Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I would like to share with you news about the issues and initiatives in which I have been involved during the 2013 General Assembly’s Legislative Session. I am sending this end of session letter electronically to all of you who have e-mailed me this year in an effort to keep the state’s postage costs down. If those of you receiving this by regular mail would like to receive electronic updates, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to add you to the list.
I would also like to thank you for contacting my office with your thoughts and concerns about the budget and bills that were introduced. I appreciate that so many residents of District 39 contacted me, as it is your thoughts on legislative issues that guide my decisions. Given the volume of interest by our residents, I have not yet been able to reply to all the emails, but I will be responding to those whose issues are not addressed in this letter.
As a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee, my colleagues and I pushed for a balanced approach to the budget and passed a budget that protects essential services, virtually eliminates the structural deficit and maintains Maryland’s AAA bond rating. Wherever we could find areas in budget to reduce spending, we did, and as a result, we cut $500 million from the budget that was proposed by Governor O’Malley. The $36.9 billion budget for FY2014 protects the priorities of our state and its residents and contains important capital investments for projects across the state:
In addition to these investments, we set aside $800 million in the State’s Rainy Day Fund and left an additional $300 million general fund balance – for a total of over $1 billion in reserve to make certain that Maryland will be able to mitigate the effects of the Federal Sequester and other federal budget inactions.
As I mentioned earlier, I received well over a thousand emails this session on a variety of issues. Following are just some of the legislative initiatives that I was contacted about and co-sponsored and/or voted for this session:
Investing in the future of transportationCracking and disintegrating roads and extensive traffic congestion has led the Maryland/DC area to the dubious distinction of having the worst traffic in the nation. Montgomery County in particular is in desperate need of road repair and construction, as well as major enhancements in public transportation. The legislature passed a major revenue enhancement package which is structured to ensure sustainable revenue streams to support transportation projects for years to come. I know an increase in the price of gasoline will be difficult for all of us, but we can’t ignore the transportation problem forever. This tax increase on gasoline is structured to increase slowly over the next three years, and is the first time the gas tax has been raised in over two decades.
In addition, the General Assembly passed a Constitutional Amendment to make sure that a lockbox exists around the Transportation Trust Fund to ensure that transportation funds stay in the Transportation Trust Fund. Transfers can only occur when the Governor declares a state of emergency and 3/5’s of the House and Senate concur. This Constitutional Amendment will need to be ratified by the voters in November 2014.Members of the legislature and the Governor worked together this session to address gun violence to keep dangerous guns off our streets and out of the hands of those who would use them to harm innocent people. The bill that passed bans high-capacity magazines and military-style assault weapons, requires licensing and fingerprints for future handgun purchases, and bans violent criminals from purchasing guns. In addition, the bill tightens regulations and gives the Maryland State Police the tools that they will need to stop illegal gun purchases.
Additionally, the legislation will make sure that those with mental illnesses who may be dangerous to themselves or others cannot access guns. The bill also helps to improve mental-health services in Maryland and provides information sharing between the state and federal government to make certain that our background checks are getting the State Police the necessary information regarding mental health.
All of the provisions of this bill are prospective. Citizens who currently own a gun are not subject to the licensing requirements unless they purchase a new gun after October 1, 2013 when the law goes into effect. This bill protects the rights of citizens who want to legally purchase a firearm, while making illegal purchases much more difficult in our state. I appreciate the many phone calls and emails that I received from constituents on both sides of this issue.
Ending the Death Penalty
This session, Maryland became the eighteenth state in the nation to abolish the death penalty. The death penalty, which has not been used in Maryland since 2005, was abolished over concerns of its effectiveness and its fairness. This will be the first time Maryland does not have the death penalty on its books since the early 1970s.
Making our Roads SaferOver the past couple of years, we have taken steps to ban certain forms of distracted driving including the use of a cell phone. The law on hand held cell phone usage is currently a secondary offense, meaning a police officer cannot pull someone over for using their cell phone unless the driving is also committing some other violation. This year, we passed legislation to make using a cell phone while driving a primary offense allowing officers to pull over and ticket drivers who are breaking this law. Hopefully this law will make people think twice before engaging in distracted driving.
Also to keep our roads safer, all drivers should be kept to the same standards – they should all pass a driver’s test and be licensed. In turn, licensing should not be barred from Maryland residents – regardless of documentation. The General Assembly passed legislation to make this the case and ensure that everybody who wants to drive, and can meet the standards, has the ability to do so. Following this path will guarantee safer roads for all Marylanders.
