state reinsurance program was established last year and required health insurance companies to cover more of the health care costs for the sickest Marylanders. It helped to keep health insurance rate increases more affordable for Marylanders.

Prescription Drug Coverage for Maryland State Retirees

SB946 establishes three programs to limit out-of-pocket prescription drug costs and catastrophic coverage programs for specified State retirees, dependents, or surviving dependents who are enrolled in a Medicare prescription drug benefit plan.  A brief description of the three programs created by SB 946 is as follows:

  • Program 1 maintains reimbursement caps for participants for any out-of-pocket drug costs that exceed costs in the State prescription plan; these are currently $1,500 for an individual and $2,000 for a family.

o   Eligibility – Medicare eligible retirees who retired by December 31st, 2018

  • Program 2 requires the reimbursement for out-of-pocket prescription drug costs after the participant enters catastrophic coverage under Medicare Part D; this is currently $2,500 in prescription drug costs.

o   Eligibility - Medicare eligible retirees who began State service before July 1st, 2011 and who retired by January 1st, 2019

  • Program 3 reimburses participants for out-of-pocket prescription drug costs for life-sustaining prescription drugs that are not covered by Medicare Part D, but are covered in the State prescription plan. The Department of Health is to create a list of the drugs that are eligible for reimbursement.

o   Eligibility – Medicare eligible retirees enrolled in programs 1 or 2 and who require life-sustaining prescription drugs

Also of note:

  • Non-Medicare eligible retirees, spouse and dependents will remain on the current State prescription plan until they are eligible for Medicare
  • Medicare employees must move to Medicare Part D Plan; there are currently 25 Medicare Part D plans available from 10 different health insurance providers in Maryland
  • Those participants who reach the out-of-pocket limits under their program will be reimbursed for those costs
  • The bill establishes a new program for those who need life-sustaining drugs that are unaffordable under Medicare

Raising the Age for Purchasing Tobacco

HB 1169 bans retailers from selling a tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21 (unless they are in the military) and will require retailers to post this age restriction in their stores.  At current smoking rates, roughly 92,000 young people now under 18 years old in Maryland will die prematurely from smoking.  This law will help to keep these addictive products out of high schools and reduce teen smoking and addiction. 

Maryland Health Insurance Option

This bipartisan legislation establishes Maryland’s Easy Enrollment Health Program (MEEHP). HB 814 creates a simple process for enrolling uninsured Marylanders into free or low cost health insurance coverage by adding a checkbox on state income tax returns. This allows the state health exchange determine eligibility for free or low-cost health insurance.

This new system will allow an estimated 50,000 Marylanders to be enrolled automatically in Medicaid. For those who are uninsured but do not qualify, the exchange will offer information on health plans, including possible federal premium tax credits to help ease the costs of health insurance. Maryland will become the first state in the country to implement this program allowing families to use tax information to qualify for health programs.

Criminal Justice Reform

Juvenile Justice Reform Council

HB 606 establishes the Juvenile Justice Reform Council. The council must use a data-driven approach to develop a statewide framework of policies to invest in strategies to increase public safety and reduce recidivism of young offenders. The council will focus on juvenile justice policy reform, advocating for groups with disproportionate contact with the eight (8) juvenile justice and criminal justice systems, advocating for victims of crime and restorative justice;

Testing Sexual Assault Evidence Kits

HB 1096 will protect victims of sexual assault by requiring all rape kits to be counted and tested. It requires law enforcement to submit a rape kit to a forensic laboratory within 30 days and must be processed by the laboratory as soon as possible. It also establishes an independent review process for any rejected evidence kit.

Cyber Bullying (Grace’s Law 2.0)

As the use of social media continues to influence and shape the lives of children, bullying and harassment online has become a serious issue. HB 181 improves the initial version of Grace’s Law by increasing the potential maximum fine from $500 to $10,000, and from one year in jail to three. If a child commits suicide due to cyberbullying, the bully can now be sentenced up to 10 years in jail.

Other Important Legislation

A Phased In Increase in the Minimum Wage

The passage of HB 166 sets a new minimum wage in Maryland. Although the Governor vetoed the bill, both the Senate and the House “overrode” his veto so the bill becomes law.  HB 166 established the state minimum wage to be $15 by 2025. The wage will increase incrementally until 2025. It establishes an 18-month delayed implementation schedule for employers with 14 or fewer employees – they will reach the $15 minimum wage rate on July 1, 2026. The bill requires the adoption of regulations for restaurants to help tipped employees calculate their hourly wage rates.  The bill includes an additional $319 million above and beyond the existing out year budget for provider reimbursement rates.  Developmental Disability Administration providers will receive a 4.0% annual increase for fiscal years 2021–2026.  Behavioral Health Administration providers will receive an increase between 3 & 4% between FY21 and FY26. All other providers will receive a 4.0% annual increase for fiscal years 2021–2026.

