Montgomery County Delegation Announces 2015 Session Accomplishments for the County

The Montgomery County Delegation

The Montgomery County Delegation

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 14, 2015

ANNAPOLIS – The 32-member Montgomery County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly today announced its 2015 legislative accomplishments for Montgomery County.

Differences over how to reconcile the State’s operating budget dominated conversations during the 90 Day session, with some spending programs level funded and others reduced or eliminated to help create a balanced budget. Overall, State aid directed to Montgomery County will increase by about $14 million, from $715 million to $729 million. Nearly all of this increase is attributed to mandated State funding to support the costs of delivering public K-12 education services in the County’s growing school system.

An additional $17.7 million would have been included in these numbers had the Legislature’s plan to restore full funding for the Geographic Cost of Index (GCEI) been realized before the Session adjourned. The GCEI was included as part of the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act which was enacted in 2002 to help offset the costs of providing education services in higher cost subdivisions. The GCEI is a critical source of funds for the County’s school system, which struggles to keep up with burgeoning enrollment growth and shifting student demographics. If the Governor does not restore full funding for the GCEI this year, legislation passed in the closing hours of the Session will mandate full funding for the program in future years.

On the capital side, the State Delegation obtained passage of a targeted supplemental public school construction grant program that directs additional State capital funds to high growth subdivisions and those utilizing significant numbers of portable classrooms. Based on that criteria and the Delegation’s successful advocacy of advancing funding for the program, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) will be able to access about $6 million in
additional State capital funds this year and into the future. Although final public school construction allocations will not be finalized before May, the Delegation hopes that MCPS will receive at least $46 million this year to help address its critical school capacity issues.

In addition to this major win for the County, the Delegation secured funding for every capital project included on the County’s 2015 Session Priorities list. State capital funds were appropriated for two County libraries, several hospitals located in the County, the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, the Music Center at Strathmore, Montgomery College, the Universities at Shady Grove, the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center, and the Avery Road Treatment Center. The Delegation also directed $2.3 million in State capital grant funding for smaller community projects that support the arts, recreation, and social services.

On the economic development front, a package of bills codifying recommendations of the Maryland Economic Development and Business Climate Commission (“Augustine Commission”) was strongly supported by House and Senate Leadership and the Montgomery County Delegation. These proposals are all geared toward spurring additional economic growth throughout the State while capitalizing on existing assets. One of Maryland’s greatest assets is its high quality public higher education system. Both the operating and capital budgets reflect significant State investment to ensure that our colleges remain affordable, on the cutting edge, and have the physical plants to meet demands.

The State Legislature also took up several tax issues that are important to Montgomery County. Language was included in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act to help local governments and the State in the event the U.S. Supreme Court rules against the State in Wynne v. Comptroller. While taxpayers will receive their refunds as soon as returns are processed, the reimbursement to the State for the local share of taxes will be spread over three years. In addition, the language clarifies that moving forward, the State tax liability must be exhausted before credits are taken against county and municipal income taxes.

Also, a State income tax break for retired military personnel (including the Public Health Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Coast and Geodetic Survey) was doubled for military retirees over the age of 65. Eligible retirees will be able to subtract an additional $5,000 when determining their taxable income.

Turning to health and human services issues, efforts were made to restore cuts that would hurt vulnerable residents and impair the County Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to provide safety net services. Unfortunately, the Session ended without these funds being secured. The Governor could make appropriations to restore funding for core public health, heroin outpatient treatment, community first choice waiver, adult daycare centers, and maternity benefits and family planning. Additional appropriations could be made to the Developmental
Disabilities Administration for crisis resolution services, provider rates, and contracts for community services.

The General Assembly tackled a number of high-profile issues in the public safety arena. Increasing the public’s trust between police departments and Maryland communities was of paramount importance in the adoption of legislation on law enforcement officers’ use of bodyworn cameras (BWC) as well as changes to existing state law on asset forfeiture procedures. Well-structured BWC programs have been shown to have a positive effect on the overall number of use-of-force incidents by police, reduced complaints of officer misconduct, decreased lawsuits, better documentation of crime scenes, and overall improved relations between police and civilians.

Responding to recent unfavorable national news reports on asset forfeiture programs, the Delegation worked to approve several changes to State law on seizure and forfeiture of property in connection with drug-related crimes and other criminal activity. Law enforcement agencies will be subjected to additional reporting requirements that affirm the value of the program’s use against criminal enterprises while addressing potential police abuse of asset forfeiture laws by increasing transparency in the level of seizure and forfeiture activity in the State.

On human trafficking, the Delegation continued to press for legislation that protects the victims of this coercive and violent criminal activity. A measure was adopted to establish a workgroup to study safe harbor policies for youth victims of human trafficking. Public and private sector programs will be evaluated to reveal gaps in services, and data will be collected on the number of youth victims in each jurisdiction in the State. In addition, the Delegation advocated for successful legislation to assert an affirmative defense of duress if the individual committed a
criminal act as a result of being a human trafficking victim.

Improving transportation options and relieving congestion in the D.C. region are always front and center issues for the Montgomery Delegation. This year, the Delegation successfully worked toward the adoption of a bill requiring MDOT to study the utilization of bus, rail and subway systems under WMATA’s jurisdiction every five years. Funding for Maryland’s portion of WMATA is the State’s responsibility and understanding capacity and growth issues is
essential.

