From Del. Kathy Szeliga:
The 2013 Legislative Session was busy with many high-profile issues. More than 2,600 bills were introduced this year. Fortunately, only a fraction of that number actually passed. I’m pleased to provide you with a wrap-up of the 2013 Legislative Session.
The only Constitutional duty of the Maryland General Assembly is to pass a budget. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I spent a great deal of time studying the budget and trying to make it a little better for all Maryland citizens.
For the last seven years, Maryland spending has increased by more than $1 billion per year. As you know, our economy has been suffering over that same time period. Despite the decline of personal income, government spending has continued to increase year after year.
FY 2007- $29.7 Bill
FY 201 – $37.3 Bill
= 25.6% increase in total spending.
House Republicans urged the Governor to be cautious during these uncertain fiscal times. Our proposal reduced the budget by 2%, equal to the same 2% paycheck reduction all Marylanders took on January 1. The proposal was rejected by the Administration and House Democrats, who will continue their spend-and-tax cycle.
Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Aliens
Another controversial issue this session was to grant driver’s licenses to people who are not legally present in the United States. If an applicant has filed income taxes for the last two years in Maryland, or has been a dependent on a Maryland income tax filing, they can get a Maryland Driver’s license. I voted against this bill.
While I am empathetic towards children who have been brought to our country illegally, immigration must be dealt with at the federal level. It is bad public policy to give identification and driving privileges to people who are not here legally and therefore could avoid responsibility for dangerous actions by fleeing our country.
Additionally, there was an amendment offered to the driver’s license bill to require fingerprinting for those undocumented applicants in order to attempt to verify identity. It was rejected virtually along party lines.
Pit bulls: This issue is not settled. Due to a court decision, the Maryland legislature needs to pass a law to clarify who can be held responsible if a dog attacks or bites. Unfortunately, the final version of the bill was terrible. If your family pet were to bite any child 13 and under, you would be held responsible, regardless of whether or not your pet was provoked. The defending pet owner would have to achieve a very high level of proof to be found not guilty. I’m very disappointed that a reasonable agreement could not be reached.
Spay & Neuter of Cats & Dogs A dedicated fund account has been established to take care of spay and neutering of dogs and cats. Currently, animal control costs are funded by state and county general funds. Because of this legislation dog and cat owners will pay about fifty cents per year towards this fund when they buy pet food.
This is a good program and I voted for it. Maryland has euthanized over 45,000 dogs and cats over the last 2 years. This will save the lives of animals.
Most people think that human trafficking only happens in Southeast Asia, not here in Maryland. However, the I-95 corridor and our urban areas, are hosts to human/sex trafficking crimes.
HB 713 establishes procedures for the seizure and forfeiture of property as a result of human trafficking violations. Without this bill, human traffickers can actually continue their criminal operations even if incarcerated. This is a good start to addressing this increasing problem.
I cosponsored this.
Firearm Safety Act of 2013 – The Gun Bill
More than 10,000 emails, calls and letters were sent to me on this bill! It was, by far, the bill that generated the highest amount of interest. Record numbers of people came to testify in the Senate. So many, in fact, that the building had to be shut down! The bill hearing in the House of Delegates lasted until 4:00 AM and allowed about 1500 people to testify in person.
At least 80% of the citizens who weighed in on SB 281 were opposed to the bill. In my area, only a handful of people who supported the bill contacted me.
The tragedy in Newtown and the Colorado movie theater killings give us all great concern. However, if SB 281 had already been law, it would not have stopped these terrible events. Adam Lanza broke numerous laws in the perpetration of his heinous crime spree. SB 281 is a feel-good piece of legislation that only restricts law-abiding citizens and does not adequately address mental health issues – the real cause of these terrible gun crimes.
Those of us who are proponents of the 2nd Amendment spent hours offering common sense amendments, but they were all defeated. I voted against this bill. The final vote on this bill can be found on the MGA website – details below.
SB 281 – More Information:
Read the bill for yourself and also see the voting records on this bill:
There will probably be efforts to bring this bill to the ballot for your vote on November 4, 2014. If you are interested in finding out more information on the petition process, please don’t hesitate to email or contact me.
A very good bill passed this year to help our boating industry and boaters. SB 90 limits the excise tax on boats to $15,000. Additionally, the bill will commit part of the proceeds of this tax to the waterway improvement fund. This bill will help our boating industry by making Maryland more competitive with our neighboring states.
O’Malley’s 20 cent Gas Tax Increase
Gas Tax – goes up 20 cents per gallon with auto-pilot increases forever
The gas tax bill was introduced late in Session and rushed through the Legislature. The complicated legislation restructures the taxing methods for gas and includes even more studies on mass transit.
