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End of the 2011 Legislative Session

2011-04-13

The 2011 Legislative Session has come to a close and I would like to share with you news about the issues and initiatives in which I have been involved. I would like to thank those of you who contacted my office with your thoughts and concerns about the budget and bills that were introduced. I am pleased that so many residents of District 39 contacted me, as it is your thoughts on legislative issues that guide my decisions.

The Budget
As a member of the Budget & Taxation Committee, I can assure you that we continued to enforce fiscal discipline this year by working with the Governor to cut three-quarters of a billion dollars from the baseline budget. At the same time that we made these cuts, we were also able to protect our core priorities and critical State investments including:

  • Public education. Our schools have been ranked #1 in the nation for three years running and we are working to keep that ranking. To do this, we restored funds to education that the Governor proposed cutting, and increased education funding over previous years. As a result, public education will continue to represent 40% of the state’s general fund budget.
  • Higher education. We protected our $1.2 billion investment in our public colleges and universities, which will prevent drastic tuition increases and keep higher education affordable for our residents. Maryland’s institutions of higher education are some of the tops in the nation. This investment will keep our schools strong and help prepare our students to compete in a global workforce.
  • Capital budget. Children need safe and modern classrooms to have a proper education. Statewide, we invested over $300 million in school construction and over $975 million in our overall Capital Budget, which will fund road repairs, library and hospital construction and other projects while creating badly needed jobs for Marylanders. We were able to secure over $30 million for school construction projects in Montgomery County and we anticipate additional funds once the Governor determines the final allocation of funds. That $30 million includes $9 million that we secured for the county in the final hours of session.
  • Healthcare programs for low income families. We cut the budget without cutting services or eligibility for services through Medicaid. We also found an additional $5 million to help reduce the waiting list for services that benefit disabled Marylanders and their families. And, by increasing the sales tax on alcohol, an additional $15 million will be going to the Developmental Disabilities Administration for services.


In addition to these investments, we set aside $640 million in the State’s Rainy Day Fund and left an additional $50 million general fund balance – for a total of almost $700 million in reserve.

Investing In Our Future
Maryland employers created 36,000 jobs last year, but we need to do more to stimulate growth in our knowledge-based economy. We passed
InvestMaryland legislation to help give start-up companies a hand. InvestMaryland creates a public-private partnership that will infuse $75 million in capital into our business sector, fueling job creation. This legislation will also continue to signal to the business community that Maryland is serious about job creation and is open for business.

Tackling Our Long-Term Liabilities While Keeping Our Promise to Our Retirees
We took steps to shore up our pension system so that we can keep our promise to our retirees. Pension costs doubled over the past five years, and experts estimate they will nearly quadruple in the next decade. Many states are making drastic cuts to their pension systems and other legislatures are using this recession as an excuse to bust unions and strip them of collective bargaining. We chose a different path by asking employees to contribute more to preserve the system and increasing the state’s contributions to the pension fund. We set our pension system on a path to sustainability in a manner that is fair to employees, retirees and taxpayers. I was very concerned about requiring our current employees to increase their contributions, especially in light of furloughs and frozen cost of living increases. I wish there was another way, but this increase was the best approach to preserve the pension system without placing further burdens on our taxpayers. I fought hard to ensure that any other structural changes to the pension program would only affect new hires, not our current retirees and employees.  

Holding Energy Companies Responsible
This past year, many Maryland families and businesses underwent power outages that spanned from hours to several days. Many District 39 residents were severely affected by these outages.  I co-sponsored The
Maryland Electricity Service Quality and Reliability Act which will compel electric utilities to improve their service quality or face stiff financial penalties. In addition, this legislation establishes state goals based on national standards and requires each company meet these standards. I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure these public utilities are held accountable to their customers.

Defending Victims of Human Trafficking
Continuing our progress on this issue from previous years, we passed legislation that would provide legal recourse to victims of human trafficking and provide other penalties for perpetrators of these crimes. Legislation passed this session expands the definition of human trafficking, allows courts to order convicted traffickers to
pay restitution to victims and allows wiretapping and other forms of surveillance to the investigative tools for these crimes.

Restoring Trust in Our Electoral System
We took several steps this year in reforming campaign finance law. We passed legislation that will
increase transparency on independent expenditures by requiring any group that spends more than $10,000 over a four-year cycle to immediately report their expenditures and continue to report their spending over the rest of the cycle. Similarly, any candidate who receives a loan over $4,000 must report the loan immediately and we created penalties to enforce the repayments of these loans. Finally, we created a commission that will study our campaign finance laws and report to the General Assembly on much needed reform.

Bills that I sponsored in this 2011 Session which have been passed by the Legislature and are headed to Governor O’Malley for his signature:

SB178Criminal Law – Child Neglect - Penalties - Maryland is one of the few states in the nation where child neglect is not a crime. That simple fact leaves prosecutors without the tools they need to help children who are neglected by their parents or guardians. In 2010, Maryland’s Child Protective Services received approximately 14,000 reports of child neglect. They confirmed over 4,000 cases. Prosecutors could not act on any of these cases unless a child suffered a physical injury or death. Our primary goal is to address neglect through education, better parenting and social services. However, there are cases where neglect is truly beyond the pale. This legislation will help protect our most vulnerable citizens and I thank Lt. Governor Anthony Brown for his leadership in moving this legislation to passage.

