Thank you for the opportunity to serve in the Maryland General Assembly! My first session representing the 11th District came to an end at midnight on April 13, 2015. It has been a very interesting and exciting 90 days and I wanted to let you know what I've been working on and what we have accomplished. Please know that I am honored to have been elected and really value your input on issues; our democracy is strengthened through an active and informed electorate. Because what follows are only highlights, please let us know if you're interested in more in-depth information, and we'll be happy to get it to you.
As a member of the Appropriations Committee, much of my time has been spent on the budget. Unfortunately, after initially adopting our budget 175-10, the bipartisan coalition that had been working together most of the 90 days in support of our spending priorities crumbled in the last days of session. The budget we adopted has no new taxes, restores cuts the Governor's budget made to schools, the disabled, mental health services, Medicaid coverage for low income pregnant women and mental health providers, restores cuts to nursing homes, avoids a 2% salary reduction for state employees and funds a program that equalizes educational expenses. It also reduces the structural deficit over the next five years by nearly 70%, protects our valuable AAA bond rating and surpasses the recommendations of the Spending Affordability Committee. Unfortunately, the Governor has said he will not spend the $200 million the General Assembly set aside for many of these priorities, even after initially praising the budget.
In 2011 the legislature passed a comprehensive pension reform bill to preserve financial stability and to increase the system's funding level from 63% to 80% (a widely accepted benchmark of a healthy pension system) by 2023. I, along with my colleagues on the Appropriations Committee, worked diligently this year to make two significant changes to the state's current pension funding: 1) We are replacing our current methodology with the actuarial rate of contribution beginning in FY2017, which is 8 years ahead of schedule, 2) We are requiring the state to make supplemental payments annually to the pension system. In an important acknowledgement that we could be doing better, we will be consulting with outside professionals in order to improve our investment performance.
The capital budget provides funding for the construction, planning, renovation and building of state facilities, such as hospitals, higher education institutions and parks. The budget provided over $280 million to build schools and modernize classrooms, as well as a supplement of $20 million for counties, like Baltimore, that have significant school enrollment growth. The budget also provides $26 million for state projects and $30 million for local projects through Program Open Space, very important to the 11th District, but does not replenish funds previously diverted.
Shelly's & District 11 Team's Initiatives
I received a warm welcome to the District 11 team by Senator Bobby Zirkin, and Delegates Dan Morhaim and Dana Stein who were generous with their time, advice and wise counsel. We developed a terrific collaborative effort, working together on behalf of 11th District residents.
District 11 is a diverse community that has a wide variety of capital needs. We are very pleased to have fought for and obtained funding for these important projects:
• Greenspring Montessori School- received $75,000 for a state-of-the-art educational center that will provide classes in parenting, early childhood education, child development and more
• Pikesville Volunteer Fire Company- received $250,000 for the expansion of the existing firehouse facilities to begin a live-in program and increase the size of the community meeting room, among other improvements
• Robert E. Lee Park Nature Council- received $200,000 for a new Nature & Environment Education Center at Robert E. Lee Park, one of the few large parks accessible by public transit. The new, green building will have a classroom, flexible educational and meeting space, and an outdoor children's amphitheater.
• St. Mark's on the Hill- received $65,000 for the renovation of Gilead House on the church's property that provides individuals and families with shelter while they wait for their asylum case to move through the court system.
• I introduced a bill to address sexual assault on campus, HB 571, which passed the House and Senate unanimously and awaits the Governor's signature. The bill requires all higher educational institutions in Maryland to conduct biannual surveys of sexual assault on campus; it requires formal agreements between campuses and both law enforcement and rape crisis and sexual assault assistance organizations; prevents retaliation from campuses for reporting and from conduct policies if alcohol or drugs were involved; and requires public reporting of the survey data. The new requirements will help campuses know more about sexual assault and whether the services provided on and off campus are adequately addressing the issues.
• Shelter Standards, HB 876, I worked closely with another Baltimore County delegate from a neighboring district to create basic statewide standards for all county shelters. The committee that heard the bill decided it warranted further study, so we will be working to arrive at a consensus among interested parties during the interim.
• As a member of the Education and Economic Development Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, I wrote language that was included in the budget that requires the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) to:
o Report on higher education institutions' revised sexual misconduct policies to the budget committees
o Study and report to budget committees on the possibility of aligning the Maryland Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) deadline with the later Federal deadline of June 30th of each year
o Study and report to the budget committees on the feasibility of MHEC operating a centralized Maryland Net Price Calculator website to show in one place the net cost for all Maryland higher education institutions, prompted by conversations with Del. Dana Stein about financial literacy
o Propose new metrics that more accurately measure how well a higher education institution gets nontraditional students to graduation
• I asked the Maryland State Department of Education to report on the fiscal outlook of the Child Care Subsidy Program and the feasibility of eliminating the enrollment freeze and increasing reimbursement rates.
• Fracking Liability - Sen. Bobby Zirkin took a new role this year as Chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Sen Zirkin's bill, SB 458, to hold companies that frack in Maryland strictly liable passed the Senate but did not pass the House. I would expect the issue to be back next year.
• Microbeads - Del. Morhaim's bill, HB 216, phases out tiny non-biodegradable plastics that enter the food chain and harm aquatic live. Del. Morhaim also played a role in the first major restructuring of the Public Information Act, HB 755.
• Clean Air Act - Del. Dana Stein's bill, HB 1042, to regulate harmful emission from coal-fired power plants did not pass this year, but we hope to reconsider it next year. HB 514, another Del. Stein bill, was adopted and establishes a Commission on Climate Change within the MD Department of the Environment that will advise the Governor and the legislature on ways to advance our policies and programs related to climate change.
• Stormwater Management - A revision of the fee was adopted that will enable counties to have more flexibility in addressing the runoff of pollutants from streets and parking lots that is the #1 contributor to pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
• Fracking - We have enacted a 2 year moratorium on fracking, the use of chemicals and water to fracture shale rock when drilling for natural gas. A group of experts will also review new literature on fracking to ensure we are up to date on the latest research about its consequences.
Other Important Issues
• Healthy Working Families Act - Enabling full-time workers to earn time off to be used for sick leave did not get a vote in committee this year. We'll be working hard to get it considered next year, as it strikes the right balance between workers and business concerns.
• Voting Rights - A bill to reinstate the voting rights of individuals who have been convicted of felonies was adopted by the House and Senate.
• Second Chance Act - Allows adults who have been "clean" for 3 years to shield misdemeanor charges that result in a conviction. Law enforcement and certain employers will still be able to see the charges, but the legislation will ease burdens on families by ensuring that those who have paid their debt to society are able to work productively.
• Maryland Education Credit - The Governor was advocating for a program called "Boast" that would provide tax incentives for businesses to donate funds that would be directed to non-public schools. The legislation, that I cosponsored, was a source of contention during the budget negotiations between the General Assembly and the Governor. In lieu of this bill, the General Assembly added $4 million to the $6 million program that funds textbooks and technology in non-public schools and $3.5 million to the capital budget for aging non-public schools. The provision is contingent on the Governor providing funding for a specific education funding formula.
• Charter Schools - While not the wholesale reform urged by the Governor, this legislation took a step forward in enabling charter schools some additional flexibility in admissions and operations.
In the coming months, I hope to see many of you at community events throughout the 11th District and beyond. As we transition from working in Annapolis back to Baltimore County, please let me and/ or my Legislative Director, Mandee Heinl know how we can help by calling 410-841-3833 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you and to continuing working hard for the 11th District - it's truly an honor!