End of 2021 Session Highlights

Friends,
Monday, April 12th brought to a close the end of an unusual Legislative Session. The halls were quiet this year, but the offices, Annex and State House were buzzing with work. In many ways, this Legislative Session delivered more transparency than in previous years with the use of virtual meetings and televised sessions. Interested citizens were able to see their representatives in action while gaining an understanding of the committee process and obstacles that challenge legislators as we work to pass our bills, advocate for and against legislation, and try to ensure the people's will is not overshadowed by special interest.
In years past, my end of session letter focused on my bills, local county legislation and the budget as it relates to our region. Our delegation followed up with an Annapolis Report which gave a much broader view of what passed during Session. Because we are unable to send that detailed report, my letter this year will include more information on bills which passed in the legislature or should have.

My Legislation

This year, I submitted six bills.  Three were statewide and three were local bills requested by citizens. Of these bills, three passed both chambers and will be presented to the Governor for signature.  They are:

Passed Legislation

  • HB 799 Aquaculture Coordinating Council (ACC) – Application of Tidal Wetlands Permit Requirements to Aquaculture Operations Study allows for the ACC to work on issues related to aquaculture operations equipment and the MDE/DNR permitting process. The bill was amended into a study to mitigate and make recommendations to clearly guide this emerging industry.
  • HB 800 Natural Resources – Waters of the State – Mobile Application directs the Department of Natural Resources to create a mobile app for use on the waters of the State which includes interactive maps with fixed locations such as sanctuaries, leases, public shell fishing areas, and more. This will be useful to fishermen, watermen, aquaculturists, outdoor enthusiasts and anyone interested in learning more about specific locations on the bay, rivers and tributaries.
  • HB 801 Calvert County – Public Safety – Buildings Used for Agritourism increases the occupancy of agricultural buildings in Calvert County used for agritourism to up to 200 people for special events. This will expand opportunities for farms to hold events and supplement their income.

Stalled Legislation

The below two bills passed the House, but stalled in the Senate Committee due to political influences and did not get voted out before the end of session.

  • HB 333 Marine Contractor License – Performance of Services – Licensing Requirements and Fees would have allowed county and municipality employees to complete work while employed without a Marine Contractor License. State and Federal employees have this ability now. It would have saved time and money to mediate small projects.  I worked for two years with stakeholders on this bill and will be looking to put it in again next year.
  • HB 802 Calvert County - Sunday Hunting would have allowed Calvert County residents to hunt any game bird or mammal on each Sunday during open season on private land.

Not Advanced

The last bill I submitted only received a hearing in the House and was not voted out of committee.

  • HB1357 Calvert County Board of Education – Public Meetings – Public Comment would have required the Calvert County Board of Education to provide the opportunity for public comments at each public meeting. This bill was in response to constituent outcry at the inability to give public comments at board meetings for the last year.  Public comment is essential and needs to be protected from any future incident that may interfere with board meetings. 

The Calvert County BOCC supported the bill as did fellow Republican delegation members.  However, the two Democrat members of the Calvert delegation sent letters in opposition to the committee.  In addition, Calvert County’s Superintendent also sent a letter in opposition stating the board had corrected its action and therefore the bill was not needed.  Their influence swayed Democratic leadership in the party and committee and the bill did not advance.  It is contemptible that a non-partisan Board of Education bill for transparency was clouded by partisan politics. I am disappointed this bill was not given the consideration it deserved.

 

Local Legislation

Calvert County requested only two bills this year of which both passed.

  • HB 1160 Long-Term Contracts for Cellular Tower Leases allows the county to enter into contracts for up to 20 years to lease space on the new communication towers.
  • HB 1173 Public Facilities Bond allows for the issuance of up to $20 million in general obligation bonds for construction or other services for the county.

 St. Mary’s County had 9 bills submitted this year of which 6 passed.

  • HB 528 Repeal of Impact Fee – Authorization of Building Excise Tax repeals the county impact fee for new construction and changes it to an excise tax. The tax amount is nearly identical, but it will allow for more flexibility.
  • HB 529 Alcoholic Beverages - Distillery On-Site Consumption Permit allows the County Board of license commissioners to issue a permit to the holder of a Class 1 distillery license for the drinking of alcohol at the distillery.
  • HB 530 Administration of Bingo Licenses requires the County Commissioners to designate a person to administer the issuance of bingo licenses in the county.
  • HB 813 St. Mary’s County - Public Facilities Bond allows the County Commissioners to issue up to $30 million in general obligation bonds for the acquisition, construction, improvement, or renovation of public buildings, facilities, and public works projects.
  • HB 862 St. Mary’s County and Metropolitan Commission – Debt Limitations updates the Public Local Laws of St. Mary’s County to increase the debt limit of the county.
  • HB 1097 St. Mary’s County – Local Officials – Salaries increases the salaries of the County Commissioners, Treasurer, Board of Education and Orphan’s Court Judges in St. Mary’s County.