SB230Public Information Act – Required Denials – Senior Citizen Activity Centers - I have always supported full transparency for government officials and agencies, and I have promoted legislation that would maximize transparency. Last fall though, I was alerted to a loophole in our Freedom of Information laws that make it easy for those with nefarious purposes to obtain a senior citizen’s personal information through their membership in Senior Activity Centers.  This legislation will prohibit this private information from release through a Public Information request and will protect our often vulnerable senior citizens. I was pleased to work with District 39’s newest Delegate, Shane Robinson, in passing this important legislation.

SB 104Early Child Care & Education Enhancement Program – Annual Report This legislation will help us monitor progress and results in early childhood education, a key component in Maryland’s No. 1 ranking in education. By establishing a more comprehensive annual report on the state of early care and education in Maryland, we will strengthen our standing in the competition for federal funds.  Our citizens are looking for accountability in how their dollars are being spent. This legislation will improve that accountability and strengthen our commitment to early childhood education.

SB398Sales and Use Tax - Sale of Electricity Generated by Solar Energy and Residential Wind Energy Equipment - Exemption -Maryland residents are exempt from paying sales tax on the electricity they purchase from their local utility to power their homes. To promote the use of alternative energy sources in our state, our tax codes must keep pace with industry advances. This legislation that will exempt from state sales tax, solar and wind energy produced in residential properties, and will encourage the use of these clean and renewable energy sources.  

SB400Certificates of Foreign Birth – IH-3 Visa - In 2008 the United States entered into force the multilateral treaty that came out of The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect to Inter-Country Adoption. This treaty strengthened protections for children, birthparents and prospective adoptive parents in the adoption process.  In response to the treaty, the US Government created the IH-3 visa to be issued to children adopted in one of the participating countries. The IR-3 visa, which was previously used for all out of country adoptions, is now used only for non participating countries. Currently, Maryland only recognizes the IR-3 visa. Senate Bill 400 authorizes the addition of the IH-3 to the list of Visas accepted in Maryland and facilitates a much smoother process for parents adopting children from a foreign country.

SB754
Permanent Hearing Aid Loan Bank Program – Establishment and Operation - Every day in the United States thirty-three babies are born with hearing loss. Often, hearing aids are the first recommendations for families. The Hearing Aid Loan Bank was created in 2001 to provide infants and toddlers under the age of three immediate access to hearing aids while their families research other hearing assistance options. This legislation will make the Hearing Aid Loan Bank a permanent program under the Maryland State Dept. of Education and ensure that children have access to amplification as soon as possible following a diagnosis of hearing loss. The Maryland Hearing Aid Loan Bank Program is essential to give all Maryland children with a hearing loss an opportunity to develop socially and emotionally to be ready for school and future success.

Bond Bills
Along with passing state-wide legislation, I was successful in securing $98,000 of funding for four District 39 projects.

  • The first provides $30,000 for the addition and upgrade of lighting along Lewisberry Drive in East Village. Upgrading and adding equipment will improve the lighting levels in the community to increase the residents’ nighttime safety, security and productivity, and provide for safe movement of vehicles and pedestrians.
  • The second provides $30,000 for repair and design modifications to the Glenbrooke stormwater management pond located in East Village. Erosion has lead to concern about the integrity of the surrounding streets. This bond bill will enhance the safety of the area and improve the environmental goals of the pond.
  • The third bill will provide $20,000 to restore the Battleridge Place stream valley. Civil engineers have made recommendations to stabilize Battleridge Place roads and prevent the reoccurrence of significant erosion.
  • The final bond bill will provide $18,000 to construct pavilions in the Seneca Park North Community. A gazebo in the community is in disrepair and the lack of proper lighting has led to vandalism and other undesirable activities. Bond money will allow for the removal of the gazebo to be replaced by a well lit open pavilion as well as the construction of an additional pavilion to be built near the community’s soccer fields.


Bills I sponsored that did not get passed this session:

SB549Bullying Safety Risks and Health Problems – Parental Information - I introduced legislation that would build on our earlier work in preventing bullying in our schools and would raise awareness of the safety risks and health problems associated with bullying. Concerns about some technical aspects of the bill led to its demise this session. I will be working over the summer with the State Department of Education and local Boards of Education to draft legislation that will address their concerns and bring it back to the legislature in 2012.

SB113
Vehicle Laws – Child Safety Seats and Seat Belts – Penalty –Maryland has one of the lowest penalties in the country for failure to properly secure a child in a vehicle. I introduced legislation that would increase these penalties in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of proper restraints for children and to encourage their use. After working with Maryland State Police, we found that there are several different areas of Maryland law that need to be updated. Rather than take a piece meal approach to this legislation I withdrew my bill and will work over the interim to draft cohesive legislation on this issue.

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