Most egregious of all is the provision to automatically increase the gas tax annually. The gas tax is now tied to an automatic inflator: the Consumer Price Index. A tax that automatically increases without making elected officials take a vote is tyrannical. It eliminates a core component of democracy: lawmakers’ accountability to our citizens each and every time they want to raise taxes.
Current transportation spending dedicates 49% to mass transit and only 28% for roads and highways. Less than 9% of our population uses mass transit. If the leadership in Annapolis would realign spending priorities to roads and highways, we would not need a tax increase. I voted against the gas tax.
The vast majority of people who weighed in on the gas tax issue were against raising the gas tax. I thought you would like to know who advocated FOR a gas tax increase: the League of Women’s Voters of Maryland, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club, 1000 Friends of Maryland and a few Chamber of Commerce groups out of Montgomery County.
What does the gas tax mean for you and your family?
Year – MD tax – Fed tax – Total Tax/gal
Current – 23.5 – 18.4 – 41.9
2013 – 27.4 – 18.4 – 45.8
2014 – 31.6 – 18.4 – 50.0
2015 – 39.5 – 18.4 – 57.9
2016 – 44.1 – 18.4 – 62.5
Annual increases continue forever adjusted July 1 of each year. You will be paying at least 62.5 cents per gallon in taxes by 2016. Diesel fuel is higher – most goods are transported by diesel fueled trucks. There is also an increase in the annual vehicle registration fee surcharge from $13.50 to $17.00. This fee and increase is dedicated to Shock Trauma and Emergency services.
Part of the gas tax package included a Transportation Trust Fund lock box. The lock box bill passed as a Constitutional Amendment. It was not as tight or as good as it should have been. It will require a super-majority of votes in the House and Senate to take money out of the TTF. I reluctantly voted for this bill because I don’t think it’s strict enough, but it is better than what we have now. This Constitutional Amendment will be on the ballot November 4, 2014.
A new law was passed that makes using a cell phone in the travel portion of the roadway a primary offense. Although now a primary offense, you will not get any points on your license, but you will get escalating fines. Previously, using your cell phone was a secondary offense, but you could be pulled over for driving erratically (not paying attention). I voted against this bill because I did not think it was necessary.
Maryland continues to have an excellent education system in most jurisdictions. Funding for schools has risen dramatically over the last ten years. The chart below illustrates the current spending per pupil. These amounts do not include the funds spent on capital projects (buildings, fields, etc.).
#1. Baltimore City $16,879 -pupil
#4. Montgomery Co $15,467 – pupil
#10. Baltimore Co $13,677 – pupil
#19. Harford Co $12,924 – pupil
#21. Cecil Co $12,666 – pupil
#24. Queen Anne’s $11,996 – pupil
PTA sales tax HB 232 is a good, corrective bill to exempt PTAs from charging sales tax. Sales by PTAs are minimal and the record keeping is onerous for the couple of times a year that PTAs hold fundraisers. I voted for this bill and it passed.
As a pro-life legislator who believes in the sanctity of every life, I have grappled deeply with this issue. However, I am also dedicated to protecting society from people who have no regard for the life of others.
In 2009, Maryland passed a law to limit the death penalty to 1st degree murder cases with a very high threshold of evidence. These changes all but guarantee that an innocent person will not be wrongly convicted. Additionally, our current Governor has enacted a moratorium on the death penalty because he has not sought that action.
The death penalty repeal bill passed this year. I voted against the measure, along with 55 other members of the House of Delegates. I believe the only way to truly protect the public, corrections officers, and even other inmates is to keep the death penalty available in limited situations.
Retirement Income There was a great bill passed this year to expand the existing military retirement income tax subtraction modification for individuals over the age of 65. Retirement income excluded from Maryland adjusted gross income is increased from $5,000 to $10,000. The bill applies to tax years 2015 and beyond.
I voted yes.
Veterans’ Employment As an Army brat who moved every two years as a child, I was thrilled to see HB 225, Veterans Full Employment Act of 2013, pass. This measure will help our military members and their spouses have easier access to converting their professional licenses in Maryland. My mom was a teacher and each new school system she taught in would bring new certification hurdles. This is good public policy.
I voted for this bill.
If you and your family would like to visit Annapolis, especially during our 90 Day Legislative Session (January through April), I would be delighted to arrange a tour for you. Maryland’s State House is the oldest continually used state house building in our nation!
It is truly my honor and privilege to represent you in the Maryland House of Delegates. Your thoughts and views are very important to me. I’m grateful for the many people who take the time to call, email, and talk to me out in the community. This year, I had over 10,000 contacts with my office!
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can ever be of assistance to you and your family.
Delegate Kathy Szeliga