 

Highlighted Legislation

About 2300 bills were submitted for consideration by the House of Delegates and the Senate during the 2021 Legislative Session and of those, approximately 800 passed.  Below are highlighted  bills of significance.  Some of these bills I supported, but many I did not.  However, I believe it is important for you to be aware of the shift in the legislature and be informed of upcoming changes to the law.

 

Operating Budget: House Bill 588 – Fiscal 2022 Budget Bill & HB 589 Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act - Supported

The only action the General Assembly is required to take during the legislative session is passing a balanced budget. This year’s budget enhances the state’s savings accounts including $1.4 billion in the Rainy Day Fund and nearly $700 million fund balance in the General Fund.

The bill eliminates the structural deficit in the coming years, with ongoing general fund revenues exceeding ongoing expenditures by $79 million in fiscal 2022.  The money in the state's reserves in FY 2022 is more than sufficient to erase the projected fiscal 2023 budget shortfall. In addition, at the present time, a general fund surplus is forecast through fiscal 2024 and a structural surplus of $121 million is forecast by fiscal 2026.

Maryland’s Pension System is chronically underfunded, and the 2022 budget allocates extra funds to the Pension System. This contribution  exceeds the actuarially required contribution by $75 million in fiscal 2021 and $100 million in fiscal 2022, helping to accelerate progress toward adequate funding.

Funding for public schools this year will exceed $7.5 billion. Direct aid to local school systems will increase an estimated $229.4 million, or 3.5%. The budget supplements the general obligation bond programs with $512 million for pay-as-you-go projects including $80 million of federal stimulus funds for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning improvements at public schools over the next two years. Additionally, $300 million of federal stimulus funding is allocated to expanding access to broadband by building out the infrastructure and subsidizing service and devices for low-income households. This is welcome news to our region.

Taxes and Tax Relief

SB 496 - Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs, and Families (RELIEF) Act – Supported - is Governor Hogan’s COVID Economic Recovery proposal that provides more than $1 billion in tax relief and economic stimulus for small businesses and families struggling from the economic impact of the pandemic. The bill delivers direct stimulus payments for low-to-moderate-income Marylanders, providing $178 million in relief to 400,000 Marylanders.  It enhances Earned Income Tax Credit and provides an additional $478 million to these same Marylanders over the next three years. The RELIEF Act also repeals all state and local income taxes on unemployment benefits for tax years 2020 and 2021, saving unemployed Marylanders more than $400 million over the next two years. The bill provides immediate sales tax credits for small businesses, at $3,000 per month for three months. Small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 employees are permitted to defer their calendar year 2021 unemployment insurance payments to January 2022. A loan and grant forgiveness plan in the bill safeguards businesses against any tax increase triggered by the use of state loan or grant funds, saving business owners approximately $36 million. Finally, the RELIEF Act includes an additional $500 million in new funding for programs and grants for businesses and nonprofits, housing, health, unemployment insurance, energy assistance, education, and human services. This emergency bill went into effect in February.  

SB 218 – Income Tax – Child Tax Credit and Expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit Opposed – this bill creates a refundable State income tax credit for low-income families equal to $500 for each dependent child who is a qualified dependent under Section 152 of the Internal Revenue Code, is under the age of 17 years and has a disability. Unfortunately, this bill also extends Maryland’s Earned Income Tax Credit to immigrants who are in this country illegally. Caucus members offered a number of amendments to make the bill better by further expanding tax credits for families with developmentally disabled children, providing tax relief to retirees, and providing assistance to those immigrants who are lawfully present in this state. All of these reasonable amendments were rejected. The bill passed and became law without the Governor’s signature.

SB 811 – Unemployment Insurance – Computation of Earned Rate of Contribution – Applicable Table of Rates - Supported - Based on the availability of federal funds, this bill allows for the replenishment of the  Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to result in Table C for calendar year 2022 and 2023.  The Governor has dedicated $1.1 billon to stabilize the unemployment tax rates for businesses based off funding from the American Rescue Plan Act.

