Looking Back At The Legislative Session

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The 2021 legislative session ended on Monday, April 12, at midnight. This session was like no other given the COVID protocols and restrictions. Though we were to limit the bills we sponsored to only the most important, 817 bills passed. I would like to share with you some of the good, the bad and the ugly actions that were taken, so hang onto your seat … and wallets!

Veto Overrides On Bills Passed In 2020

After the 2020 legislative session, Governor Larry Hogan vetoed two bills that increased taxes: a bill expanding the sales tax to digital streaming services like Netflix and Peloton (House Bill 932 of 2020), and a bill increasing tobacco taxes and taxing digital advertising (House Bill 732 of 2020). He also vetoed the massive Blueprint for Education spending bill that could cost each Maryland household $6,200. Republicans voted against these tax-and-spend bills, but the vetoes were overridden.

The Budget, Tax Relief And Economy

The Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs and Families (RELIEF) Act (Senate Bill 496) was Governor Hogan’s COVID economic recovery proposal that provides more than $1.45 billion in tax relief and economic stimulus for small businesses and families struggling from the economic impact of this pandemic. The bill also provides immediate sales tax credits for small businesses and unemployment tax relief for small businesses. Also, it codifies parts of Hogan’s executive order to calculate the 2021 unemployment tax rate based on the employer’s non-pandemic years.

Operating Budget

Fiscal 2022 Budget Bill and House Bill 589, Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (HB 588): The only action the General Assembly is required to take during the legislative session is to pass a balanced budget. The $54 billion budget enhances the state’s savings accounts by including $1.4 billion in the Rainy Day Fund and nearly a $700 million fund balance in the general fund.

The budget also maintains the governor’s ongoing commitment to education, health care, transportation and the environment. State support for public schools will exceed $7.5 billion. The budget plan provides $371.5 million for community colleges, a 9% increase over Fiscal Year 2021. Unfortunately, the House and Senate have chosen to steadily chip away at the BOOST program, a scholarship that allows low-income children in failing schools to attend a private school of their choice.

Education

The Blueprint 2.0 is a technical companion bill to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. It contains the following provisions. 1) Increases foundational per-pupil funding to address technology needs, including broadband, devices, and information technology (IT) staff. The amount progressively increases per pupil spending through 2033. 2) Immediate access to Judy Center funding (early childhood), which increased from $275,000 to $330,000 per center. 3) Speeds up the timeline for delivery of per-pupil grants for community schools that qualify for a Concentration of Poverty Grant. 4) Eliminates school year 2020-2021 enrollment data from funding formula calculations to account for unusual enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health

Legislation passed that expands telehealth access and medical debt protections. Telehealth connects people with medical care where they are, and a key component is covering an audio-only option for those who don't have internet access - an issue in both urban and rural communities. This legislation helps provide a long-term solution to improving access to care in our state.

Medical Debt Protection (HB 565): This bill prevents hospitals or collection agencies from garnishing the wages of former patients who qualify for free or reduced-cost care as well as prohibits them from placing a lien on the former patient's primary home regardless of their income level.

Sports Betting

Class A licenses will go to casinos, professional sports venues and horse racing facilities. Class B licenses will go to smaller businesses or to any businesses not covered under the other classes. Sports betting proceeds will be taxed at 15% under this legislation.

Retirees

Retirees are important for a robust community. Undoubtedly, retirees deserve a tax cut on their retiree pensions, but our supermajority disagrees. I will continue to put effort behind making the Maryland tax code fairer for seniors. Governor Hogan pushed for the support of the Retirement Tax Reduction Act of 2021 (SB 572), a bill that he requested. Unfortunately, the bill did not even get a vote in committee.

Redistricting/Gerrymandering

Last year, the 2020 census was conducted and will be used to reapportion voters into federal and state districts. The 2020 Census results will be available by September 2021, and the redistricting in Maryland must be completed by early 2022. As you may know, Maryland is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. Although both political parties are at fault, the American people across all aisles want change and restoration of our election process.

Police Reform

Criminal Procedure - Charging Procedures – Citations (HB 445): Allows police officers to issue citations for the possession of controlled dangerous substances (CDS) including cocaine, heroin, fentanyl and other dangerous drugs.

Body-Worn Cameras, Employee Programs and Use of Force (SB 71): Changes the standard for evaluating the reasonableness of police use of force. The bill requires use of body cameras by all county police departments by 2025 (task force to study timeline of use in municipalities). This bill subjects the officer to criticism by a jury of Monday morning quarterbacks and forces officers to endure considerable danger by requiring they reduce the level of force to that proportional to the force used by an assailant and require officers to cease using force before the threat is removed. Governor Hogan vetoed this bill, but it was overridden by the legislature.

Search Warrants and Inspection of Records Relating to Police Misconduct — Anton's Law (SB 178): Requires officers executing a knock and announce warrant to wait for 20 seconds before forcing entry. In addition, the bill makes police officers’ personnel files available for public inspection with respect to administrative discipline and even anonymous complaints (whether or not sustained). This is an unwarranted attack on their privacy and is not done in the case of any other public official, including state legislators. Governor Hogan vetoed this bill, but it was overridden by the legislature.

Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 - Surplus Military Equipment and Investigation of Deaths Caused by Police Officers (SB 600): The bill prohibits police departments from acquiring weaponized surplus military equipment. It did pass but was not vetoed by the governor.

Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 (HB 670): This bill strikes the current so-called Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) and replaces it with a complicated, multi-step system that will involve several boards and appellate processes. It involves civilians (meant to increase community confidence in the policing process) and undermines protection of police officers from retaliatory activism. The bill also extends the state civil liability cap to claims of violation of constitutional rights, more than doubling the cap (from $400,000 to $890,000). Governor Hogan vetoed this bill, but it was overridden by the legislature.

Although I believe that police reform is needed, I think that the legislature has passed measures that are so extreme it will not address the real issues.

These Bills Caught A Lot Of Attention

Dignity Not Detention Act (HB 16): Lawmakers passed a bill to prohibit local jails from entering into agreements that facilitate immigration-related detentions. Reasonable amendments were offered to this bill that would exempt those convicted of violent crimes, including juveniles who murdered police officers (such as the one convicted of murdering Officer Amy Caprio). These were rejected.

Mental Health Access Initiative (SB 41): Alters the minimum age, from 16 years to 12 years, at which a minor has the same capacity as an adult to consent to consultation, diagnosis, and certain treatment of a mental or emotional disorder by a health care provider or clinic without a parent’s consent.

I would love to see an initiative to help parents better support their struggling youth as active members of their child's care plan, while also having easier access to receive their own care. I know many parents who struggle to afford the mental health care they need. Bills like this seem to pit children against their parents and the "state" against the family unit.

Income Tax - Child Tax Credit and Expansion of the Earned Income Credit (SB 218): Extends Maryland’s Earned Income Tax Credit to immigrants who are in this country illegally. The bill passed and became law without the governor’s signature. Republican Caucus members offered numerous amendments to make the bill better by further expanding tax credits for families with developmentally disabled children, provide tax relief to retirees, and to provide assistance to those immigrants who are lawfully present in this state, such as refugees and those with green cards. All of these reasonable amendments were rejected.

As you might imagine, legislators are barraged by lobbyists touting the pros and cons of particular issues, but it is the opinion of my constituents that I truly care about. It is my honor and privilege to serve you as your voice in Annapolis. Please contact me at 410-841-3551 or sid.saab@house.state.md.us if I can be of any help to you or your families.

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