2020 End of Session Review
A Sine Die Like No Other
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the Maryland General Assembly to adjourn sine die on March 18, 2020, the first time the Maryland legislature has adjourned early since the Civil War. My constituents and people from across the state and country have been hit hard by the devastating health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. My top priority remains assisting my constituents through a safe recovery and reopening of the Shore and State of Maryland. Here are some of the highlights from the abbreviated 2020 Legislative Session.
During the final days of the 441st legislative session, the Maryland General Assembly unanimously moved legislation in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes Senate Bill 1079—State Budget - Revenue Stabilization Account Transfers – Coronavirus which allows Governor Hogan to transfer up to $50 million from the Rainy Day Fund to fund costs associated with COVID-19. The Senate also passed Senate Bill 1080—State Government - State of Emergency and Catastrophic Health Emergency - Authority of Governor (COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Protection Act of 2020) which authorizes Governor Hogan to expand health care access and protections regarding the COVID-19 outbreak. Both of these emergency bills are in effect now.
A New Era in Annapolis
Before adjournment, the 441st session of the Maryland General Assembly signaled the beginning of a new era in Annapolis with new Speaker Adrienne Jones in the House of Delegates and new Senate President Bill Ferguson following the longest-serving Senate President in history, Thomas V. “Mike” Miller, Jr. This new era of leadership provided us with new opportunities to fight for our Eastern Shore Way of Life with the Senate President making a special visit to my district to meet with constituents from all walks of life from local farmers, watermen, health care providers and small business operators.
My legislative assignments include serving on the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, the Veterans Caucus, the Women’s Caucus, and the Watermen’s Caucus. In addition, I serve on the Bipartisan Senate Small Business Workgroup, the Workgroup to Study Child Custody Court Proceedings Involving Child Abuse or Domestic Violence Allegations and the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission).
FY 2021 Budget and Shore Priorities
In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Governor Larry Hogan announced a State budget freeze and the Office of Budget Analysis will be sending state agency budget reduction targets for Fiscal Year 2021.
The only constitutional requirement of the Maryland General Assembly is to pass a budget, which occurred hours before early adjournment. Governor Hogan’s $47.9 billion Fiscal Year 2021 Operating Budget includes a record $7.2 billion for education funding; $1.6 million for the Ocean City Convention Center; $1 million for Ocean City Beach Maintenance; and $17 million for the Holly Center in Salisbury. Also included in the budget is restored funding for developmental disabilities, Medicaid, and behavioral health providers ($39.5 million), and community colleges ($18.2 million) while including $1.2 billion in the Rainy Day Fund.
The Senate FY 2021 Capital Budget included Governor Hogan’s proposals to fund $300,000 for the Crisfield—Somerset County Airport Hangars; $158,000 for a new Maryland State Police Barrack in Berlin; $945,000 for the Fruitland Tuxents Branch Stormwater Drainage Upgrade; $800,000 for the construction of a new ambulatory surgery facility at Atlantic General Hospital; and $1 million for infrastructure upgrades in the City of Salisbury.
Also included in the Fiscal Year 2021 Capital Budget is $100,000 for the Wicomico County Bookmobile; $75,000 for the Pocomoke City Elks Lodge No. 1624; and $50,000 for the Believe In Tomorrow House at the Beach in Ocean City.
I cosponsored local legislation that would make for a fairer eviction process in Wicomico County and supported legislation that would provide more representation for the City of Salisbury on the County Board of License Commissioners. I also continued to work to ensure that a health care facility remains in Somerset County.
Small Businesses, Taxes, and Tax Relief
I used my position on the Bipartisan Senate Small Business Workgroup to introduce two pieces of legislation to provide much-needed relief to our job creators. Senate Bill 403— Labor and Employment—Maryland Wage and Hour Law—Agricultural Stands would have clarified that farmers markets and produce stands are exempted from the Maryland Minimum Wage Law as originally intended. Senate Bill 404— Labor and Employment—Maryland Healthy Working Families Act—Verification would have authorized an employer to require verification that earned sick and safe leave is used appropriately when the leave is used during the period between 107 and 120 calendar days. With the current seasonal exemption for paid sick leave set at only 106 days, seasonal employers have experienced staff shortages at critical times during the season.
