2021 Maryland General Assembly Update Week Three- Hearings on Child Custody Proceedings, Health Care, Civil Immunity, Economic Development, and a Vaccine Update
As more bills are introduced in the Senate, the standing Committees begin to pick up the pace with bill hearings. This included hearings for Senator Carozza’s legislation to improve the well-being of children in child custody court proceedings and to expand access to occupational therapy programs in Maryland. A hearing was also held on priority small business legislation supported by Senator Carozza. Outside of the Senate, the Board of Public Works approved a major economic development project in Somerset County, and the State of Maryland continued with its COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
PROTECTING CHILDREN DURING CUSTODY COURT PROCEEDINGS
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 355—Family Law – Custody Evaluators – Qualifications and Training on Tuesday, January 26.
“Serving on the Workgroup to Study Child Custody Court Proceedings Involving Child Abuse or Domestic Violence Allegations has been one of the most important public service assignments that I have been a part of, especially given the magnitude of the trauma that many children and protective parents experience going through court custody proceedings involving child abuse or domestic violence allegations,” Senator Carozza said during her testimony in strong support of Senate Bill 355.
Senate Bill 355 establishes that the qualifications of a custody evaluator include having a master’s degree in a qualified field and complete at least 60 hours of initial specified training and 10 hours of continuing education and training every 2 years. A custody evaluator is a health professional tasked with evaluating the well-being of a child and their interactions with both parents in custody hearings.
“My legislation takes a targeted, commonsense approach to improve the custody evaluation process, resulting in better protection for the safety and well-being of children, many who experience trauma, going through a custody court proceeding involving child abuse or domestic violence,” testified Senator Carozza.
EXPANDING HEALTH CARE ACCESS
The Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 139—Interstate Occupational Therapy Licensure Compact on Tuesday, January 26. Senate Bill 139 would establish an interstate licensure compact for occupational therapists. This means that occupational therapists can work across state lines, just as long as they are licensed by a member state of the compact. The Maryland General Assembly already has enacted similar legislation for nurses, physicians, and physical therapists.
“As I worked with health care providers during COVID-19 during the interim, it was brought to my attention by members of the Maryland Occupational Therapy Association that this interstate occupational therapy licensure compact would have a direct benefit in increasing access to care, especially in districts like mine which are bordered by states, Delaware to the north, and Virginia to the south,” Senator Carozza noted. “Licensure compacts offer an important pathway to ensuring our health care facilities and providers have a sufficient number of qualified providers, making it easier for licensed health care practitioners from neighboring states to work in our hospitals and programs in our communities.”
Also testifying in support of Senate Bill 139 was Occupational Therapist Dorri Gowe-Lambert, who owns Building Bridges Pediatric Therapy Services in Salisbury and Easton. Her practice shifted to telehealth services in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to current licensure laws, Gowe-Lambert was unable to provide continuity of care to her clients who technically resided in Delaware or Virginia.
“I had to write to those licensure boards in other states and request special permission in order for those children to continue their much needed services. This took weeks and disrupted their plan of care,” testified Ms. Gowe-Lambert.
Senate Bill 139 has the support of the Maryland Occupational Therapy Association, the Board of Occupational Therapy Practice, Maryland Rural Health Association, and the Maryland Hospital Association.
SMALL BUSINESS RELIEF
The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR) held a hearing on Senate Bill 210—COVID-19 Claim - Civil Immunity on Tuesday, January 26. Senator Carozza is a lead cosponsor of Senate Bill 210.
Senate Bill 210 was introduced by Senator Chris West (R-Baltimore County) with bipartisan support. This bill would 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 (COVID-19 rules and regulations) so long as the person’s actions do not amount to gross negligence or intentional wrongdoing.
“As a member of the Senate Small Business Workgroup and after working with hundreds of local small businesses during COVID-19, I personally can attest to the sense of urgency on the part of small businesses to pass this emergency COVID-19 civil immunity bill now as so many of our job creators are suffering under the economic downturn caused by COVID-19,” Senator Carozza wrote in her testimony, noting that she frequently participates in meetings hosted by restaurant and small business industry stakeholders. “Limited liability protection for businesses that have made good faith efforts to comply with recommended state and federal guidelines is critical to their long-term success, impacting jobs and income.”
SOMERSET COUNTY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND EDUCATION
On Wednesday, January 27, the Board of Public Works gave final approval with a 3-0 vote to a wetlands permit that would allow for natural gas to be brought into Somerset County, which is one of only three counties in Maryland without access to natural gas.
“I am grateful for the strong support of this Shore economic priority and would like to thank everyone who made their voices heard during this process. As Somerset County’s sole representative in the Maryland Senate, I have made it a top priority to work with local residents, businesses, and area elected officials to bring natural gas to Somerset County,” Senator Carozza said.
Senator Carozza also cosponsored Senate Bill 1— Historically Black Colleges and Universities – Funding and voted to move the legislation out of Committee and on to the Senate Floor. This legislation would benefit the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, a key institution and economic driver in Somerset County.
VACCINE ROLLOUT UPDATE
As of January 29, 2021, the State of Maryland is in Phase 1C of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution process. This phase includes all public safety workers, all health care workers, food and agricultural production workers, mass transit workers, grocery store employees, clergy, and other essential support for houses of worship, and all covered under Phase 1A and Phase 1B. The State of Maryland currently is receiving approximately 10,000 doses a day for over 1.5 million eligible people.
On Monday, February 1, Marylanders who are severely immunocompromised, such as those receiving chemotherapy, and those with certain immune disorders who require frequent medical care will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. On January 29, Maryland launched a statewide public outreach campaign, GoVAX, to encourage Marylanders to receive the vaccine when it’s their turn. For more information on the COVID-19 Vaccine: www.covidvax.maryland.gov.
“We must remain patient throughout this process and respect the phased-in prioritization as the supply of vaccines from the federal government remains limited. This limitation could result in a delay of in-clinic availability or appointments filling up faster than expected. I will provide the most up-to-date information as it becomes available,” Senator Carozza said. “I encourage my constituents to receive the vaccine when it becomes available as we work together for a full COVID-19 recovery.”
WICOMICO PAGE RECOGNIZED IN SENATE
The Maryland General Assembly Student Page program is virtual for the 2021 legislative session in an effort to keep the participating students safe and healthy. Senate Pages are responsible for providing vital services to the legislature and have the opportunity to work directly with elected officials on the chamber floors. This week, Tenley Pelot, a senior at Parkside High School in Salisbury, served as a Senate Page.