The House and Senate have each passed their budgets and have been ironing out differences in a conference committee. We will vote on a conference committee report (aka final budget) this week. I am confident that the budget will: achieve structural balance (revenues exceed expenditures); preserve nearly $1 billion in reserves through the Rainy Day fund and general fund; increase funding to public schools as determined by the Thornton formula to almost $6.4 billion; cap tuition at 2% at our 4-year public higher education institutions; raise the reimbursement rate from 2% to 3.5% for providers of services to the developmentally disabled; increase funding to address the opioid epidemic; constrain growth in spending and eliminate hundreds of state positions.
The House and Senate have passed a ban on fracking - the extraction of natural gas from shale, which is found in parts of Western Maryland. Fracking has been found to be harmful to both air and water quality. The Governor has indicated that he will sign a ban, which I support.
Oysters & the Chesapeake Bay - we spent time debating the merits of protecting oyster sanctuaries in the Bay - oysters are naturally wonderful cleaners. President Trump's budget slashed funding for the Chesapeake Bay by more than 90% and we are calling upon Governor Hogan to do more to protect the progress we have made on Bay cleanup.
Access to Housing
The House spent a great deal of time and passionate debate on The Home Act, HB 172, an effort to de-concentrate poverty that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of source of income to someone who is renting or purchasing property. Individuals and families have a variety of sources of income that enable them to pay rent - salary, pension, alimony, etc. This bill would not permit a landlord to turn someone away only on the basis of possessing a publicly supported housing voucher. It's a complex issue that was also considered by the Baltimore County Council a few months ago as a requirement of the consent decree issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The Trust Act, HB 1362, clarifies the roles of local, state, and federal law enforcement in immigration enforcement. It also prohibits the creation of a Muslim registry, makes clear that someone cannot be stopped solely on the basis of inquiring about their immigration status and enables law enforcement to detain someone if a warrant has been issued by immigration authorities. The Washington Post's editorial here describes that the bill is a compromise, not at all the radical legislation its opponents have claimed. I'm speaking in support of the bill on the House floor.
Over 2,000 Marylanders have died as a result of heroin and other opioid overdose. As access and use of these substances has reached across communities, we have not adequately responded to the crisis. The legislature, in partnership with the Governor, is committing millions of dollars to combat opioid abuse by expanding educational and treatment programs, setting up a crisis hotline, and expanding access to naloxone and buprenorphine. The Sun outlines some of our efforts here.
We have two weeks to get bills to the finish line and I have a number of bills still making their way through the process.
Expanding Access to Contraception (HB 613) -- This bill expands access to contraception by enabling pharmacists to prescribe certain forms of self-administered contraception (i.e. the pill, patch, and ring). Forms of the bill have been passed by both the House and the Senate, but I expect they will be reconciled this week.
Sexual Assault Kit Preservation (HB 255) -- This bill would mandate that law enforcement agencies retain sexual assault examination kits (SAEKs) for 20 years and also send a 60-day notice to the sexual assault survivor that their kit will be destroyed. The bill has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, where I expect it to progress this week.
Student Loan Notification (HB 509) -- This bill would require Maryland colleges and universities to provide students with an annual notice of how much they have accrued in federal student loans. Student loan debt has reached $1.3 trillion dollars and has now exceeded credit card debt. This bill aims to help students better understand their debt and be empowered to seek guidance from their Financial Aid offices. The bill was passed by the House and is pending in the Senate Committee, and I expect the Senate to act on it this week.
Protecting Vulnerable Older Adults (HB 498) -- This bill closes a gap in our Health Care Decisions Act and will prevent abusers from acting as health care agents or surrogate health care decision makers for a patient. The bill has passed the House and is pending in the Senate Finance Committee where I am hopeful it will be acted on this week.
Maryland Farms and Families (HB 586) -- This bill would increase the purchasing power of residents who utilize SNAP or WIC while increasing revenues for farmers. The bill would help combat food insecurity and help to leverage federal benefits for both Maryland families and Maryland farmers. The bill has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, where it will be considered this week.
Forensic Scientist Salaries (HB 776) -- A particular group of forensic scientists in the Maryland State Police lab have had their pay stuck at a low level (because of an historical quirk) resulting in perpetual turnover, low morale, and difficulty finding qualified replacement candidates. Although I withdrew the bill, with the help of my Chairman, Maggie McIntosh, the Department of Budget and Management was able to address the disparities of their unique situation and fix the problem. Sometimes legislation can serve its purpose even if it does not pass!
Please share my 2017 scholarship application with any incoming or current college or graduate student who may need financial assistance pursuing higher education!
I have had fabulous interns over the past few years and featured photos of Alana Quint & Josie Shaffer last email. This is Alex Kurtz, a Senior at Washington College, who has also been a wonderful addition to our staff this session.
Last week we recognized Women's History Month as well as Maryland Day by having the Women's Legislative Caucus, a bipartisan group of all women legislators (60 in both Houses), walk in together.
The last two weeks of session are usually pretty harried, but we'd love to hear from you and invite you to stop by our Annapolis office -- room 311 of the Lowe House Office Building, 6 Bladen Street. Please stay in touch:
Email -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone -- 410-841-3833
Facebook -- facebook.com/shellyhettlemanfordelegate -- check out my page for frequent updates
Twitter - @shellyhettleman
I look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you soon. Thank you for the opportunity to serve in the General Assembly!