2021 End of Session Review
A Socially-Distant COVID-19 Session!
The 442nd Session of the Maryland General Assembly concluded at midnight on Monday, April 12 as we adjourned Sine Die (from the Latin “without day”) until January 2022. This was our first session since early adjournment in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and great precautions were taken to ensure that lawmakers could meet and vote on State legislation in person. This has been a very difficult session with the COVID-19 protocols limiting public interaction and access as we debated and voted on so many bills impacting the lives of Marylanders. Throughout the entire session, my team and I continued to assist constituents as they navigate reopening phases, the unemployment application and vaccine registration processes, and financial assistance programs.
My legislative assignments included 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 served on the bipartisan Senate Small Business Workgroup and was appointed Policy and Communications Chair of the Maryland Senate Republican Caucus. Here are some of the highlights from the 2021 legislative session.
COVID-19 Relief and Recovery
An early priority of the Maryland General Assembly was passage of Senate Bill 496—Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs, and Families (RELIEF) Act, which I cosponsored. The RELIEF Act was a Hogan Administration priority emergency stimulus and tax relief package providing over $1 billion for Marylanders and small businesses. This legislation was quickly passed in the House of Delegates and State Senate and went into effect on Monday, February 15, 2021. It was encouraging to see the Maryland General Assembly understand the urgency in passing this emergency COVID-19 relief and stimulus package to assist struggling Maryland families and small businesses.
I remain committed to seeing my constituents through the long haul of COVID-19 recovery on all fronts, including relief for restaurants, small businesses, watermen, farmers, and all those hardest hit by the health and economic impacts of the pandemic.
Fiscal Year 2022 Budget and Shore Priorities
Governor Hogan’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget cleared the Maryland General Assembly and provides needed funding to Shore priorities. Included in this budget is $1.1 billion for the Rainy Day Fund; $572 million of federal funding provided for COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and vaccinations; $371.5 million for community colleges; and $22 million for critical maintenance projects at State parks. Shore priorities include $2.8 million for the Ocean City Convention Center and $2 million for Ocean City beach maintenance. Another highlight is $300 million in federal funding that will be dedicated to a game-changing broadband technology initiative.
Local projects included in the Fiscal Year 2022 Capital Budget are $600,000 for handicapped accessibility improvements at the Ocean City Lifesaving Museum; $200,000 for the establishment of a Vehicles for Change program in Wicomico County; $100,000 for Crisfield waterfront development renovations; $100,000 for the Crisfield Elks Lodge No. 1044 renovations; and $50,000 for the Fruitland Volunteer Fire Company for upgrades and a roof replacement.
This session I also sponsored legislation to provide economic relief to restaurants and golf courses in Wicomico County which was approved, and introduced legislation to expand Sunday Hunting in Somerset County, which did not make final passage before adjournment. This legislation will be reintroduced next session.
Small Business and Tax Relief
I continued my strong advocacy for economic development and assistance for those hardest hit by COVID-19, especially our small businesses. As a member of the Senate Small Business Workgroup and after working with hundreds of local small businesses during COVID-19, I cosponsored bipartisan legislation to provide immunity from civil liability for claims related to COVID-19 for all who follow applicable federal, state, and local statutes, rules, regulations, executive orders, and agency orders related to COVID-19 so long as the person’s actions do not amount to gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing.
I introduced two pieces of legislation to provide much-needed relief to our job creators as they recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Senate Bill 502— 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 594— 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. In addition, I cosponsored Senate Bill 730—Income Tax - Credit for Travel, Hospitality, and Entertainment Expenses which would have provided State income tax credits to Marylanders who travel within the state and spend money on hospitality-related purchases.
While these measures were not approved this session, the combined local and State advocacy for small business legislative relief kept the pressure on for targeted relief with final passage of Senate Bill 205 and Senate Bill 821 which assists Maryland restaurants and brewers with their COVID-19 economic recovery.
