From State Sen. J.B. Jennings:
END OF SESSION 2017 – WRAP UP
Last week, the 437th session of the Maryland General Assembly concluded. In total, over 3,000 bills covering a wide array of topics were introduced in the House and Senate, hundreds of which passed both chambers and headed to the Governor’s desk for consideration. Every bill has the potential to affect the lives of all Marylanders, I am proud to serve as your representative in Annapolis.
Session started on a positive note when the Governor unveiled his budget for FY’18. For the third straight year, Governor Hogan presented a balanced, fiscally responsible budget that calls for common sense, bipartisan budget reforms and ensures that the state’s priorities are fully funded without raising taxes. Other highlights include:
– A record $6.4 billion investment in education, including K-12, the University System of Maryland, community colleges and tuition relief. Two-thirds of the capital budget will go toward school construction projects.
– Investments in law enforcement services, such as the Maryland State Police vehicle replacement program, and an increase in funding for the Department of Natural Resources which will allow for the addition of more law enforcement officers.
– $51 million toward the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund.
– A commitment to holding the line on unsustainable spending and reigning in borrowing. Governor Hogan’s plan to limit debt to $995 million per year will result in cumulative debt service savings of $694 million by 2026.
Because of the previous administration’s egregious spending tactics, next year the state will be forced to spend more on debt service payments than school construction. This is completely unacceptable. For the first time since I’ve been a legislator in Annapolis, a Governor has submitted an operating budget that is lower than the previous year’s. I want to commend Governor Hogan for reducing Maryland’s spending while fully funding its educational needs.
Following is a synopsis of legislation that was introduced this year and may be of interest to you:
Sanctuary State Bill (HB 1362) – In what I consider to be the worst bill to make it out of the House of Delegates this session, HB 1362 would have made Maryland a Sanctuary State. Under this bill, ALL police officers and Sheriff’s Deputies in Maryland may not, during the performance of regular police functions, inquire about an individual’s immigration status, citizenship status, or place of birth during a stop, search, or arrest; transfer an individual to federal immigration authorities unless required by federal law; and, without a judicial warrant, transfer an individual to federal immigration authorities for purposes of immigration enforcement, detain an individual solely for the purposes of immigration enforcement, or notify federal immigration authorities of an individual’s location or address. I’m happy to report, however, that this bill died with just days to spare when its sponsor realized there weren’t enough votes to pass it. This victory wouldn’t have been possible without the public’s support through petitions and phone calls to legislators. Thank you for your help!
The Maryland Defense Act of 2017 (SJ5) – Senate Democrats rushed to pass legislation this year to give Maryland’s Attorney General unlimited power to file any suit against the Trump Administration, then subsequently granted the Attorney General a $1 million per year stipend under HB 913, so he can hire a team of lawyers whose full time job would be to undermine the President. A short-sided strategy that may ultimately jeopardize federal funding for environmental cleanup, infrastructure needs, Medicaid funding, and maintenance of federal facilities like NIH and Fort Meade that employ thousands of Marylanders. This is shameless, partisan politics that does nothing to benefit the lives of our citizens, but rather pacify politicians who are angry that Trump won the election – all at taxpayers’ expense. It’s time my colleagues on the other side of the aisle put the needs of Maryland before their need for petty political grandstanding.
Paid Sick Leave Bill (HB 0001) – The General Assembly passed the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act despite many efforts to defeat it. The bill, which states that businesses with more than 14 employees are required to provide five days of paid sick leave per year, will impede job growth in Maryland and stop businesses from creating additional jobs. There are approximately 20,000 small businesses in the State with at least 15 employees; we cannot expect them to continue to have a positive influence on the economy while simultaneously demanding that they meet unrealistic and expensive demands.
Redistricting Reform (SB 1023) – Efforts to create a nonpartisan commission to draw congressional and legislative boundaries was once again rejected by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly. In its place, SB 1023, without any Republican support, passed the General Assembly. In this bill, Maryland’s redrawing of congressional boundaries is contingent on the agreement of a Mid-Atlantic regional coalition with New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. Simply put, there is no correlation between how Maryland draws its congressional districts and these five other states. SB 1023 was a way for Democrats to say they passed redistricting reform without actually doing anything to fix the problem. Despite several amendments offered by Republicans, SB 1023 passed the Maryland General Assembly and is now awaiting final approval from the Governor.