SB 887 Business Entities during a State of Emergency - Supported - authorizes county and municipal

governments to grant a property tax credit for real or personal property owned or leased by a business entity affected by a declared state of emergency.

Health Services

HB 123 – Preserve Telehealth Access Act of 2021 - Supported - expands telehealth services beyond the pandemic with expanded coverage and reimbursements by Medicaid and private insurance.

SB 41 – Health – Mental and Emotional Disorders – Consent – Opposed - allows children 12 years of age and above to consent to mental health consultation, diagnosis and treatment without parental notification.  This  leaves out the most important people in a child’s life who are needed to help with any diagnosis and treatment.  Children this young are not able to make decisions like this alone and need their families to support them.  Other than in cases of neglect or abuse, parents should not be prohibited from health decisions concerning their children. 

Voting

HB 745 -  Election Law – Early Voting Centers – Opposed - increases the number of early voting centers in a jurisdiction. 

HB 1048 – Election Law – Voting – Permanent Absentee Ballot List, Ballot Drop Boxes and Reports -Opposed - creates a permanent absentee ballot list on which individuals may request to be places to receive an absentee ballot for all elections allowing them to vote by mail without having to make future requests.

Police Reform

SB 71 - Body-Worn Cameras, Employee Programs, and Use of ForceOpposed - changes the standard for evaluating the reasonableness of police use of force.  The current standard takes the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, whether the officer’s use of force was reasonable considering the circumstances. The bill changes the standard for “Use of Force” by police officers to one of the “totality of the circumstances.” The use of force is required to be ‘proportional’ – the officer may only mirror (and slightly exceed) the force being used by the suspect, with the suspect given the first swing/shot. The penalty for misjudgment of this is criminal for the officer (punishable by up to 10 years in prison), together with the possibility of civil liability.

The bill also provides for counselling, mental health services and support for police officers. The Governor vetoed this legislation, and the General Assembly overrode his veto (House 94-43, Senate 31-16) with the vote along party lines.

SB 178 - Search Warrants and Inspection of Records Relating to Police Misconduct (Anton's Law)Opposed - In determining whether to issue a No-Knock search warrant,  judges weigh the increased risk to officers’ lives of doing a Knock and Announce warrant with the risk posed to innocent people on the property. The bill also requires officers executing a Knock and Announce warrant to wait for 20 seconds before forcing entry. In addition, the bill makes police officers’ personnel files available for public inspection with respect to administrative discipline, even anonymous complaints, and allows for the publicizing of unsubstantiated – unsworn – accusations against police officers. This unwarranted attack on their privacy is not done in the case of any other public official, including state legislators. The Governor vetoed this bill, however the General Assembly overrode his veto (90-46 in the House and 30-17 in the Senate).

HB 670 - Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Police Discipline and Law Enforcement Programs and ProceduresOpposed - this bill strikes the current so-called Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights (LEOBR) and replaces it with a complicated, multi-step system that will contain a number of different boards, and appellate processes. It involves civilians (meant to increase community confidence in the policing process) and undermines protection of police officers from retaliatory activism.  The bill also extends the State civil liability cap to claims of violation of Constitutional rights, more than doubling the cap (from $400K to $890K). The Governor vetoed this legislation, but the General Assembly overrode his veto (House 95-42, Senate 31-16).   

Pro-Criminal Bills

HB 222 - Value My Vote Act - Opposed - requires the State Board of Elections to establish a program to inform incarcerated individuals who have the right to vote in upcoming elections (those who are incarcerated in a pretrial capacity and those incarcerated for misdemeanor convictions) and how they may exercise the right to vote. This bill passed both chambers and now heads to the Governor.

HB 16 - Correctional Services - Immigration Detention - Prohibition (Dignity Not Detention Act)  - Opposed  -  prohibits state and local detention facilities from being used to detain illegal immigrants solely for their immigration status. The bill prohibits the construction of any facility, in any locality, to house detained illegal immigrants. In addition, local governments partnering with the 287g program can only seek immigration detainers for crimes of violence or sexual offenses. This bill passed the House and Senate now heads to the Governor.

HB23 – Personal Information – State and Local Agencies – Restrictions on Access – Opposed -  prohibits state and local government agencies from providing records and data to US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  This information has previously been used by ICE to locate undocumented immigrants.  This will make it more difficult for agents to do their job and detain individuals who have committed crimes.

