End Of Session Review
Given the violent school shootings in Florida and our own St. Mary’s County, Maryland, school safety became a defining issue in the 2018 Maryland General Assembly Session. Governor Larry Hogan introduced a landmark school safety package. The Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018 (SB 1265), overwhelmingly approved by the legislature on a bipartisan basis, incorporates many of the key provisions of Governor Hogan’s proposal.
These include increased funding for the Maryland Center for School Safety, the creation of aggressive statewide standards for school safety, requirements for the standardized training and certification for all school resource officers, and requirements for each school system to develop behavioral assessment teams to identify and provide interventions for students who pose a threat to safety. I believe these resources targeted to our local schools will provide the tools and technology to protect our most valuable resource – our children.
School Construction Accountability
Legislation to streamline and provide additional funding for school construction became controversial when an amendment was added to the 21st Century School Commission bill that removed all oversight authority from the Board of Public Works over school construction funding. Instead, it gave this authority to an unelected board of political appointees who have no accountability to the citizens of Maryland.
While this school construction legislation had a lot of positive aspects, eliminating the public accountability out of the billion dollar school construction process was a step too far. I voted against the bill, and after Governor Hogan rightfully vetoed the bill, I voted to sustain the Governor’s veto. Unfortunately, the bill passed in time for the General Assembly to override the Governor’s veto before the end of session.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I worked with my colleagues and Governor Hogan and his Administration to pass a $44.4 billion structurally-balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2019 with no new tax increases, funding our Shore priorities while holding the line on spending and leaving nearly $1.1 billion in cash reserves.
In his FY 2019 budget, Governor Hogan provided historic levels of funding for K-12 education - an unprecedented $6.5 billion. Under Governor Hogan’s leadership, K-12 education funding has increased by more than 7 percent since he took office, and average per-pupil aid across the state has increased by more than 4.7 percent. The 2019 budget also included $30 million for critical school safety improvements and initiatives.
Other education budget highlights include State support for Maryland’s public four-year colleges and universities growing by $60.2 million with tuition rates capped by 2 percent; increased funding for community colleges including $60 million in capital projects; $5.9 million for the Nonpublic Student Textbook Program; and Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) for non-public schools.
Budget Priorities for the Shore
Governor Hogan’s FY 2019 budget included funding for several key priorities: $31.7 million to combat the heroin-opioid epidemic; a 1.8 percent increase for Aid to Local Governments; $53.7 million in capital grants for local road and transportation improvements; $52.9 million for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund; $123.3 million for employment and independence of individuals with disabilities; funding Autism Waiver services grows by $2.7 million an combined total of $13.1 million for the Office of Tourism Development and the Maryland Tourism Board; $6.9 million to improve the retention of Correctional Officers; a 3.5 percent rate increases for the providers of the developmentally disabled and people with behavioral health needs; $ in the Next Generation Farmland Acquisition program, and $ in the Department of Natural Resources’ Waterway Improvement fund, which will be used to help fund the State’s portion of the Ocean City Inlet Dredging “solution options” study.
Shore highlights from Governor Hogan’s FY 2019 capital budget includes: $13 m J.M. Tawes Technology Career Center replacement in Somerset County; $2.5 m Showell Elementary School in Worcester County; $3.7 m West Salisbury Elementary School; $2 m Delmar Elementary School; $3.4 m Wicomico Regional Airport Extension; $2 million Ocean City Beach Replenishment and Hurricane Protection program; $1.3 million Atlantic General Hospital Inpatient Care renovation; $171,453 Joan W. Jenkins Behavioral Health Treatment Center expansion; $500,000 Downtown Salisbury revitalization project; $580,000 Perdue Shorebirds Stadium capital upgrades; $4.9 m Salisbury Animal Health Laboratory replacement; $1.2 m Three Lower Counties Community Services’ new OB/GYN building; $4.5 m Eastern Correctional Institution Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade; $320,000 ECI water towers and $115,000 co-generation plant upgrades; $1.5 m Janis Island State Park cabin replacement; and $1.2 m Deal Island Shoreline improvements.
The final FY ’19 capital budget also included $500,000 for Coastal Hospice at the Ocean in Ocean Pines; $100,000 for Teackle Mansion in Princess Anne; and $100,000 Rotary Labyrinth in Salisbury. Overall, the FY ’19 capital budget included $25.1 m for Somerset, $20.9 m for Wicomico; and $8.2 m in Worcester.
