Wait...What Just Happened in Annapolis?...............
It is my privilege to represent District 16 in the Maryland General Assembly. We have just completed the 2012 Legislative Session. I am proud to report we passed major legislation to improve the health, education, safety, and civil rights of Marylanders, protect our natural environment, and support Maryland businesses as they create jobs during the continued economic recovery.
However, our work is not yet done. It is widely expected the Governor will call us back to Annapolis within a few weeks for a special legislative session to make necessary improvements to the fiscal year 2013 budget.
Here are some highlights from this year’s legislative session that I think will be of particular interest you and the communities in Bethesda, Somerset, Friendship Heights, Glen Echo, Rockville, Cabin John, and Potomac:
Our Human Rights
Women’s Health- Access to Midwives and Childbirth Options: Although you might not think of Maryland as leading the “War on Women”, we still do have significant room for improvement on women’s health issues. Currently, childbirth options are extremely limited in Maryland when compared to our neighboring states. In 1978, the state banned all midwives, with the exception of nurse-midwives working together with an obstetrician. As a result, we have only one remaining birth center in Maryland and only five licensed midwives attending home births across the state. This is nowhere near enough to handle the more than 500 at home deliveries on record in 2012. As a result of this unnecessary ban, Maryland women who choose an out of hospital birth are often forced to use an “underground” unlicensed and unregulated midwife. This article from the Baltimore Sun discusses the issue of midwives in Maryland.
I introduced bi-partisan legislation to license and appropriately regulate Certified Professional Midwives (CPMs) who specialize in attending home and birth center births. Licensing CPMs is not a new idea; twenty-six other states have already done this successfully. As a result of my legislation, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will be convening a workgroup this summer to develop a specific plan for licensing midwives and expanding birth options in Maryland.
The Civil Marriage Protection Act (the Marriage Equality bill) was a major victory for Maryland families. This legislation will end the legal discrimination faced by committed same-sex couples and their children without infringing on the rights of those religious institutions that choose not to endorse same sex marriage. This legislation also sends an important message to our lesbian, gay, and questioning youth that they will have equal rights as citizens of Maryland, regardless of their sexual orientation.
After a ten-hour hearing and an emotional floor debate, the bill passed both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor on March 1st, making Maryland the 8th state in the nation (including the District of Columbia) to pass a gay marriage law. However, this legislation is being petitioned to referendum, and will likely appear on your ballot in the general election on November 6th2012. My office will be working diligently to ensure District 16 voters understand what the bill does and why I supported it. If you would like get more involved in this effort, please contact my Legislative Aide Tricia Swanson via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Medical Marijuana legislation was again introduced this year and I was a proud co-sponsor. Unfortunately, this bi-partisan legislation was not supported by the Governor, as he believed the structure of the proposed program posed a risk to state employees who might be put in a position of breaking federal laws. I will be working with the lead sponsor, Delegate Dan Morhaim, to retool and build support for the proposal for next year. If the legislation is successful, Maryland would be the 18th state (including the District of Columbia) to establish a program for medicinal marijuana, which can provide relief to critically ill patients and those suffering with chronic illnesses. After having witnessed the compelling testimony of the patient-advocates, it is even more important to me that we continue pushing forward on this legislation.
Maryland is Moving Forward with Health Care Reform. The Health Benefit Exchange Act of 2012 is an Administration bill that built on legislation passed last year to create the heath care exchange required by federal health care reform. This second step in the process sets up standards and regulations to run the program. This legislation puts meat on the bones of our exchange and will ensure quality coverage, reduce costs, and will assist Marylanders in choosing the best plan for their family. Maryland’s new Health Enterprise Zones are an innovative way to move Maryland forward in closing health disparities based on race, class, and geography.
Maintenance of Effort for Education Funding (MOE) is a state law designed to protect the quality of our children’s education and maintain our first in the nation schools (and high property values) by discouraging local governments from shortchanging the local funding needed for education. This year, we strengthened the MOE provisions ensuring that if a county does not meet education funding requirements the State can redirect revenues to the local School Board. We also strengthened our Compulsory Attendance law, phasing in required attendance for children who are sixteen and seventeen years old. This means Maryland’s children will no longer be able to drop out of school when they turn sixteen.
Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorders: In a huge victory this year, I was lead sponsor of successful legislation that will expand access to insurance coverage for treatment of Autism. HB1055 requires the establishment of a Technical Advisory Group to guide the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Maryland Insurance Administration in issuing regulations on the appropriate use of habilitative services for children with autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD’s). This group will consist of clinical experts with experience working with children with ASD’s. Based on their recommendations, the state will establish requirements for therapies insurance companies must cover for children on the autism spectrum. These regulations must go into effect no later than November 2013. Partners in this effort include Autism Speaks, Autism Society, Pathfinders for Autism, DHMH Secretary Josh Sharfstein, Delegate Kirill Reznik, Senator Rich Madaleno, Senator Kathy Klausmeier, Health and Government Operations Committee Chairman Pete Hammen, and Maryland House Speaker Mike Busch.
Insurance Coverage for Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy: HB1055 will also get the Maryland Insurance Administration and the Maryland Department of Education working together to ensure kids with disabilities have access to the therapies they need, and are entitled to under existing state insurance law and federal special education laws. I was the lead sponsor of this successful legislation (cross-filed in the Senate by Sen. Richard Madeleno). This bill will make sure health insurance companies cover (without excessive complication, confusion, begging, fighting, and threat of lawsuit) the therapies and other services kids need when they have congenital or genetic birth defects. This applies to the many therapies kids need above and beyond what the school system is required to cover for educational purposes.
TLC’s Katherine Thomas School Funding: This year I introduced successful legislation to fund $275,000 in desperately needed capital repairs for this special education school in Rockville. This school educates children with moderate to severe learning and language disabilities. For more information on this school, please visit their website. With the state funding, we can ensure that our special children are learning in a safe and healthy environment. This legislation was championed in the Senate by Senator Jennie Forehand.
Banning Arsenic in Chicken Feed: I was proud to co-sponsor successful legislation championed by my friend Delegate Tom Hucker and Food and Water Watch that made Maryland the first state in the nation to ban this carcinogenic additive. It is already banned in Canada and the European Union. For more information on this legislation, please refer to this article.
The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 (sometimes called the Septics Bill) will prevent septic system growth in areas where it hinders the environment and contributes to wasteful land development practices and pollution. We also significantly increased funding for Maryland’s Bay Restoration Fund. This will be used to upgrade the state’s major sewage treatment plants, as well as to upgrade septic systems and plant cover crops to reduce the nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Chesapeake Bay. The Stormwater Management Billrequires local jurisdictions to meet environmental standards and thus bring all the counties in Maryland closer to the standards already met by Montgomery County. In a press release, the Maryland Department of the Environment covered what a successful session this was for the environment.
I was a proud supporter of the Offshore Wind Energy Bill. This legislation would create thousands of new jobs,provide zero-emission power for the state, and reduce health-hazardous and heat-trapping pollution from fossil fuels. Additionally, it would lock in stable electricity rates for 15-20 years as the fuel (wind) is free. Maryland needs to take this important step toward having 20% clean electricity by 2022. Although this legislation passed in the House of Delegates, it did not pass the Maryland Senate.
Our State Budget & Taxes (and unfinished business)
Before session ended, the Senate and the House both passed an operating budget for fiscal year 2013. However, the spending in the operating budget was contingent upon increased revenue from two other pieces of pending legislation, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA) and the Tax Plan. Neither of those pieces of legislation came up for a final vote in the House during the regular session.
If the Governor calls a special session this spring, we will likely vote on some version of these bills. If the Governor does not call a special session, we will default to a secondary budget, referred to as the “Doomsday Budget” that does not depend on generating new revenues. This default budget contains significant cuts from fiscal year 2012 levels. The largest cuts are in state education aid, including significant cuts to K-12 education and a 10% cut to higher education and community colleges. Other cuts include across the board agency reductions of 8%. In total, the so-called “Doomsday Budget” would reduce proposed state spending for 2013 by $512 million.
Possible Tax Plans: One of the reasons the House and Senate have not yet reached agreement on a Budget is that we have different philosophical approaches to where the new revenue should come from. The House tax plan generated less new revenue, and increased marginal tax rates only on the higher brackets. It also reduced or eliminated personal exemption amounts for individuals and couples in the higher brackets. The Senate proposal increased tax rates across the board, and reduced personal exemptions for all tax payers. The Senate plan also created a super bracket which amounted to a flat fee on all income earned for those in the highest bracket.
What’s Next?: I am sorry I cannot offer more complete information on the state budget situation at this point. I am confident we will reach a solution that is workable. Could either plan be improved? Absolutely, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in developing a solid and sensible budget. To look the factors going into a special session please take a look at this article.