Thank you for the privilege of representing you as a District 16 State Delegate to Maryland’s General Assembly. I wanted to offer a brief overview of the recently concluded 2013 legislative session. I am proud of the progress we made to advance a strong economy, secure families, and safe and healthy environments and I’m looking forward to the progress that we will continue to make. Here’s a brief summary of where we stand today:
The State Budget
The FY2014 budget put forth by the O’Malley administration and approved by the General Assembly continues to focus on and fund job creation, education, public safety, the environment and this year it has all but eliminated the structural budget deficit.
This $37.3 billion budget continues to keep Maryland’s priorities together: it has the potential to create 43,000 jobs, invests in a new workforce training initiative, continues its strong investment in public, nonpublic, and higher education – part of the reason we’ve been #1 in education nationwide for five years in a row. It also increases funding and tax credits for research in key industries of growth and development that will create jobs for the future.
Additionally, in response to a letter I sent signed my dozens of my colleagues, this year’s budget made a major investment in the state’s subsidized child care program. This program is a smart investment, keeping parents in the workforce, keeping children safe and well cared for, and creating good jobs for childcare providers.
After continuously being rated one of the worst in the nation in terms of traffic congestion, with the DC region and the Baltimore region getting #1 and #5 most congested commute areas in the nation respectively, we chose to do something about it . Passing the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 was a necessary move and will: result in 44,000 new jobs for Marylanders in construction and related industries, and invest heavily in public transit projects such as the purple line and bus routes, and support dozens of other road, bridge, and miscellaneous improvements.
Right now, almost half of our roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and a quarter of the bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete, so this funding could not have come at a better – or more necessary –time. Although I had some concerns with an increase in the gas tax being regressive, it is clear this adjustment will be minor and not burdensome (averaging just a few dollars a year for those who commute by car) and provide a tremendous benefit to our region and our environment.
Here in Montgomery County it is especially important as many of us commute to work in D.C. Not only will these investments improve the travelling conditions for motorists, but it will also invest in and expand our access and ease of use with alternative transportation – including public transportation and an increase in biking and walking paths. On top of that, this funding comes at the right time for the Purple line since it supplies the money it needs to be considered eligible to receive project-funding money from the Federal Transit Administration.
After a multi-year debate, the General Assembly finally passed Governor O’Malley’s Offshore Wind Energy Plan. The new law is a big win for Maryland and the environment. Our state is continuing to propel itself into the twenty-first century with its investment in clean renewable energy. This legislation will not only help Maryland reach its green goal, but it will also create hundreds of new jobs.
While this is a big step in the right direction, there is still more to be done. Two bills regarding the banning of hydraulic fracturing were before the House this session and neither passed. Hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as ‘fracking’ is extremely harmful to the environment and it also poses health risks to human populations through contaminated drinking water. The issues brought up by fracking are not going away, and I will continue to work for the sustainability and health of our environment.
After a multi-year fight, Maryland became the nineteenth state to offer medical marijuana as a potential medical treatment for people with debilitating illnesses. I was a strong supporter of this legislation which will establish a Commission to oversee and fund academic medical centers to regulate the distribution of cannabis to patients who meet their strict criteria.
Death Penalty Repeal
Maryland became the eighteenth state to outlaw the death penalty. Numerous studies have shown us that the death penalty is not only ineffective but it’s also costly to taxpayers. On average, capital punishment trials cost the state $3 million, which is three times more than a trial for a comparable offense seeking life without parole costs the state. Not only is the system costly and ineffective, but our own University of Maryland conducted a study and found the system to be racially biased as well. Here in Maryland we pride ourselves on being fair to all citizens – as can be seen from the marriage equality victory this past election- yet how could we continue to consider ourselves just when we support a system that is decidedly unjust? I am very proud to have been a cosponsor on this legislation.
Delegate Mary Washington and I introduced legislation that would ban the practice of shackling pregnant women who are in detention centers or the state prison. The practice of shackling women in labor is inhumane, and opposed across the board by women’s health advocates and medical professionals. This legislation passed both chambers successfully, however it was amended in the Senate, and the House did not concur with the Senate changes. As a result, we will have to bring the legislation back next year and pass it again for it to become law. Over the interim, we will be meeting with Maryland’s hospitals to ensure their policies do not require this practice.
|Paris Turner gave birth in shackles. Maryland cando better which is why Del. Mary Washington and Iintroduced legislation to ban this practice.|
We also made significant progress in the multi-year battle to safely and responsibly expand birth options in Maryland. Senator Karen Montgomery and I introduced several pieces of legislation to support Maryland’s Nurse-Midwives and Certified Professional Midwives (CPM’s). As a result, the Board of Nursing has agreed to revise regulations on Nurse-Midwives that would allow them to practice more independently in hospitals, clinics, birth centers and at home births. The Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, the Board of Nursing, and the Board of Physicians will be also be working with me and other advocates this summer to determine common ground bill language for the purpose of licensing and regulating home birth CPM’s next legislative session.
This year, the Maryland General Assembly took up a number of different bills related to the working climate for Maryland families. One of the biggest successes this session was the Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnancy legislation, put in by Delegate Hucker. Maryland will now require employers to make accommodations –within reason- for pregnant employees. It’s something that will not only benefit families, but it will also help businesses with retention and employee contentment. Another big win was HB932, sponsored by Delegate Luedtke and Senator Ferguson. This legislation will set up a system within the Department of Education to help parents of children with disabilities find and maintain childcare.
Unfortunately, a number of working family related bills did not pass this session, however they have laid the path for working towards family-friendly policies for future sessions. One of my bills, HB 1331, would have required employers provide six weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child for employees who are not covered by the Family Medical Leave Act – almost 50% of Maryland private-sector workers!-. Although it did not pass this session, we made significant progress on educating my colleagues on this issue, and look forward to broadening and strengthening our coalition of supporters next year.
Sensible Gun Control
Although this session had a multitude of bills which attempted to tackle the issues of firearm safety, none were more controversial than the Governor’s Firearm Safety Act of 2013. As a cosponsor of the legislation, I still took the time to listen to and meet with people on all sides of the issue to make sure that the bill hit its target of reducing gun violence, while still protecting the rights of law-abiding Maryland citizens. I feel that this act does just that.
Under the Governor’s gun control bill, new sales of dangerous military style assault weapons will be banned, new sales of high capacity magazines will be outlawed, and stricter background check requirements will make it more difficult for people with criminal histories or a history of mental illness to purchase a firearm. Firearm purchases will also require finger-printing and full background checks in order to cut down on straw-purchasing, which is when a gun is bought for someone other than the original purchaser usually in relation to illegal activities.
Insurance Coverage for Mental Health and Addictions
I passed two bills this session addressing mental health and substance abuse parity and consumer rights (HB 1216 and HB 1252). Now, under Maryland law, insurers will be required to be assessed in their compliance with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act by the Maryland Insurance Administration. Also, they will also have to make information easily available, in print and online, to consumers about benefits for mental illness, emotional disorders, drug abuse or alcohol abuse. Along with this, the Maryland Insurance Administration will be required to provide consumers specific information regarding their rights under state and federal parity laws.
Thank you again for entrusting me to be one of your voices in Annapolis. If you have any questions about these pieces of legislation, or anything else, please do not hesitate to call or email my office.
Best wishes for a beautiful spring and summer.