Lockbox to Protect Education Funding
To ensure that casino revenues are used to supplement education funding, Governor Hogan proposed legislation to increase education spending by more than $4.4 billion over the next decade by phasing in casino revenues from the Education Trust Fund over the next four years.
With the same goal in mind, the legislature passed SB 1122 – Education Commercial Gaming Revenues – Constitutional Amendment that requires the commercial gaming revenues that are dedicated to public education be used as supplemental education funding. Beginning in FY 2023, 100 percent of the commercial gaming revenues dedicated to public education must be used for supplemental funding. In order for the Constitutional Amendment to take effect, the voters of Maryland must approve it on the ballot in the November election. In addition, the Maryland General Assembly also approved $200 million for the Innovation & Excellence in Education Commission (Kirwan Commission). The Commission, which has been extended for a year to complete its work, has focused its funding recommendations in several key areas including Prekindergarten expansion; teacher recruitment; and Career and Technology Education (CTE).
The federal government’s failure to produce a comprehensive health care solution has jeopardized the ability for Maryland families and small businesses to purchase affordable health care insurance. As a result, health insurance rates on Maryland’s individual market were set to increase by 50 percent or more in the coming year.
Governor Hogan worked this session with a bipartisan team of legislators and other health care professionals to address the crisis head on and protect Marylanders from this 50 percent increase in their health insurance rates. House Bill 1795 – Maryland Health Benefit Exchange – Establishment of a Reinsurance Program creates the structure for a reinsurance program to be administered by the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange (MHBE), which is predicted to help stabilize rates for the next several years. I voted for this bill and the Governor has already signed it into law.
I also cosponsored and supported legislation that would increase the reimbursement rates for community pharmacists who have been fighting to survive as drug prices skyrocket while their reimbursement rates have been plummeting. House Bill 1349, Pharmacy Benefits Managers – Revisions, which combined several of the separate pharmacy bills, included increased reimbursement rates for independent pharmacists and received overwhelming support in both the House and Senate.
Highway User Revenues
After many years of hard work by local elected officials, significant legislation was passed this session to partially restore municipal Highway User Revenues by providing certainty and predictability beginning in FY 2020 through FY 2024 by guaranteeing at least $38 m in total municipal HUR funding. The FY 2019 State budget will provide a total of $29.8 m using a combination of approximately $7.4 m in funding from the base HUR formula, $20.4 m in grant monies included by the Governor in the FY 2019 State budget, and an additional $2.1 m in the Governor’s last budget supplemental.
Economic Development and Jobs
On the last night of session, Governor Hogan’s More Jobs for Marylanders Act (House Bill 1295) cleared both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly. This legislation expands the current More Jobs for Marylanders Act by offering tax credits and targeting job creation in Maryland’s distressed counties. Currently, Somerset and Worcester counties already are Tier I counties and eligible for this program. This year’s More Jobs for Marylanders Act adds Wicomico County to the list of Tier I counties.
The Seacrets Distillery Economic and Jobs bill would allow Seacrets to raise the limit of gallons that it can sell at its own facility rather than Seacrets paying invoices to purchase their own spirits back from an outside distributor. HB 509 and SB 384 increases the limit that can be transferred from the Class 9 distillery to its own local Class D license from 15,500 to 31,000 gallons. By allowing Seacrets to raise the limits, more jobs and revenue stay here in Worcester County. I sponsored the House version of this legislation which cleared the Maryland General Assembly. This legislation was signed into law by Governor Hogan on April 24, 2018.
I supported Governor Hogan’s Protecting Maryland Taxpayers Act of 2018 and will continue to support efforts to give more money back to taxpayers. Several pieces of Governor Hogan’s tax relief package passed, and combined, this tax relief could save taxpayers up to $1.3 billion in Fiscal Year 2019.
HB 58 – Income Tax –Subtraction Modifications – Retirement Income includes a pension income exclusion that will expand and allow income from IRAs and annuities to be included within the subtraction modification on tax returns.
HB 327 – Military Retirement Income – exempts the first $15,000 of military retirement income from State taxation for individuals 55 and older. This legislation will save these taxpayers approximately $5 million in FY 2019.
HB 296 – Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Retirement Income of Correctional Officers will extend Governor Hogan’s Hometown Heroes tax credit to include correctional officers. This will save these taxpayers $1.2 million in Fiscal 2019.