Generic Drug Price Gouging (HB 631) – Concerns about the high cost of prescription drugs, including some significant price increases for generic drugs, have prompted calls for action to lower prescription drug costs. This bill prohibits a prescription drug manufacturer or wholesale prescription drug distributor from engaging in “price gouging” in the sale of an “essential off-patent or generic drug.” It also states that Medicaid must notify the Maryland Attorney General when specified price increases occur; the AG may require a manufacturer or wholesale distributor to produce any records or documents relevant to determining if price gouging has occurred. Price gouging is a serious issue, one that I believe needed to be addressed.
Fracking Ban (HB 1325) – Maryland has become the third state in the nation to ban fracking, while neighboring states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia continue to experience an economic resurgence from the drilling method. The fracking ban will have a meaningful adverse impact on small businesses, particularly in Western Maryland, that are engaged in providing services related to hydraulic fracturing and the development of natural gas resources. The fracking ban received a lot of attention among voters on both sides of the issue; after much debate in both the House and Senate, this bill passed both chambers and was signed into law by the Governor.
2016 Transportation Scoring Bill (HB 1013) – This 2016 bill was vetoed by the Governor and unfortunately was overridden by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly in this legislative session. Also known by opponents as “the road kill bill,” this bill required the State to rank highway and transit plans in order of need and importance before deciding which project to fund. This legislation favored big transit rail projects over road projects, and urban area needs over rural and suburban transportation needs. It jeopardized funding for almost all of Maryland’s major transportation projects, and ultimately will force the State to cancel nearly $1 billion in planned road projects.
Campus Carry Bill (HB 159) – This bill was yet another attempt to infringe on your Second Amendment rights. Fortunately, the General Assembly failed to pass the ban of firearms from Maryland college campuses as they could not agree on whether to make the violation a civil or criminal offense. Essentially, this was a “do nothing” bill which eroded the rights of individuals who already had a “right to carry” permit.
Protect our Schools Act of 2017 (HB 978) – This bill was introduced by Democratic lawmakers, and its purpose is to specify which measures could be considered when determining a school’s quality, such as class size and access to Advanced Placement classes. Student testing is prohibited from being one of those measures. The bill also restricts the state’s ability to intervene in failing schools. It would prohibit the state from converting them into charter schools, giving the students vouchers to transfer to private schools, or bringing in private managers for the schools, all of which Governor Hogan favors. The Governor vetoed this bill, but it was overridden by both chambers and will become law on July 1, 2017.
Less Testing, More Learning Act (SB 452/HB 461) – The Maryland General Assembly unanimously adopted limiting mandated testing throughout the school year. I co-sponsored this legislation, which limits schools from spending more than 2% of classroom time on testing mandated by federal, state and local entities. The bill also repeals the requirement for statewide social studies assessments in middle and high school. Instead, beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, each local board of education would be required to develop a locally designed and implemented performance-based social studies assessment.
Maryland Veterans Service Animal Program (SB 441) – I proudly co-sponsored this bill, to establish the Maryland Veterans Service Animal Program. The program will pair physically and mentally wounded veterans with service or support dogs, who provide assistance, companionship and help in adjusting to life after war. These dogs have been trained to be familiar with and sensitive to all symptoms and behaviors of PTSD. To be eligible for this program, Veterans must be Maryland residents, must have served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces and been honorably discharged. I’m happy to say that this bill passed unanimously in both chambers and is awaiting final approval by the Governor.
Child Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations Extension (SB 505/HB 642) – There was a victory for child sex abuse victims this year in Annapolis. Both the Senate and House approved this bill unanimously to allow victims who were sexually abused as children to file lawsuits until they are 38 years old – 13 years later than the current law allows. For victims up to age 25, the bill allows courts to award damages against institutions that employ or supervise abusers if negligence is proven. For older victims, the bill requires gross negligence to be proven in order to award damages. On April 4, 2017, this bill was approved by the Governor.