Senate Bill 403 passed the Senate with bipartisan support but did not advance in the House of Delegates before early adjournment. We made a strong case for the verification legislation during our hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, but no further action was taken this session. Given that so many small businesses already were negatively impacted by these mandates before COVID-19, I will continue to push for commonsense small business relief to help small businesses in my district.
I supported Governor Hogan’s Retirement Tax Reduction Act of 2020, and cosponsored and supported several bills that would provide relief to hard-working Marylanders:
Senate Bill 121— Sales and Use Tax—Aircraft Parts and Equipment—Exemption passed and creates an exemption from the State sales and use tax on the sale of materials, parts, or equipment used to repair, maintain, or upgrade aircraft or the avionics systems of aircraft. Maryland was the only State in the region that did not have this exemption, and this will help grow the Salisbury Regional Airport, Maryland’s second-largest airport that serves as a jobs and economic driver for the Eastern Shore.
Senate Bill 417— Property Tax—Credit for Disabled Veterans passed and authorizes local governments to grant a property tax credit for the houses of disabled veterans who meet certain eligibility requirements.
Senate Bill 486—Income Tax—Itemized Deductions would have allowed an individual to itemize deductions for State income tax purposes without regard to whether or not the individual itemizes for federal income tax purposes. Senate Bill 486 did not advance before early adjournment.
Senate Bill 523—Income Tax – Pass–Through Entities and Corporations passed and authorizes a pass-through entity (PTE) to elect to be taxed at the entity level for an income tax.
Senate Bill 397— Sales and Use Tax and Personal Property Tax - Exemptions - Data Centers passed and creates a sales and use tax exemption for the sale of qualified data center personal property for use at a qualified data center.
I also supported Senate Bill 4, which puts the question of legalized sports and event wagering on the ballot for Maryland voters in the November 2020 Election.
We were successful in stopping House Bill 1628, which if passed, would have been the largest tax increase in Maryland history ($2.9 billion) and would have impacted services such as barber shops, plumbing, funerals, and pet sitting services. House Bill 565, which would have prohibited the Department of Commerce from issuing new job creation tax credits, also failed to advance. I would like to thank all of the realtors, small business owners, and others who came to Annapolis to protest against these historic tax increases.
On the night before adjournment, the Senate of Maryland voted to pass House Bill 932—21st–Century Economy Fairness Act which establishes a tax on digital services and House Bill 732 Taxation – Tobacco Tax, Sales and Use Tax, and Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax which increases taxes on tobacco products and electronic smoking devices. Given my consistently strong opposition to raising taxes on hard-working Marylanders and especially in light of the economic uncertainty we face with our State’s COVID-19 recovery, I voted against both of these tax increases, and if they are vetoed by the Governor, I will vote to sustain the Governor’s veto.
Despite early adjournment, we were successful in passing legislation to increase broadband access on the Eastern Shore, which remains one of my top priorities. I cosponsored and supported the Rural Broadband for the Eastern Shore Act of 2020, which will establish a process for an electric cooperative to operate as a member-regulated cooperative on the Eastern Shore. Local jurisdictions served by the cooperative will experience an additional deployment of broadband facilities that are no longer subject to rate regulation by the Public Service Commission (PSC).
During the final days of session, priority health care bills were passed to help enable local medical professionals to combat COVID-19. I supported Senate Bill 402—Health Care Practitioners – Telehealth and Shortage and Senate Bill 502— Telehealth – Mental Health and Chronic Condition Management Services – Coverage and Pilot Program which will increase telehealth options for health care providers throughout Maryland. My amendment to Senate Bill 402 to increase access to telehealth services across state lines to address the major shortage of health care professionals on the Eastern Shore was accepted.