In both my committee and speaking out on the Senate Floor, I strongly supported Senate Bill 205—Alcoholic Beverages - Sale or Delivery for Off-Premises Consumption, legislation that will allow restaurants, bars, and taverns to sell and deliver certain alcoholic beverages for off-premises consumption or delivery, with a food purchase, as specified by a county liquor board. I also worked for passage of Senate Bill 821—Alcoholic Beverages—Manufacturer's Licenses and Off-Site Permits which will provide new regulatory relief to Maryland’s breweries and distilleries.
Also, the Wicomico County Delegation introduced Senate Bill 794— Wicomico County - Property Tax Credit - Hotel or Residential Development that will grant a property tax credit for real property that is used for a hotel or residential development project. This local bill, supported by the Wicomico County Council and the Salisbury City Council, was approved by the Maryland General Assembly this session.
Senate Bill 885—Economic and Community Development - Income Tax Credit for Catalytic Revitalization Projects and Historic Revitalization Tax Credit passed and will create a refundable credit against the State income tax for 20 percent of the rehabilitation and new construction costs incurred for a qualified “catalytic revitalization project” in Maryland.
The Maryland General Assembly began the 2021 session by considering some of Governor Larry Hogan’s 2020 vetoes on legislation that would increase taxes on digital services and tobacco and significantly expand future state spending including the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (Kirwan) legislation. I strongly believe our constituents expect us to balance the ideal with the possible when it comes to funding Maryland’s education and other priorities, which means factoring in the reality of the significant state and local fiscal impacts, and balancing education and non-education priorities. I voted to sustain these fiscally-responsible vetoes, which were overridden on party lines.
Broadband and Economic Development
The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of expanding access to broadband. I was proud to cosponsor Senate Bill 66—Department of Housing and Community Development - Office of Statewide Broadband - Established (Digital Connectivity Act of 2021) which will increase access to high-speed internet and assist in the development of affordable broadband Internet infrastructure. I also supported Senate Bill 824— Economic Development - Broadband Providers - Joint Trenching and Fee (Building Out Broadband Act of 2021) which will expand broadband deployment in Maryland through joint trenching.
I also supported and voted for House Bill 940, which passed and will implement and regulate sports wagering and fantasy gaming competitions in Maryland, allowing Maryland to be competitive with other States which already have moved forward with sports betting.
Education discussions focused on the importance of returning students back to the classroom for in-person instruction, which I strongly support. The Maryland General Assembly considered House Bill 1372—Blueprint for Maryland’s Future—Revisions which intends to address learning loss, challenges with virtual learning and other issues presented during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the deliberations, I introduced an amendment that was later included in House Bill 1372 for summer school programs to be conducted in-person as the intent of the Maryland General Assembly.
While this amendment eventually was included in the final bill, I voted against House Bill 1372 for the same reasons I voted against the overall Kirwan bill in 2020. This is based on my continued concerns including affordability, prioritization for fair funding formulas, and the need for local flexibility and tracking of outcomes. As we move forward, I am committed to working with my colleagues and all stakeholders to address the budgetary and accountability mandates that the Kirwan legislation imposes on our local jurisdictions.
I also served as a Senate Floor leader on legislation that provides local flexibility for student transportation services advocated by Wicomico County Public Schools; supported legislation that ensures that individualized education programs will be conducted in-person during the next school year, and cosponsored legislation to increase funding for Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
One of the bills that I fought hardest against was legislation that would have prohibited School Resource Officers (SROs) from operating on school grounds. More than any other issue this session, I heard from hundreds of students, parents, teachers, and other school personnel in strong support of keeping the SRO program in place in our local schools. The Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018 passed after mass shootings occurred around the country, and one right here in Maryland, and the SRO program has been extremely successful in our local schools. Due to our combined efforts, the legislation to eliminate the SRO program failed to advance. I will continue to oppose any future legislative efforts to weaken the SRO program and the protection of our students, teachers, and school personnel.
Health Care and Telehealth
Expanding access to quality health care in all forms was a primary focus during the 2021 legislative session. Senate Bill 3—Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2021 passed and will expand access to telehealth services throughout Maryland.
