April 11, 2014
Thank you for the privilege of representing you as District 16 Delegate to Maryland’s General Assembly. I am proud of the progress we made to advance a strong economy, secure families, and a safe and healthy environment. Here is an overview of the recently concluded 2014 legislative session:
The State Budget
The FY2015 Budget continues our record of making difficult, but smart choices. Although our state's revenues were revised downward, we continued our investment in K-12 education (over $6 billion), expanded access to affordable health care, and avoided cuts to retiree benefits.
Maryland maintains its AAA bond rating status from all three major rating agencies, one of only ten states to hold this coveted rating. We will maintain our top ranking in education by designating $275 million towards school construction and modernizing classrooms as well as additional funding towards higher education facilities. In addition, substantial funds will go to protecting the environment, including preserving the health of the Chesapeake Bay and ensuring safe drinking water.
Giving our children the skills they need to succeed in school is critically important and it starts with access to pre-Kindergarten. I am pleased to report that the Governor’s bill to expand pre-K has passed. This will bring pre-K access to nearly 1,600 Maryland children whose families have incomes at or below 300% of the federal poverty guideline (less than $70,650 for a family of four). However, more work needs to be done in order to achieve universal pre-K across the state. I will continue to support and work for the education of all Maryland children.
In great news for families of children with disabilities, I introduced legislation HB 798 with Senator Rich Madaleno, which passed unanimously. This bill requires schools to give parents of children with disabilities the resources they need to get their insurance to cover medically necessary physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and autism treatment. For more information, visit the Maryland Insurance Administration’s website and review A Parent's Guide to Habilitative Services.
After much debate over school start times and childhood sleep deprivation, HB 883 passed into law. This bill, sponsored by Delegate Aruna Miller, requires a study to be conducted on safe and healthy school hours and will make recommendations as to whether public schools should start before 8:00 am.
I was proud to cast my vote for the Governor’s bill to raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2018. This commonsense policy will add money in the pockets of millions of hard working Marylanders, help them make ends meet and stimulate the economy. While I was disappointed that the increase in the minimum wage did not get tied to inflation nor include tipped workers, we were able to increase the wage for direct support professionals, who provide critical support for those with developmental disabilities.
After years of working tirelessly with my colleagues and a coalition of supporters, I passed my bill, HB 1026 - Parental Leave at Birth or Adoption of a Child. The measure provides workers of businesses with 15-49 employees six weeks of job-protected parental leave and requires employers to maintain an employee's health coverage during the parental leave. This will be a critical protection for the 46% in Maryland's private sector workforce who are not covered by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Since my first day as Delegate, this legislation has been a priority for me. I am so grateful to finally see action towards protecting the jobs of new mothers and fathers.
Unfortunately, legislation which would have enabled workers to earn paid sick days did not make it out of committee. HB 968 - Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act, sponsored by Delegate John Olszewski, would have benefitted the 41% of workers who currently are unable to earn paid sick leave and cannot afford to take time off.
As a state, we must ensure that victims of sexual assault and rape have access to both appropriate medical care when they are admitted to a hospital and a path to justice. Current state policy designates only one hospital in each county for forensic medical exams, putting the burden on victims to get to the "right" hospital. My bill, HB 963 - Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations, passed this session and will change this policy. The bill requires each hospital to establish a protocol for treating rape victims. It also establishes a committee of experts in victim services, emergency medical services, and criminal justice to make recommendations for best practices moving forward.
Last year I wrote to you about a bill Delegate Mary Washington and I introduced to ban the inhumane practice of shackling pregnant women in detention centers or state prisons. This practice is opposed across the board by women’s health advocates and medical professionals. This year, the measure (HB 27) passed into law, making Maryland a leader in human rights.
Although the General Assembly considered a slew of environmental bills this year, a few measures on critical issues did not gain enough momentum to pass. Two bills sponsored by Delegate Shane Robinson - HB 409 and HB 292 - would have prohibited fracking for natural gas and banned the storage or treatment of wastewater from fracking in the state. Unfortunately, both pieces of legislation received unfavorable votes in the House. However, the debate is far from over. A commission established by Governor O'Malley is studying if fracking is possible with minimal risks to public health and the environment. A report will be released in August and I look forward to reviewing the commission’s findings.
I also introduced legislation HB 1191, which required manufacturers to label raw and packaged foods that are made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Similar requirements exist in 64 other countries, but the FDA has refused to act on this issue despite increasing consumer demand for information. Despite my best efforts to push this bill forward, it did not move out of the Health and Government Operations Committee this session. However, raising environmental health issues at the state level increases pressure on the federal government for action.
Unfortunately, a bill which prevents wind turbine construction if the turbines are above a certain height did pass. This legislation negatively impacts our access to renewable energy sources. Although this bill passed, I was proud to join 22 of my colleagues with strong environmental records to vote in opposition of this measure.
Civil Rights & Justice
In the last days of the session, we achieved victories for civil rights. In a dramatic 78-55 vote, the House of Delegates voted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. The possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is now a civil offense punishable by a $100 fine for first-time offenders rather than a criminal offense punishable by arrest and possible jail time. This law reserves our crime prevention resources and will help reduce racial disparities in our criminal justice system.
Additionally, the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, which outlaws discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations for transgender people, became law. For eight years, advocates have been pushing for these protections for transgender Marylanders. As a cosponsor of this legislation, I am proud to have expanded basic civil rights for all Marylanders, regardless of their gender identity.
Throughout the 2014 legislative session, my colleagues and I have heard concerns from many constituents about the inaccuracies and problems with speed cameras in their communities. As a result, the Maryland General Assembly passed HB 929, which reforms the standards and requirements for speed monitoring systems. This legislation requires a speed monitoring system operator to perform daily self-tests of the speed monitoring system. Moreover, local governments must designate an employee to investigate erroneous tickets without mandating the driver to settle it in court.
Three years ago, five-year-old Jake Owen was killed in a car crash by a driver distracted by his cell phone, who never tried to brake, but walked off with only a $1,000 fine. As a result, HB 1212 - Jake’s Law was born to increase the penalties of drivers who are texting and responsible for serious crashes. I was able to vote in favor of this bill, which will be signed by the Governor.
While there is still work to be done, it was a very productive session. I want to thank you again for trusting me to be your voice in Annapolis. If you have any questions about these pieces of legislation, or anything else, please do not hesitate to call my office at (301) 858-3642 or email me at Ariana.Kelly@house.state.md.us.
Best wishes for a beautiful spring and summer.
Delegate Ariana Kelly
Delegate Ariana Kelly with her 2014 legislative staff (from left to right: Katie Mullen, Laurie Chin, Delegate Kelly, Liza Ackerman. Sam Uwahemo is not pictured.)