With the 2013 Legislative Session now officially drawn to a close, I am pleased to provide you with my End of Session Report. This overview covers some of the major developments of the session, though space considerations prevent it from covering every issue discussed. As always, my office would be happy to review the issues covered here in further detail, or to discuss any other piece of legislation that you may have an interest in. Please do not hesitate to contact me anytime at my district office (410-282-1733), Annapolis office (410-841-3458), or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
State Operating Budget:
After years of struggling to overcome a stubborn structural deficit, the Fiscal Year 2014 state operating budget continues record cuts while protecting the state’s Triple-A bond rating, while investing in key priorities like education and job creation. In doing so, Maryland is on the verge of eliminating the $1.7 billion deficit that emerged in 2007. Since 2007, I have supported budgets that cut state spending by approximately $8.3 billion, including over $300 million in additional cuts this year. With these reductions, Maryland now has fewer executive branch employees on a per capita basis than at any time since 1973, and the budget’s general fund growth is less than it has been under the last six governors. All the while, even while making these difficult fiscal choices, Maryland has been experiencing positive results: recovering jobs at the 9th fastest rate of any state in the nation; having the #1 public school system in the country for the 5th year in a row; holding down the cost of a college education; and driving violent crime down to the lowest level it has been in more than thirty years.
Local Improvements in the State Capital Budget:
This year, I was especially proud of my efforts to obtain substantial funding in the Maryland Capital Budget. These dollars will improve our district in dramatic ways. Among the highlights:
• War of 1812 Improvements: I helped secure $500,000 for improvement to the North Point Battlefield Park and another $250,000 for upgrades to Battle Acre Park and other 1812-related monuments and locations in eastern Baltimore County
• CenterPiece Project on Dundalk Avenue: We obtained $200,000 to assist the
Baltimore Arts and Music Project (Baltimore AMP) and the Dundalk Youth Service Center (DYSC), who are partnering to renovate the former Graff building on Dundalk Avenue to provide an updated location for both organizations to provide their service and outreach mission to our communities. The building will also serve as a gathering space for community organizations.
• Funding for the Baltimore Regional Neighborhoods Demonstration Initiative
(BRNDI): The budget includes $750,000 to provide operating grants to community development organizations through the BRNDI and another $3,000,000 to provide capital grants through the BRNDI. While this money is not specifically designated to any community development organization, we are hopeful that the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation (DRC) will be among a small handful that will have access to these funds to continue investment in our historic downtown.
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs:
Recognizing my ongoing emphasis on job creation and retention, the Speaker of the House of Delegates appointed me to serve as a member of the House’s Business Climate Workgroup, and Chairman of the Job Creation and Retention Subgroup. Additionally, I am proud of my efforts to craft a piece of legislation that Governor O’Malley adopted as an administration priority this year. The legislation, entitled EARN – short for Employment Advancement Right Now – will create collaborative partnerships led by private industry, who will partner with community colleges, training programs, and other government units to advance the skills of the State’s workforce, grow the State’s economy, and increase sustainable employment for working families. The Governor has included over $4 million dollars in his budget to support the EARN law. By providing skills training for employment advancement for individuals while also meeting the workforce needs of employers, the EARN Program is expected to promote both the prosperity of our working families and improve economic development outcomes in the State.
While there was much to celebrate for residents of the Sixth District in the FY ’14 budget and the passage of EARN, there was also disappointment when it came to a bill that will phase in billions of dollars in new gas taxes over the next few years. I voted against this ill-advised piece of legislation. Without question, there are pressing transportation needs around the state, but we should have been more imaginative about how we meet such challenges. In 2016, when the provisions of the bill are fully phased in, the gas tax will cost an estimated 20 cents more per gallon (in addition to the existing 23.5 cents tax), and along with other fee increases, will take nearly $750 million per year out of residents’ pockets.
For years, we have known that Dundalk and Essex have some of the highest concentrations of Section 8 voucher holders in the entire state. A big part of the reason is that apartment complexes and landlords gladly accept vouchers in our area, but do not accept vouchers in other parts of the state and county. The “Housing Opportunities Made Equal” (HOME) Act would have required all landlords, regardless of where they rent, to accept all forms of legal income. In other jurisdictions that have implemented legislation preventing landlords from discriminating based on "source of income," there have been substantial reductions in numbers of vouchers in the most concentrated areas. The bill would not have applied to small landlords and would have preserved landlord’s right to deny tenant applications due to criminal background or credit issues. After passing the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, the bill was sent back to the committee by the full Senate through a procedural maneuver (by one vote), ending discussion of the topic for this legislative session.
In 2009, the legislature considered a death penalty repeal bill pushed by Governor O’Malley, but instead opted to pass a piece of legislation that increased the evidentiary standard for death-eligible cases to have DNA evidence, a video-taped confession, or a video-tape of a crime. This year, the Governor again attempted to repeal the penalty, and was successful in his efforts. I supported the restrictions in 2009 because I would never want the government to condone putting an innocent person to death. However, I voted against the full repeal of the death penalty for three reasons; First, there are some crimes that are so heinous that it may be warranted. Secondly, it will be impossible for prosecutors to use the penalty as a plea bargaining tool, leading to more trials and subjecting the family of victims to needlessly having to revisit the horrific nature of their loss. Finally, there is nothing that can now be done when a murder is committed by an inmate already serving a life sentence.
Gun Control Legislation:
Governor O’Malley also introduced gun control legislation, which passed, that, among other things, will ban the sale of so-called assault weapons, limit magazines to 10 bullets, and require fingerprints, training, and a license to buy a handgun. There were some parts of the bill that I believed the legislature should have considered, especially the portion of the legislation that gives more attention to the challenges of mental health illness. However, on balance, the bill adds substantial new requirements for law-abiding citizens to exercise their 2nd amendment rights while offering no compelling evidence that the changes proposed would actually do anything to prevent gun violence in Maryland.
Baltimore County School Board:
A bill proposed to change the Baltimore County school board from an appointed membership to a hybrid of elected and appointed members was again introduced in the legislature, but was defeated early in the session by the Senate Delegation. I expect that this issue will continue to be discussed in Annapolis next session.
It remains one of the greatest honors of my life to represent District Six in the Maryland legislature – and to take our time honored traditions of working hard, playing by the rules, and expecting a fair share from our government with me every time I have an opportunity to cast a vote in the House of Delegates.
With this session behind us, I look forward to seeing you at a community meeting, fair, or other event in southeast Baltimore County in the months ahead!