Education

HB 716 - Special Education – Individualized Education Programs – Educational Evaluations (Education Equality For All Act)  - Supported - provides that, if schools are closed and unable to perform the necessary evaluations special needs children are entitled to, the school system must provide parents with information to have these evaluations done independently. This bill passed and is headed to the Governor’s desk.

HB 998 - County Boards of Education - In-Person Instruction and Related Services - Requirement (Vulnerable Student Protection Act) – would have required schools to provide critical services in-person to at-risk students for 2021-2022 school year. Even if schools are closed, this bill would require specific services such as special education, speech and language services, counseling and behavioral health, physical and occupational therapy, and nutritional services be offered on an in-person basis to at-risk students. Students entitled to these in-person services would include students with disabilities and other at-risk populations including economically disadvantaged, homeless, and those in foster care.  This bill did not receive a vote in the House Ways and Means Committee. 

HB 1161 - Income Tax - Subtraction Modification - School Supplies (Learning at Home Relief Act) would have  provided a $250 per child tax credit to help offset some of the costs of educating Maryland’s children at home.  The House Ways and Means Committee did not take action on this bill. 

Business/Economy

HB 1084 - Catastrophic Health Emergencies – Immunity From Civil Liability would have provided immunity from civil liability for small businesses, churches, and other nonprofits if they inadvertently fail to comply with the often contradictory State and county health orders issued during this pandemic. The bill also shifts the burden of proof to the plaintiff who must prove that the noncompliance was willful or grossly negligent by clear and convincing evidence. This is a higher standard of evidence that will likely dissuade frivolous lawsuits that can do irreparable financial harm to a business even if they win. This bill was not acted on by the House Judiciary Committee.

HB 1257 - Business Personal Property Tax – Businesses Affected by COVID–19 3 Restrictions – Reimbursement would have allowed certain businesses to receive a refund of their business personal property tax they paid in 2020. This tax is assessed on all business property not classified as real property. This includes kitchen equipment, furniture, fixtures, tools, supplies, inventory, etc. The revenue generated from this tax goes into the coffers of the local government. So even though these businesses were closed or had their services reduced, they had to still pay taxes on equipment not in use.  In order to be eligible for the refund, the business must have been required to close or those required to significantly reduce their services under the Executive Orders the Governor issued in March 2020. This bill was not acted on by the House Ways and Means Committee. 

HB 581 – Maryland Essential Worker’s Protection Act – Opposed - establishes guidelines and procedures for essential employers to provide a safe work environment. The measures in the bill include employer paid communicable disease testing, paid public health emergency leave, procedures for work conditions and paid adaptive equipment.  Requirements remain in place until 6 months after the state of emergency is lifted.

Gaming

HB 940 - Regulation of Fantasy Gaming Competitions and Implementation of Sports WageringSupported - In the 2020 General Election, the voters of Maryland overwhelmingly approved the passage of constitutional amendment authorizing fantasy gaming competitions and sports wagering in Maryland. The bill establishes a multi-tier licensing system, application fees, and requirements for specific types of licenses along with regulations. This bill passed both chambers and now heads to the Governor for his approval. 

Landlord/Tenant Issues:

HB 1312 – Landlord and Tenant – Eviction Actions – Catastrophic Health Emergencies  - Opposed - eliminates virtually all landlord rights and protections during a catastrophic health emergency. The bill applies to tenants who experience a “substantial loss of income” due to job loss, reduction in hours, closure of their place of employment, or to care for family members during a catastrophic health emergency. If these tenants do not pay rent, they cannot be evicted for up to a full year, depending upon the length of the catastrophic emergency. Meanwhile, the landlords suffer greatly under this bill with no rent income to cover mortgage payments, taxes, and other maintenance and expenses related to owning a rental property. This bill passed the House but time ran out before it could receive final passage in the  Senate. 

HB 18 - Landlord and Tenant - Residential Tenants - Access to Counsel Opposed - this bill makes changes to the process by which a landlord may file a complaint due to nonpayment of rent. It requires the landlord to provide the tenant with 10 days written notice of their intent to file for summary ejectment. The bill also provides that the tenants that meet certain income requirements may access legal representation from a nonprofit organization designated by the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC). The bill establishes the Access to Counsel in Evictions Special Fund, whose funding source is established through surcharge fee increases.

Thank you for contacting my office during this Legislative Session. Please know I am available to answer questions on the above or any other legislation.  I am incredibly honored for the opportunity to serve Calvert and St. Mary's Counties.

MDGOP Candidate