Septic Systems (SB 266) – Democrats attempted to reinstate an expensive 2012 regulation that Governor Hogan repealed in 2016. It would have unnecessarily expanded the required use of Best Available Technology (BAT) for septic systems in new home constructions outside of critical Chesapeake Bay Watershed areas. BAT systems cost $8,000 to $10,000 more than conventional septic systems, which puts an unfair burden on those seeking to build homes outside of critical bay areas. Fortunately, the bill failed to pass the General Assembly.
Oyster Harvesting (HB 924) – This bill prohibits the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) from making changes to the boundaries of established oyster sanctuaries until the department has developed a fisheries management plan for the scientific management of the oyster stock following the completion of its reports (the final report is due by December 1, 2018). This legislation prevents the watermen of the Eastern Shore, who rely on oyster harvesting to support their families and will now have to wait at least two years to access these sanctuaries. It was strongly opposed by many Republicans but ultimately passed both chambers and is now law.
Public Integrity Act of 2017 (HB 879) – Our current system needs to be reformed – we’ve seen government officials accept cash bribes for votes, actively advocate for legislation which would result in personal financial gain, and use their position of power to lobby other state officials for personal enrichment. This bill places common sense restrictions on both the executive and legislative branches to eliminate unacceptable conflicts of interest. This proposal will prevent legislators from pushing legislation which would directly help themselves, their employer or a company they own. This bill passed the both chambers unanimously and is awaiting final approval by the Governor.
Opioid Crisis (SB 539) – According to a 2016 report of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), drug and alcohol-related intoxication deaths in Maryland increased for the fifth year in a row in 2015; of which, 86% were opioid-related. This legislation prohibits a person from knowingly distributing or possessing with the intent to distribute a mixture of controlled dangerous substances that contains heroin and a detectable amount of fentanyl or any analogue of fentanyl. Any violation is a felony and, in addition to any other penalty imposed, is subject to imprisonment for up to 10 years. I proudly co-sponsored this emergency legislation that passed the General Assembly with bi-partisan support.
Maryland Farm and Families Act of 2017 (SB 278/HB 586) – The Maryland Farms and Families Act creates a $500,000 general fund appropriated grant program through the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The grant money is allocated to small business farmers who participate in farmers markets and accept federal nutrition benefits. The purpose of the program is to double the purchasing power of food-insecure Maryland residents with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and to increase revenue for farmers at Maryland farmers markets. This bill that will benefit farm families received unanimous support by both chambers and is awaiting final approval by the Governor.
Right to Try Act of 2017 (SB 572/HB584) – I proudly supported this legislation from the start. This bill, which passed both chambers unanimously, sets the foundation to nullify Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rules that deny access to experimental treatments by terminally ill patients. It creates a process to bypass FDA restrictions and allow patients to obtain experimental drugs from manufacturers without first obtaining FDA approval. The proposed law also includes protections for healthcare providers with a prohibition against revoking a license or issuing sanctions based on recommendation or issuance of investigational treatments. In addition, lawsuits against physicians who comply with terms specified in the bill would be prohibited.
Guinness Brewery in Baltimore County (HB 1283) – The Maryland General Assembly passed legislation that would allow a Guinness Brewery to open in Baltimore County. The $50 million brewery and taproom will be housed in the former Seagram’s bottling plant on Route 1 near Relay. It will be Guinness’ only U.S. brewery, and the facility is expected to draw 250,000 visitors in its first year, making it the county’s largest tourism destination. I’m proud to have voted for this bill, which will provide a much-needed economic boost to eastern Baltimore County through jobs and tourism dollars.
Medical Marijuana (HB1443) – An emergency bill to reform Maryland’s Medical Marijuana Commission failed in its final moments of the legislative session. I have always supported medical marijuana, however this legislation added additional licenses to select individuals. I think this is wrong to bypass the permitting process and use legislation to benefit particular individuals.
Again, these bills are just a sampling of the thousands that were introduced this year. With each session there are victories and there are losses, but rest assured that every vote I cast is with Maryland’s – and your family’s – best interests in mind.
So many of you have called, written, posted on social media, and even visited Annapolis to either voice your support or express your concern for any number of issues facing our great State of Maryland. Thank you for being engaged, and please continue to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. Your feedback is very important to me, and helps me represent your interests to the best of my ability in Annapolis.
Senator J.B. Jennings