I introduced Senate Bill 477—Public Health - Emergency Use Auto-Injectable Epinephrine Program – Revisions which allows restaurant operators to participate in a voluntary program to obtain, store and administer auto-injectable epinephrine. My decision to introduce this bill was made after the tragic passing of beloved business and community leader, Chris Trimper, from anaphylaxis, and after several local civic and business leaders wanted this life-saving option available to them in the future. This community-supported, bipartisan bill unanimously passed both chambers and will go into effect in October 2020.
I cosponsored Senate Bill 207, legislation that expands access to shelters and support services for unaccompanied minors, and also supported Olivia’s Law, which requires each public institution of higher education to create an outbreak response plan in the event of a contagious disease outbreak on a college campus.
For the fifth year we were successful in defeating legislation that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide in Maryland. The legislation as written was flawed with no safeguards for individuals with disabilities, no family notification required, and no drug take-back plan established. We also were successful in defeating legislation that would have put a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot that would enshrine the right to an abortion under Maryland State Law. I will continue to advocate for the protection of life at all stages.
Education, Affordability, and Accountability
Education was a defining issue during the 2020 legislative session. The Maryland General Assembly considered House Bill 1300— Blueprint for Maryland's Future – Implementation which establishes education policy based on the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission).
As a late appointee to the Kirwan Commission, I used my public position on numerous occasions before the vote to highlight that the proposed funding formulas are simply unaffordable, do not provide flexibility to local jurisdictions, and do not take into account the dramatic State and local fiscal impacts. One size does not fit all when it comes to the Commission’s recommendations, and our constituents expect us to support both education and non-education priorities.
After three years of working on major education reform, there also is little in the Kirwan legislation that addresses the challenges of disruptive students nor any serious reforms to improve the student learning environment or classroom and school management for our teachers and school leadership. I also raised concerns that the accountability section of the Kirwan legislation fails to focus on student outcomes tied to student performance.
I voted against House Bill 1300 and will continue to work with my colleagues on education priorities with the same shared goal of significantly improving student performance in an affordable way while addressing the underlying social challenges which dramatically limit student potential.
I voted to support the Built to Learn Act of 2020 which increases funding for school construction throughout the State of Maryland and legislation to develop guidelines for schools on a trauma-informed approach for students. I also cosponsored legislation that expands eligibility for the Maryland Community College Promise Scholarship and supported legislation to provide increased funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Committee Bills: Environment, Wastewater, and Hunting
I cosponsored and supported Senate Bill 28 which would have prohibited a person from intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere. This bipartisan bill has strong local support and support from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. I also cosponsored legislation that authorizes Eastern Shore communities to use Bay Restoration Funds to upgrade wastewater treatment programs and legislation to remove waste-to-energy from Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS). I voted to support legislation that clarifies Sunday Hunting for specific locations, times, and seasons in Maryland.
Fighting for Our Watermen and Farm Families
My committee role allows me to work closely with two of our core Shore constituencies– our watermen and farmers– to protect our Shore priorities. In an effort to share our Shore Way of Life with my colleagues in the Maryland General Assembly, I organized a visit for my colleagues to visit a Wicomico County poultry farm last summer and made sure representatives from the poultry, agriculture, and fishing industries were included in my December 2019 meeting with Senate President Ferguson. I continue to work with Delmarva Poultry Industry, the Maryland Farm Bureau, the Maryland Watermen’s Association and Delmarva Fisheries Association to help weaken and defeat legislation that poses a threat to the livelihoods of our farmers and watermen, and to make sure that they have a seat at the table in policy discussions.
The introduction of Senate Bill 948 presented numerous problems for our Shore watermen as it would have severely limited the number of tidal fish license (TFL) holders that are authorized to harvest oysters, while retiring unused licenses. Also, Senate Bill 629 would have placed an unwarranted restriction on our commercial clammers by modifying the criteria of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) zones. Watermen from across the Shore and Maryland personally came to Annapolis to testify against these bills, and these personal stories on the disastrous impact of these bills on the livelihood of our fishing families played a key role in stopping these bills from moving forward. To provide relief to our watermen I cosponsored Senate Bill 510 which passed and creates an exception to the prohibition against fishing with a haul seine.