I introduced and passed Senate Bill 139— Interstate Occupational Therapy Licensure Compact, establishing an interstate licensure compact for occupational therapists so they can provide telehealth services and work across state lines as long as they are licensed by a member state of the compact. These compacts would have a direct benefit in increasing access to care, especially in districts like mine which are bordered by other states.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 2,700 Marylanders have died from drug and alcohol overdoses, which is the highest number increase recorded. To continue Maryland’s fight against the ongoing opioid crisis, I introduced and passed Senate Bill 646— Alcohol and Drug Counseling - Alcohol and Drug Trainees - Practice Through Telehealth which will permit the permanent allowance of alcohol and drug trainees under supervision to provide services via telehealth after the current public health emergency declarations are lifted. The overdose numbers make clear that we cannot let up our efforts to provide the needed counseling services and treatment for those with alcohol and drug addictions.
I introduced Senate Bill 891, which would have required the Maryland Department of Health to publish a list of perinatal hospice services and allow physicians and nurse practitioners to provide information about these services. Maryland parents deserve to know all of their options when given a life-limiting diagnosis. Yet few Maryland families receive information about perinatal hospice or are left without support at this difficult time. While this legislation did not advance, I will continue to advocate for this option in the future.
Despite strong Republican objections, legislation was passed that would lower the minimum age for consent from 16 years to 12 years for consultation, diagnosis, and certain treatment of a mental or emotional disorder by a health care provider or clinic, without parental knowledge or involvement. I spoke in strong opposition against this legislation on the Senate Floor, highlighting the views of multiple mental health experts who testified that children under the age of 16 lack the capacity to make “important mental health decisions and that involvement of a guardian is a must.” This damaging legislation was passed in the final days of the legislative session and I voted against it.
I voted for legislation to create new public health outreach programs for Cognitive Impairment, Alzheimer's Disease, and Other Types of Dementia; bills authorizing EMS Paramedics and Pharmacists to administer vaccinations; and legislation to expand opportunities for Marylanders to utilize the 2-1-1- Maryland Mental Health Services Phone Call Program.
We were successful in passing my bipartisan Senate Bill 716 which will prohibit a person from intentionally releasing a balloon into the atmosphere. This bill has strong support from multiple local and State environmental and business organizations, and will go a long way to help protect our environment, sea life, and wildlife, including our beloved Assateague ponies.
The legislature also considered an omnibus climate change bill, the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2021, which went above and beyond the Hogan Administration’s plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and transition to mostly zero-emission vehicles. My primary objection to this legislation was the diversion of funds from the Bay Restoration Fund to implement a tree planting program at the expense of smaller county and municipal wastewater treatment and sewer projects. Our local communities have been promised these Bay Restoration Funds for priority projects to fix failing sewer systems. I supported amendments to bring targets for greenhouse gas reductions and other measures in line with initiatives already underway through the Maryland Department of the Environment and other State agencies. In the end, I voted against the Senate version of this legislation, which failed to advance before adjournment. I look forward to working with all stakeholders on a compromise bill and amended version of this legislation next session.
I supported legislation to address ongoing septic failure in my district regarding installation delays and costs, a bill to reauthorize the Clean Water Commerce Act, and cosponsored legislation to establish funding for local resilience projects to address possible hazards. I also supported a bill to create a pilot program for shrimp fisheries through the Department of Natural Resources, benefiting our commercial watermen and fishermen.
Crime and Public Safety
After five long years, my legislation to provide a more fair and just penalty for criminally-negligent driving causing a life-threatening injury will now become law! Senate Bill 17—
Criminal Law – Life–Threatening Injury Involving a Motor Vehicle or Vessel – Criminal Negligence (Wade’s Law) will establish the offense of a life-threatening injury by motor vehicle or vessel as criminal negligence. A violator is guilty of a misdemeanor and if convicted is subject to a maximum of one-year imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine. It was a total team effort and I want to thank all the victims and their families who persevered testifying over the years, and look forward to seeing this law take effect on October 1, 2021.
