It feels like Spring has sprung! Annapolis is beautiful snow-covered, but I definitely prefer the daffodils and the crocuses to the frost. We have been very busy these last few weeks, passing both the operating and capital budgets and considering the 2,500+ bills that were introduced this session. After we adjourn next week, I will provide a more detailed look-back at this session, but I wanted to use this opportunity to give some insight into what's been happening and what I've been working on.
The General Assembly passed both the operating and the capital budgets (by nearly unanimous votes) earlier than required, as well as a number of other important bills, so that we may have the opportunity while in regular session to override a veto if necessary. The operating budget goes into effect once it passes and does not require the Governor's signature. The capital budget, however, does require a signature and the Governor has the right to use a line item veto to trim spending.
As the Appropriations Committee has been focused on the budget, all committees have been moving bills through the legislative process. Here are a few highlights:
• Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) -- increases the use of renewable energy to 25% of Maryland electricity by 2020; reinforces Maryland as a leader the wind and solar industries. (passed the House)
• Greenhouse Gas Reduction - requires the state to cut greenhouse emissions, including carbon dioxide by 40 percent by 2030 and uses 2006 as a baseline for measuring emissions. (passed both Houses)
• Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act - requires the Maryland Department of Transportation to "score" transportation projects according to a set of goals and explain the capital improvements. It provides transparency to the decision making process of spending millions of dollars. (passed and vetoed by the Governor)
• Freedom to Vote - the bill was amended substantially and gained bipartisan support. It will enable multiple state agencies to register voters electronically. Marylanders in the Health Benefit Exchange and Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) not currently registered will be registered to vote unless they opt out and every four years boards of elections will update voter registrations using MVA records. (passed the House)
• Public Safety bill -- opens trial boards to the public and adds a trained citizen to participate, but not vote, in a trial board's deliberations; extends the time a citizen may file a complaint against a police officer from 90 days to 366 days; cuts the length of time from 10 days to 5 days that a police officer would have to engage an attorney. It also requires local policy departments to have a community policing program, sets up a Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission and requires police officers to receive training every two years in de-escalation and anti-discrimination. (passed the House)
• Pay Equity - Nationally, women are paid 79 cents of what men are paid. The Maryland Pay Equity bill allows workers to disclose their wages to determine if there is discrimination. If the Governor signs the bill, we will join eleven other states with similar wage disclosure provisions. (different versions passed the House and Senate)
• Earned Income Tax Credit Expansion - assists low and moderate working individuals and families. This legislation expands the eligibility age to 21 year olds and increases income thresholds to allow more people to receive a greater tax credit. (passed in the House; passed in the Senate, but paired with a change in income taxes.
• Earned Sick Leave - workers won't have to choose between taking care of themselves or a loved one when they're sick and keep their job; requires employers with 15 or more employees to permit workers to earn paid sick or safe leave of up to 7 days.
Legislation I've Introduced
I've always believed in community service. And I've always believed that young people have a unique opportunity to make a difference in the world through service. Maryland Corps is a bill I've introduced that would enable young people - before college - to spend a gap year of service at a non-profit or government agency before beginning college. The bill would provide a scholarship and a living stipend for a successful year of service. The bill has passed the House and is being considered on the Senate floor today. I'll write more about this bill next week.
Bills aren't the only way to legislate. Both this year and last year, I've been able to insert budget language into the spending bill that will require agencies to take action or look into an issue. I am concerned that colleges and universities, which are required by federal law, to post a Net Price Calculator on their website contain outdated information. This tool is supposed to enable prospective students and their parents to obtain an accurate account of how much college will cost. This year, the Maryland Higher Education Commission will be responsible for ensuring that all institutions of higher education post the correct information.
A bill I introduced to help the Baltimore County Department of Social Services was turned into budget language and will require the Department of Human Resources to conduct a weighted caseload study on the types of family investment administration cases and their impact on personnel.
The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) will be required to update a 2011 study on the pre-K needs of children with disabilities. And finally, MSDE will also have to report to the legislature on the impact of a federal policy change on the child care subsidy.
The Animal Shelter Standards Act was changed substantially from how it was introduced, but it will help to create protocols for veterinarians and for how stray animals are returned to their owners.
In and Around the 11th District
Next week, when the issues become finalized, I'll provide more details about items of importance to the 11th District that are part of the Capital Budget.
Our deadline is coming up - on April 10th! Please share my scholarship application with anyone who may need financial assistance for higher education.
Thanks so much for your support! It's a privilege to work on behalf of the 11th district. As always, please stop by if you're in Annapolis or drop me a line about any issue of concern:
Delegate Shelly Hettleman
Lowe House Office Building, Room 311
Annapolis, MD 21401
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