I used my committee position to advocate against Senate Bill 928, which would have created and required a burdensome manure transport plan for any farmer applying for a new concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permit. Legislation that would have created permitting restrictions for poultry farms or animal feeding operations (AFOs) also failed to advance. During these bill hearings we made the case that these pieces of legislation were not necessary as a result of farmers and the poultry industry as a whole already contributing to progress on the reduction of groundwater and bay pollution. I remain strongly opposed to legislation that is detrimental to our Shore farm families.
Crime and Public Safety
Public safety remains job number one. This session I cosponsored and supported several key pieces of legislation designed to keep our communities safe. I cosponsored Senate Bill 231—Sexual Solicitation of a Minor - Solicitation Through Parent, Guardian, or Custodian - Prohibition and Penalties which will increase penalties for the sexual solicitation of a minor, and Senate Bill 101— Courts - Court Dog and Child Witness Program – Established which will establish a Court Dog and Child Witness Program in each county so children testifying in court may have access to therapy dogs. The therapy dog, Josiah from The Cricket Center in Worcester County, was on hand during the hearing in support of Senate Bill 101.
At the request of the Ocean City Mayor and Police Chief, I introduced Senate Bill 878— Worcester County— Special Event Zones – Prohibitions which will increase penalties for traffic violations and exhibition driving in Special Event Zones. This priority, local public safety emergency bill overwhelmingly passed in the Maryland General Assembly and will become law once signed by Governor Hogan.
As a member of the Child Custody Court Proceedings Workgroup, I introduced legislation that would require Maryland courts to provide information about the availability, role, and cost of a custody evaluator during child custody hearings. I also supported legislation that establishes a penalty for using an item or symbol to threaten or intimidate groups of people.
The Maryland General Assembly considered legislation that would require background checks for the private sale of long guns. I always have taken a multi-pronged approach to increasing public safety by working with all constituencies and advocates on both sides of the gun control issue. I voted against this bill as I was not convinced that these long gun restrictions would prevent criminals from obtaining firearms and that this requirement would limit legal commerce. In addition, I was concerned about the strict criminal liability on those who fail to comply.
While serving in Annapolis, we often spend time preventing certain bills from moving forward due to the negative impact on local constituents. Legislation that would have expanded the number of firearms that are subject to Maryland’s restrictive gun laws and created a new registration process for those already in possession of them was withdrawn by the bill sponsor as a result of advocacy. Legislation that would have made Maryland a Sanctuary State and prohibited local detention centers from entering into contracts with federal immigration authorities failed to advance. I will continue to be a strong opponent of these sanctuary policies which threaten public safety.
As a member of the Maryland General Assembly Veterans Caucus, I have made it a priority to help and honor those who have served our country, and to support initiatives to care for our veterans and allow them to be leaders here at home. I cosponsored Senate Bill 341, which expands access to veterans homes for veterans who have honorable discharges from active service with a uniformed service of the United States. I also cosponsored Senate Bill 280, which will increase opportunities for service members, veterans, and military spouses to apply for an expedited occupational or professional license. I also was proud to participate in the annual Women Veteran’s Day event hosted by the Women’s Caucus. Back home, I remain proud to volunteer as a tour guide for students at the Worcester County Veterans Memorial. I look forward to resuming these tours after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Back Home and the Roadmap to Recovery
One of my favorite sayings is that “Hope Drives the Human Spirit” which is why I was encouraged when the Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery was announced. My heart goes out to those most hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and I am grateful to the health care professionals, law enforcement, and food supply chain members on the front lines of this crisis. Our Shore community is grateful for your service.
I am continuing to work with all stakeholders on a safe recovery and reopening with health, safety, sanitary, and social distancing protocols in place. I remain committed to working with our small businesses and all of my constituents, and making sure your voice is heard. I will continue to advocate on your behalf through the long haul of the COVID-19 recovery.
I am humbled to work for you in the Maryland General Assembly, and am grateful to all who have shared their views and insights on the priorities of Maryland’s Eastern Shore. I encourage you to stay in contact with me at [email protected] or www.marybethcarozza.com.
MARY BETH CAROZZA
State Senator – District 38
Worcester, Wicomico, and Somerset