The issue of policing was a major topic on the Senate Floor during the 2021 legislative session. Early in the session, the Senate of Maryland came together to pass a mostly bipartisan policing legislation package that balanced public safety and police accountability by creating reasonable guidelines for bodily-worn cameras and no-knock warrants. The legislation was amended in the House of Delegates, eliminating many of the sound police reforms earlier approved and replaced it with an anti-police bill that harms public safety. I voted against this amended package and it was vetoed by Governor Hogan.
We had bipartisan consensus with our Senate-passed police reform bill that increased police accountability and transparency and struck a balance that was fair to both law enforcement and the public. But as the Governor highlighted in his veto letter, the final police reform bills that were passed by the legislature will result in great damage to police recruitment and retention, posing significant risks to public safety across our state. I voted to sustain Governor Hogan’s veto, which was overridden on party lines.
During a Senate Floor debate, I spoke out against legislation that would decriminalize the possession of items such as syringes, spoons, needles and scales intended to use and distribute heroin and other controlled dangerous substances. Given the opioid epidemic in our State, which has seen a resurgence during the COVID-19 pandemic, this legislation sends the wrong message and also removes an important tool for law enforcement to shut down drug dealers and identify those that would benefit from addiction counseling and treatment.
I also spoke out and voted against legislation that would make Maryland a Sanctuary State by prohibiting local detention centers from entering into contracts with federal immigration authorities, which negatively impacts Worcester County. During the Senate Floor debate on this legislation, I offered an amendment that would exempt Worcester County from this detrimental legislation, noting that Worcester County Jail has provided a safe and secure environment for detainees who are pending processing under federal regulations since 1999. Unfortunately, the amendment to exempt Worcester County from the prohibitions under House Bill 16 was not approved and this legislation was passed by the full legislature. I will continue to be a strong opponent of these sanctuary policies which threaten public safety.
To provide more protection for our first responders, I sponsored Senate Bill 826, which would have allowed for a handgun permit to be issued based on specified high-risk occupations including correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, physicians, and nurses. While this legislation did not advance this year, we will continue to lay the groundwork for providing future protection to our essential high-risk workers.
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 created a background check process for the purchase of ammunition failed to advance. Legislation that would have created sites for the consumption of illegally-obtained substances also did not move forward this year. I will continue to use my position to speak out against legislation that infringes on our Second Amended Rights or jeopardizes health and safety in our Shore community.
A priority of the Senate Republican Caucus was a legislative package that would ensure Maryland’s election integrity and help restore the public’s confidence for future elections. We support and encourage every Marylander to exercise their right to vote, but before we consider expanding mail-in voting programs and making pandemic-year measures permanent through legislation, we must also put in the appropriate safeguards.
I cosponsored legislation that would have created a penalty for the theft or destruction of a campaign sign on someone’s property; and supported the Student and Military Voter Empowerment Act, which passed both chambers and will expand opportunities for Maryland college students and those serving overseas to register to vote and cast their ballots in a safe and secure manner.
As a proud member of the Veterans Caucus Executive Board, I continue to use my position to advocate for those who served and continue to serve our nation. I was proud to cosponsor Senate Bill 598, which expands procurement contracts for veteran-owned small business enterprises.
I also strongly supported Senate Bill 186, which extends and expands a tax credit for companies that hire qualified veterans; legislation that creates a mental health first aid program for veterans; and the Pets for Vets Act of 2021, a bill that will waive the adoption fee for a cat or dog adopted by a veteran.
Back Home and Moving Forward
One of my favorite sayings is that ‘Hope Drives the Human Spirit’ which is why I remain encouraged as we move towards the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Vaccines are becoming more easily available, and I encourage my constituents to take advantage of being vaccinated when it is available to you. You may pre-register for a COVID-19 vaccination or locate a provider at covidvax.maryland.gov.
I will continue to give it my all to see us through a full COVID-19 recovery, and encourage my constituents to continue to share their views with me at [email protected] or at www.marybethcarozza.com. I remain grateful to serve my constituents in the Maryland General Assembly and look forward to seeing you back home.
MARY BETH CAROZZA
State Senator – District 38
Worcester, Wicomico, and Somerset