Issues Update - May 2008
Wrap-up – What matters to you?
I am pleased to report to Howard County citizens some of my achievements in Annapolis. The efforts of my work, as well as the Howard County Delegation and the County Executive have resulted in increased resources that will benefit our entire community. Please note: Underlined bill numbers will link you to internet information for those bills. A more detailed summary of the session can be found in the “90 Day Report” at: http://mlis.state.md.us/2008rs/90-day-report/index.htm. The following are some of our successes:
Education - This year’s budget (SB 90) continues the funding increase for K-12 educational excellence by $184 million. For the first time, monies are budgeted for the Geographic Cost of Education Index to address cost differences among school systems. In addition, the Capital Budget, (SB 150) funds a record sum of $333 million for school construction and renovation so our children can study in an environment supportive of learning.
Higher Education Tuition Freeze – After record tuition hikes at state colleges and universities under the previous administration, the Legislature again froze tuition at state schools for a third year. The Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education, HB 133 is working to find solutions to make higher education affordable for the average family.
Prescription Drugs for Seniors -- HB 1492 / SB 906 requires CareFirst to provide $4.0 million annually to the Senior Prescription Drug Assistance Program to subsidize low income seniors who have reached “the donut hole” in Medicare Part D.
Expansion of Coverage – HB 1587 / SB 974 changes the assessment on hospitals to bring to Maryland millions more in matching federal dollars. SB 6 of the Special Session will expand coverage to 100,000 uninsured Marylanders. This is intended to reduce the cost shifted subsidy of $400 that we all pay as part of our insurance premium to treat the uninsured. HB 1391 establishes an outreach program to the parents of 90,000 uninsured children who qualify for public health insurance programs and have not taken advantage of them. This is modeled after Healthy Howard.
Medical Decisions for Domestic Partners – SB 566 offers medical decision-making and visitation privileges to approximately 110,000 unmarried partners, about 100,000 being opposite sex couples and 10,000 same sex couples.
DNA Collection – HB 370 / SB 211 will allow the collection of DNA from people accused of violent crimes before they are convicted of the crime. Many additional amendments were added to the bill on the floor of the House, to address the concerns voiced by many citizens regarding civil liberty infringement.
Chesapeake Bay – HB 1253 / SB 844 requires a 200 foot setback for new subdivisions in especially sensitive areas and enhances penalties for developers who violate the law. Through the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, the state will spend $149 million – an increase of 64% -- on nutrient removal, septic system upgrades and sewer rehabilitation to reduce the amount of nitrogen pollution entering the Bay. The budget also includes $25 million for the Chesapeake Bay 2010 Trust Fund to expedite pollution reduction in the Chesapeake Watershed promoting a cleaner and healthier environment for all Marylanders.
Energy Conservation – HB 374 / SB 205 establishes the State goal of achieving a 15% reduction in per capita electricity consumption and peak demand by the end of 2015. It will require that each power company establish conservation programs to reduce energy consumption. State regulations must be written to govern the conservation programs, proposed programs must come before the Public Service Commission for approval, and annual reports to the state on the progress to reduce energy consumption must be made. This bill is necessary to prevent the system wide rolling brownouts throughout Maryland which have been predicted to occur by 2011 if the energy consumption in the state is not decreased.
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Mortgage Reform – The legislature passed a series of bills (HB 360 / SB 217, HB 361 / SB 218, HB 365 / SB 216) which toughen the oversight of the mortgage-lending industry and establish preemptive measures to help homeowners at risk of foreclosure.
Energy – HB 1626 / SB 1013 approves the state's settlement with Constellation Energy Group, which includes a one-time $170 rebate to 1.1 million BGE customers totaling $187 million. It also eliminates the $1.5 billion consumer obligation for the cost of decommissioning Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in the future.
Computer Service Sales Tax Repeal – HB 196, sponsored by Delegate Pendergrass and co-sponsored by Delegates Guzzone and Turner along with bipartisan support from over half the members of the House, would have repealed the Computer Service Sales tax passed during the Special Session. Although HB 196 was not passed, SB 46 which repeals the Computer Service Sales tax and substitutes a surtax on millionaires, a reduction in the Transportation trust fund, and an additional $50 million in cuts to the budget, was passed.
Healthy Howard - HB 872 / SB 852, sponsored by Delegate Pendergrass and co-sponsored by Senator Robey and Delegates Guzzone and Turner, is enabling legislation that will allow the Healthy Howard program to provide a public-private program to provide access to health care for uninsured Howard County residents.