SB 134 – Small Business Relief Tax Credit gives an income tax credit to small businesses that provide paid sick leave to their employees. This is the Governor’s initiative to help ease the burden the paid sick leave bill will have on small businesses. It applies to businesses with fewer than 15 employees. This tax credit has a cap of $5 million in FY 2019.
HB 70/SB 318 – Income Tax – Standard Deduction – Cost-of-Living Adjustments permanently raises the standard deduction and indexes it to inflation. This will save taxpayers up to $55.6 million in Fiscal 2019.
Public Safety/Crime Bills/Local Special Events Enforcement Bill
HB 291/SB 1131 – Criminal Law – Prohibitions, Prosecutions, and Corrections includes Governor Hogan’s initiative making it easier to prosecute high-volume drug dealers. The bill also adds fentanyl to the volume dealer drug. The legislation also increases the penalties for witness intimidation from 5 years to 10 years. SB 101 – Crimes of Violence, Expungement, and Drug Treatment now includes Governor Hogan’s initiative to eliminate parole eligibility for second-time violent offenders. The legislation also toughens sentences on the sexual abuse of a minor, and adds drug trafficking to the list of crimes that a person may not possess a firearm without a 5-year mandatory sentence. I supported and voted for both of these bills.
I joined with several of my colleagues on a bipartisan basis to cosponsor HB 301 – Repeat Sexual Predator Prevention Act of 2018 which was signed by the Governor as soon as it passed both houses of the General Assembly. This new law, which is effective July 1, 2018, authorizes a court to admit into evidence acts of “sexually assaultive behavior” committed by a defendant before or after the offense for which the defendant is currently being tried. This was an important priority bill for the Women’s Caucus, of which I am a member.
The Special Event Zones legislation, which was requested by the Mayor and Ocean City Town Council and local law enforcement, cleared both the House and Senate this session as an emergency bill in time for the upcoming major vehicle events scheduled this Spring. The bill authorizes the State Highway Administration, on its own or at the request of a local authority, to designate an area on a State highway as a “special event zone.” The designation allows speed limits to be reduced in the affected location as necessary for public safety. Penalties are increased for speeding and other violations in the zones while pedestrians are present. This important public safety bill gives our law enforcement the additional tools they need to control reckless, aggressive and dangerous driving during these major local motor events. The bill is a local bill and only applies to Worcester County. This bill was signed into law on April 24, 2018 and is already in effect.
To protect Maryland’s Shore, I cosponsored legislation to oppose the proposed National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program (HJ 13) and voted for the Offshore Drilling Liability Act which holds those engaged in an offshore drilling activity strictly liable for damages for any injury, death, or loss to a person or property that is caused by oil or gas spill in the federal outer continental shelf (OCS) waters.
SB 675 – Humane Adoption of Companion Animals Used in Research Act of 2018, known as the “Beagle bill,” would help find adoptive homes for animals no longer used in animal testing. It would require labs using dogs or cats as test subjects to establish a list of organizations that would take animals from the research facility and offer them up for adoption. I am proud cosponsor of this bill. It was passed unanimously by both the House and Senate.
HB 1662 – The “No More Puppy and Kitten Mills Act of 2018” will prohibit retail stores from selling dogs or cats obtained from puppy or kitten mills. These animals are often bred and kept in horrific conditions and the bill’s intention is to stop pet stores from selling animals acquired from such operations. This bill also passed the House and Senate.
Veterans - Passed in the Nick of Time
At 11:59 pm on Sine Die, legislation to increase the participation of veteran-owned businesses in State procurement passed the Maryland General Assembly. The passage of SB 1165, Procurement – Veteran-Owned Small Business Enterprise Participation – brings my work in support of veterans full circle. Back in 2015, my first year as a Member of the House of Delegates, I sponsored HB 243, which increased the State’s veteran-owned business set-aside goal from .05 percent to 1 percent.
The legislation I sponsored this year builds on that 2015 bill by allowing the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs to verify the status of the business owner seeking certification as a veteran-owned business for the State’s program. It also allows for the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority and Women Business Affairs to be the agency responsible for ensuring oversight, training and compliance for the State agencies to meet the 1 percent goal. This bill will help increase the number of veteran-owned businesses doing business with the State. This legislation was signed into law by Governor Hogan on May 15, 2018.
For the past four sessions, it has been an honor to work for you in the Maryland General Assembly. I 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. I look forward to seeing you back home.
Mary Beth Carozza