The End of Life Option Act

Following long, emotional and personal debates in the House and the Senate, HB 399, the End of Life Option Act failed. It passed in the House, but a tied vote in the Senate prevented it from passing.  This legislation would have enabled an individual to seek aid-in-dying from a physician under very limited conditions and with what I believe are important safeguards. This bill would have enabled a person to have more control over the end of his/her own life.

The bill states that a person could request medication to end one’s life but would be required to go through careful, multiple steps in order to obtain the necessary medication.

Reforming the University of Maryland Medical System Board

In the last bill that he introduced, House Speaker Mike Busch required UMMS to have greater integrity, higher ethical standards and more accountability.  HB 1428 reflects the Speaker’s values. Board members appointees will require advice and consent from the state Senate to be approved for appointment; sole source procurement is prohibited; stronger financial disclosure and ethical standards are established; and, UMMS is required to conduct an internal review of its Board policies and to hire an outside firm to conduct a performance audit.

Summer SNAP for Children

HB 338 creates a summer SNAP program for children, which will help feed hungry kids.  Kids who are eligible for free and reduced priced meals while in school are eligible for this program. It will help ensure that children are getting nutritious meals regardless of whether school is in session.  This bill will requires the State to provide supplemental funding to increase SNAP benefits by at least $30 per month per child in June, July, and August, and $10 per child in December.

Child Care Tax Credit Expansion

HB 810 will expand the income eligibility for the child care tax credit to help working parents. Single filers making up to $92,000 per year, and married filers making $143,000 per year are currently eligible. The tax credit is equal to up to 32% of the federal child and dependent care credit.  If the filer makes less than $50,000 or $75,000, this credit is refundable.  Since child care has become so expensive, this bill will help working families afford high quality care for their kids.

Background Checks for Private Long Gun Sales

HB 786 would have closed a loophole in the background check process for long gun (rifle and shotgun) transfers by requiring a licensed firearms dealer to facilitate a private long gun sale. The bill would have resulted in tens of thousands of additional background checks and ensured each and every transaction is properly vetted. It would not have included transfers between immediate family members, antique firearm collectors, or hunting as long as the owner of the firearm is present. However, this bill did not pass in the Senate.

 Local Issues

Establishing Development Impact Fees

The legislature passed HB 449 which will authorize the Baltimore County Executive and County Council to establish development impact fees.  Due to the concerns the County Executive raised about a revenue gap (which he has explained to the public at his town hall meetings) additional revenue must be considered.  I sponsored the bill so that the County Executive could decide whether development projects that have an impact on school population and infrastructure should pay an additional fee.  It is up to the County Executive to determine if he wants to use this new “tool” to raise money for capital expenditures.

Additional Funding for Community Needs

I am thrilled that I was able to secure additional funds for two projects in the district.  The capital budget includes $100,000 for improvements to the Radebaugh Park.  The park is still under construction but, with these state dollars, Phase II can be planned and started. These funds will enable the planting of trees and establishing other amenities.  The Park will be a gem when completed.

I also helped the Idlewylde Community Association obtain $75,000 for needed improvements to the community hall.  This building is a real community asset that needs some basic work to make sure it is fully operational and can continue to serve Idlewylde, other communities and local groups.

Public Nuisances- Community Association Standing

HB 217 proposed to allow community groups to go into court to address public nuisances when the County fails to address neighborhood concerns.  Too often, communities are plagued by problem properties and have lacked the ability to get the problems resolved. The House passed the bill but it did not get support from the Baltimore County Senate delegation.  Their failure to endorse the bill left it to die.

My Own Bills

During my time in the legislature, I have often pushed big issues that require more time to get passed.  I successfully got passed:

  • HB 190 provides a definition of a failed septic system.  Currently, different criteria are used to deem that a system failed.  A failed septic system can be a threat to human and environmental health.  This is not tolerable. Working with advocates, the Department of the Environment and county representatives, we agreed to a workable definition so that health officers have clearer guidance.
  • HB 272 makes it clear that the counties must have a plan for using the money they receive as a “fee-in-lieu” and that the number of trees required of the developer/builder must be met by the county. When someone is building or developing a property, they are required to plant or re-plant trees as part of the forest conservation law. Often, they pay a fee-in-lieu to the county instead of actually planting trees. The bill calls for accountability.
  • HB 703 will require more extensive reporting on violations of sediment and erosion control standards.  This bill requires greater accountability for violations of the law aimed at preventing damage to, and the degradation of, waterways from sediment. The data will better enable counties and the state to assess whether the enforcement is adequate, the number of inspectors is sufficient and what improvements are needed to better protect our waterways.