Protecting PetsThis session, the General Assembly once again faced the contentious issues of how to deal with the Court of Appeals ruling in Tracey v. Solesky on inherently dangerous dog breeds. While the General Assembly agreed on most of the bill, the two chambers differed on the burden of proof needed to show that a dog is not inherently dangerous. Working together, the House and Senate came to an agreement to protect young children and keep dog owners responsible for their dog’s behavior without causing people to feel a need to give up ownership of their pets. Unfortunately, while a compromise was met and the Senate voted unanimously to support the bill, changes that were made were met unfavorably in the House and they failed to act on this legislation. For the future, Maryland laws remain as the court decided them under Tracey v. Solesky.
I do not sit on the Committee that reports on this issue, but I will speak with my colleagues on the committee over the interim to urge them to resolve this issue early in the next session. As a dog owner, I can’t imagine the heartache of having to choose between your pet and your home. This is the issue that I received the most emails and phone calls about this session and I agree that it needs to be resolved.
The issue that I received the second most constituent feedback on was the Spay/Neuter Fund. A task force created by the General Assembly and appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to study animal euthanasia found there is an unnecessary loss of animal life in Maryland due to shelter overpopulation and that dogs and cats are being euthanized each year at an estimated cost of $8 to $9 million taxpayer dollars ($175-$200 per animal). The task force also found that increasing spay/neuter services would reduce or eliminate the overpopulation and euthanasia rate in Maryland’s overwhelmed shelters.
The Spay/Neuter fund will receive its revenues from an increased tax to pet food manufacturers and will provide grants for community spay/neuter programs and vouchers for Maryland residents who otherwise could not afford spay/neuter services. These efforts will reduce animal shelter overpopulation and euthanasia rates. I am happy to report that this legislation has passed and will be signed into law.
Bills that I sponsored in this 2013 Session which have been passed by the Legislature and are headed to Governor O’Malley for his signature:
SB413 & SB415 – Criminal History Records Checks – Senate Bill 413 requires informal providers who are receiving Federal or State Child Care Subsidy funding and any adult residing in the home to be fingerprinted for state and federal criminal background checks and Senate Bill 415 will require a cross-check between the sex offender registry and the child care database. These bills will ensure that children are in safe settings and align the requirements with those currently in place for licensed care facilities.
SB414 – Tuition Reimbursement for Foster Care Children - In 2000 the legislature established the tuition waiver program for children in foster care. Eligible children receive a tuition waiver at Maryland State Community Colleges and Universities. SB414 makes changes to the way the tuition waiver is applied and extends the program to students pursuing vocational certificates. Maryland’s foster youth face many hurdles in their young lives. This bill will do a small part in assisting them to overcome a few of those hurdles and help them to build successful adult lives.
SB 632 – Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund – More than 40,000 Maryland residents sustain traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year. Brain injuries result in a broad spectrum of symptoms and disabilities that require services from a host of providers. Navigating these services at a time when a patient is most vulnerable is nearly impossible for the patient and is extremely difficult for family members. Senate Bill 632 establishes a Brain Injury Trust Fund to assist TBI patients with case management services and neuropsychological evaluations along with many other necessary services. The funds expended to help individuals under this fund are supplemental and will not take the place of funding that would otherwise be appropriated for those services. Additionally, to be eligible for the fund, the patient must:
Twenty two other states have established this type of trust fund, and I am so pleased our state is now on the path to helping citizens through the Maryland Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund.
SB 730 – Low Income Housing Projects Recordation and Transfer Tax – Protecting and preserving affordable housing in Maryland has been a priority of mine for the eleven years I have been in the legislature. Senate Bill 730 reduces the amount of recordation and transfer taxes that must be paid when the controlling interest of a Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program property is transferred. This will allow nonprofits and others to continue to operate the properties as much needed affordable housing units.
SB 631 – Corporate Training Facilities - In 2010 the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation exempting corporate training facilities from state sales tax for lodging. A corporate training facility was narrowly defined as a facility that – provides lodging solely for employees, contractors, vendors and other invitees of the corporation that owns the dormitory or lodging facility; and does not offer lodging to the general public. Senate Bill 631 takes that same narrow definition and applies the tax exemption to county lodging taxes. This legislation was endorsed by the Governor, the Comptroller’s Office, the Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) and Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. The Governor in his letter of support said, “…Maryland is in constant competition with our regional neighbors for jobs. Adoption of this measure will send the message that Maryland is competitive and willing to create a positive business environment.”
The Comptroller’s office letter states, “Exempting identical transactions from local hotel taxes would certainly uphold the principles of consistency and simplicity, which are essential tenets of a sound tax system.”
