Viewpoints

ANNAPOLIS 2019: MARYLAND IS A BETTER PLACE

5/13/19
| By: Jim Franke

For 90 days, 141 Delegates and 47 Senators considered 2,497 bills and resolutions in Annapolis. Each bill gets a hearing in a Committee. About a third of bills are presented to the Governor for final approval or a veto. Most bills never see the light of day in the news because they are minor technical changes, bills for a specific jurisdiction, or other updates to the laws. Some 90% of passed bills pass with near unanimous votes.

Unless already “enacted” these bills await the Governor’s approval or veto. However, the following bills passed with veto-proof majorities:

The Education Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (SB1030) will transform the State’s education system based on the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. It is a $255 million down payment on game changing reforms for Maryland schools.

Local boards of education can now choose the start and end dates for the school year – before or after Labor Day starts. (SB128) Local boards of education need flexibility to craft a school calendar that meets the specific needs of that jurisdiction.  Enacted.

A major pollutant of the Bay is expanded polystyrene, a foam-like substance commonly used in takeout containers. Marine animals often mistake this toxic microplastic for food and ingest it, leading to illness and death. HB109 is a statewide ban on polystyrene food service products. If the Governor signs the bill into law, Maryland will become the first state in the country to ban foam food containers

Significant public investments have been made in large-scale restoration of oyster sanctuaries. A bill (HB298) introduced by the late Speaker Michael Busch will protect those investments by making them off limits to oyster harvesting in perpetuity. These oyster sanctuaries serve as nurseries that send larvae throughout the Bay, incubate disease resistance, and provide complex habitat that is not provided by harvested reefs. Enacted.

The General Assembly passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2019 (SB516). If signed into law, the bill will require that half of the state’s electricity must come from renewable sources—such as wind, solar and hydroelectric—by 2030. The bill also sets up a study to evaluate how to eventually get the state to 100 percent renewable energy. This legislation will create green jobs while reducing our state’s dependence on fossil fuels.

The minimum wage bill (HB166) will increase today’s $10.10 to $15.00 by 2025 (or 2026 if less than 15 employees). 22% of our State’s workforce – more than 573,000 working Marylanders – would get a pay raise. The same week the Bank of America announced it was increasing its minimum wage of $15 to $20 by 2021. Enacted.

A priority bill (HB1169) of the Legislative Black Caucus, will ban retailers from selling a tobacco product to anyone under the age of 21 and requires retailers to post this age restriction in their stores.  

A bipartisan bill (HB697) protects Marylanders with pre-existing conditions in the event that the Supreme Court overturns protections provided in the Affordable Care Act.

Another bipartisan bill (HB814) establishes Maryland’s Easy Enrollment Health Program; a simple, seamless system for enrolling uninsured Marylanders into free or low-cost health insurance coverage by adding a checkbox on state income tax returns. This allows the state health exchange determine eligibility for free or low-cost health insurance. The program is expected to identify about 50,000 people eligible for Medicaid.

HB768 will establish a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to protect residents from unreasonably high drug prices.

HB652 will prohibit the administration of antibiotics to cattle, swine, or poultry, except when prescribed by a licensed veterinarian to treat disease.

HB286 allows an individual, on Election Day, to appear at a precinct polling place in the individual’s county of residence and apply to register to vote.

The childcare tax credit bill (HB810) will help working parents by expanding the income eligibility. Single filers making up to $92,000 per year, and married filers making $143,000 per year are eligible. 110,000 more people can use this credit.

To see more details of any bill – votes, costs, explanation of the bills – go to http://mgaleg.maryland.gov and fill in the bill number in the box.

Jim Franke is a member of the Talbot County Democratic Forum (demforum.com). Over 12 years he has been a legislative aide to delegates Heather Mizeur, Shane Robinson, and recently Vaughan Stewart. He writes from Easton.

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