My efforts to pass other legislation got stymied for different reasons. The bills either failed to get voted on or I withdrew them before votes were cast so the bill would not get an “Unfavorable” vote. These bills were:

  •  HB 1 would have prevented the dredging of an ancient, fossilized oyster bar known as Man O’War Shoal that is located off of the Baltimore County shoreline.  It is full of aquatic life and actively crabbed. But no oysters are growing there. A large contingent of watermen wants to dredge the shell and take that shell further down the Bay in order to grow oysters.  However, that is not necessary since there are other “sub-strate” materials that can be used.
  • HB 83 was a straight forward bill brought to me by a constituent.  It would have changed current law so that a minor, under certain circumstances, could get a name change without having to publicly publish his/her name and the reason.
  • For the third straight year, I pushed legislation, HB 112, to create a safer environment for bicyclists, pedestrians and others who have the legal right to be on the road. The bill would have protected these vulnerable individuals and increased the penalties for anyone in a motor vehicle who causes the death or serious injury to these individuals. The House passed the bill but the Senate Committee did not act on it.
  • HB 472 which would have established a “green amendment” in the state Constitution, stating that we are entitled to a clean and healthy environment and that the government is a trustee of the environment on behalf of all of us. Marylanders would, therefore, have the right to challenge actions and inactions that cause harm or degradation to the environment. This issue was dramatically highlighted – almost daily – by the silent protest of 15 year old Kallan Benson who sat outside of the State House to remind us adults of the importance of protecting the Earth and the future!
  • HB 411 proposed to ban coal tar sealants that are used to cover driveways and parking lots. Coal tar contains the known carcinogen PAH which easily gets into the waters when it breaks down and can also be tracked into one’s home. The science is clear but there was reluctance to ban a product during the first year the matter was considered.
  • HB 451 would have expanded fair housing opportunities for all, regardless of their sources of income. A strategic decision was made not to pursue this issue as a state-wide issue this year.
  • I attempted to create a state-wide Smart Growth Investment Fund, HB 117, to provide public and private money to stimulate and support real estate investment in older, more distressed communities.  I believe such a fund could be transformative and catalytic in communities by-passed by investment. There was reluctance to invest $7 million for this fund in 2 years.
  • Last year I was able to establish a Community Development Fund to help strengthen community development organizations that provide valuable services such as housing counseling, workforce development, commercial revitalization and affordable housing.  This year’s HB 1287 provided a funding source but the Senate Budget and Tax Committee bulked at using this source to ensure the Fund can operate.  The bill died on the last day of the Session.

House Study Group on Economic Stability

 I was also appointed by Speaker Busch to Chair the Study Group on Economic Stability to examine, in a comprehensive way, the challenges that hundreds of thousands of Marylanders face to maintain economic stability. Our goal is to establish policies to reduce poverty and establish greater economic opportunities in Maryland. It is more than assisting people find jobs, housing or transportation but requires an examination of what income is needed for a “survival budget”, what earnings are needed to afford market rate housing and how individuals can position themselves to move up the economic ladder and much more.

Our group has had valuable briefings that led us to examine and question some basic assumptions. This was a dynamic group of House members who thoughtfully began questioning the definition of poverty, needs of families, resources, strategic approaches and models.  The creation of the Study Group, importantly, has led to many other great discussions with legislators about tackling poverty in our state. Our work will continue through next fall.

I appreciated hearing from so many constituents this year on a wide range of issues.  These contacts were invaluable in helping me understand the issues and concerns from those I represent.

Lastly, let me thank my outstanding Legislative Aide, Marsha Tracey and my Legislative Intern, Mark Cerasoli, for their terrific support and assistance.  Marsha kept me on track and was the first line of contact for many visitors, callers, emailers and letter writers.  She was indispensable.

During the period when we are not in Session – from now until mid-January, 2020, we can still be reached at Stephen.Lafferty@house.state.md.gov and at 410-841-3487. However, the office is only staffed part-time, so responses may not be immediate.

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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