And DBED Secretary Domenic Murray in his letters says, “DBED strongly supports this legislation because it eliminates an unfair tax on corporate training facilities in Maryland, it encourages companies to invest and expand their business operations in Maryland, and it harmonizes the tax treatment of corporate training facilities at the State and county level.” Secretary Murray also notes that other states including Virginia do not tax corporate training facilities, and this bill will put Maryland on equal footing.
SB 779 – Biotechnology Investment Tax Credit –Since it was first funded in FY 2007, the Biotechnology Investment Tax Credit program has issued $38 million in tax credits, assisting more than 50 Maryland biotechnology companies and leveraging $80 million in private investment. Despite the success of this program, the economic downturn greatly restricted the number of investors and the amounts they were willing to invest. Consequently, many biotech companies were forced to scale back research and operations. For many, this pushed their business plan back by as much as three to five years. Along with this downturn, FDA regulations are making the time frame for bringing a product to market increasingly longer.
Senate Bill 779 allows companies to access the credit for ten years from the time they first access the biotechnology tax credit. This change supports the intent of the program to be a source of capital for new companies while recognizing the realities that biotech companies facing in bringing a new product to market. Passage of this legislation demonstrates our continued commitment to insuring Maryland’s position as a global player in the biosciences.
SB 658 – Estate and Income Tax - On January 1, 2013, after having been approved by the voters of the state in the November 2012 general election, same-sex marriage became law in Maryland. Federal law on spousal issues, however, is controlled by the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). These different definitions of marriage created the need for legislation in those instances where Maryland’s tax code is conjoined with the Internal Revenue Service.
The first area of tax law has to do with imputed spousal income for health care benefits. Under federal law, any employer subsidy provided to a same-sex marriage for dependent coverage must be added to the individual's income for income tax purposes because, under federal law, the individual does not qualify for tax benefits available to a spouse. Senate Bill 658 allows for the subtraction of the benefit amount from the spouse’s Maryland adjusted gross income.
The second change has to do with Estate Tax. Federal estate tax provisions provide an unlimited marital deduction so the value of property that passes to the surviving spouse is excluded when determining the size of the taxable estate. For Maryland estate tax purposes, Maryland law defines “estate” as the federal gross estate which again does not recognize same-sex marriages. Senate Bill 658 creates a specific modification allowing the marital deduction to be added to the Maryland statute.
Until DOMA is ruled unconstitutional or Congress takes action to repeal the act, Senate Bill 658 resolves tax issues related to the coupling of federal and state tax law and will insure that all married couples are being treated equally under state tax law.
SB1037 – Response to State Disaster or Emergency – When extreme weather or other disasters strike and a state of emergency is declared, we expect our utility and communications companies to bring in the necessary help as quickly as possible to get our infrastructure up and running. State tax policy should not slow down that process. Unfortunately, it does. Burdensome tax and filing requirements are often a deterrent to the deployment of out-of-state resources and personnel during a declared emergency. Senate Bill 1037 relieves this burden by removing the requirement for out-of-state workers to file Maryland income tax returns if they are working in the state to restore infrastructure for 60 days or less after the end of the declared state disaster or emergency. These personnel will continue to be responsible for taxes in their home state. If a disaster does strike our area, we don’t want out-of-state companies to respond to other states before ours because of our tax laws. By removing onerous tax requirements, companies can facilitate rapid response to declared disasters and restore critical services as quickly as possible. Note: SB1037 ran out of time for passage on the final day of Session, but the House Bill that was cross-filed with Ways and Means Chairwoman Shelia Hixson did get passed in time, so this common sense legislation will go into effect on June 1, 2013.
Along with passing state-wide legislation, I was successful in securing $100,000 of capital funding for Residential Continuum, Inc. (RCI). RCI is a non-profit corporation that provides an opportunity for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder to live independently. Without the help of RCI, these adults would not be able to afford to live on their own. The rents charged by RCI are well below market value, so these low rents cannot cover the cost of upgrades and repairs necessary for any aging home. Currently RCI owns fifty one homes with clients living in groups of two, three or four depending on the size of the house. The majority of the homes are between fifteen and fifty years old. Age has taken its toll on many of these homes and some need repairs to bring them up to current code. The homes to be repaired under this bill are located in District 39. Funding from Senate Bill 336 will allow RCI to make the necessary repairs in these homes and allow their tenants to continue to live independent lives.
During the interim
I can be reached during the interim at my Annapolis office number – 301-858-3686 as well as by e-mail at email@example.com. My staff and I are available to assist constituents with problems or questions they may have involving a state or local agency. As always, I am honored to serve you here in Annapolis, and I look forward to hearing from you on any issues or concerns you may have.