This year the Legislature addressed ridesharing operations, such as Uber and Lyft. There will now be clear authority for ridesharing operations to be conducted in Maryland, with oversight provided by the Public Service Commission. The legislation clarifies new rules that will apply addressing insurance, background checks, and other requirements for ridesharing operations.

Several high profile environmental issues also dominated the attention of Delegation members serving on the General Assembly’s environmental committees this year. The controversial stormwater charge mandate that was imposed in 2012 was removed by the General Assembly. In exchange, the legislation increases reporting requirements and strengthens accountability to ensure compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for stormwater remediation.

For several years, opponents to the contentious natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing have sought a ban. Voicing continued concern about potential risks to the environment, several Delegation members co-sponsored successful legislation to prevent permits for fracking until October 1, 2017.

The Delegation supported legislation to increase the annual percentage requirements for solar resources to help meet the State’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard. Despite these efforts, the General Assembly did not increase the requirements this year. The bill did serve to spur awareness and conversation on this emerging issue.

The 2015 Session opened with over 60 new legislators — five of whom were elected from Montgomery County — and a new governor. The accomplishments and work conducted in this first year of the term will likely lay the groundwork for the remaining three years.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:

Melanie Wenger, 240-888-0308 (Montgomery County Office of Intergovernmental Relations)

Sara Hartman, 301-858-3018 (Montgomery County Delegation Administrator)

Montgomery County Delegation website: www.montgomerycountydelegation.com

What we accomplished this session

Dear Friend,

I write from Annapolis following the close of my third legislative session and proud of the work the state legislature accomplished this year. We passed a balanced budget that includes record funding for public schools; invested in renewable energy by passing off-shore wind legislation; improved public safety with stricter gun control measures; expanded early voting; and continued to work on cleaning up one of Maryland’s greatest assets and treasures—the Chesapeake Bay. Indeed, it has been a productive session.

Our primary duty every session is to pass a budget. This year’s plan devoted 83 cents of every general fund dollar to education, health, and public safety, continued funding for programs credited with allowing Maryland to recoup 80% of the jobs lost during the recession, increased local police aid to a 20-year high, formed two new State Trooper classes, and placed more funds in the rainy day reserve to better position our state for federal cuts brought on by sequestration.

One of the most important pieces of legislation we passed repealed the death penalty. I am proud to live in a state that will no longer sanction execution. And I am proud of the tireless work of the organizers who made this victory possible. No longer will we have to worry that an innocent man or woman may be put to death by the state. And no longer will we have to waste money on a practice that has been outlawed by 128 countries.

Another vital bill that passed addressed our aging transportation infrastructure, providing $700 million annually for road and transit projects. Anyone who drives in the area understands the necessity of improving the congestion on our roadways. I am relieved that we finally began the process of investing more in road repair and maintenance.

My bills dealing with hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking”—both stalled in the legislature; however my concerns regarding this process of natural gas extension remain, and my work on this issue will continue. Our wastewater treatment facilities lack the capacity to handle fracking wastewater. Ignoring this problem, and sending the wastewater there regardless, is asking for trouble. What is more, spills have become increasingly common as drilling operations increase nationwide. We have a duty to protect our citizens and waterways from harmful chemicals and I will continue to work to ensure that we fulfill this obligation.

Ultimately, I remain unconvinced that fracking can be conducted safely: Water contamination and seismic activity continue to be frequent side effects of drilling operations. Making matters worse, methane leaks during the fracking process make it at least as big of a climate change contributor as coal. We should be focusing more on incentivizing the development of cleaner technologies rather than pivoting to an increased reliance on another fossil fuel. I will continue to push for our state to dedicate its resources towards researching renewable energy sources.

As a member of the Environmental Matters Committee, I have worked to implement and propose practices that ensure that our natural resources are preserved for the next generation. And so I was proud that the two bills I passed this session will do exactly that: One permanently extends funding for the Chesapeake Conservation Corps—an extremely successful program that furthers Chesapeake Bay conservation efforts; the other creates a workgroup that will research and recommend proposals designed to preserve native plant species and reverse their troubling decline.

Many of you contacted me this session about implementing a statewide spay and neuter program. After working with the task force that developed the bill, it was rewarding to see it pass this session. Over 45,000 animals are euthanized annually in Maryland due to overcrowded shelters. Hopefully, this program will be part of a comprehensive solution to this entirely preventable tragedy.

I was also a proud supporter of a measure to allow qualifying undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license. Our nation was founded by immigrants who came here in search of opportunity. Currently, there are millions of undocumented individuals providing services upon which society relies. Indeed, we are stronger because of our diversity, not in spite of it. And so I will welcome with open arms any new Marylanders who may come as a result of this progressive change. And I will know that we will continue to thrive—both economically and socially—if we legislate in a manner that acknowledges reality rather than ignores it.

I was also proud to vote for a bill that empowers doctors and patients to decide what medicines work best for treating debilitating diseases like cancer and multiple sclerosis. It is simply nonsensical that narcotics—infinitely more easily abused than marijuana—are prescribed daily, while cancer patients are denied a therapeutic respite because elements of our public policy remain based on culture mores from five decades ago. Science has discovered multiple medicinal uses for marijuana, and many researchers feel that removing superfluous impediments to conducting further research will result in countless more. Our passage of a bill legalizing medical marijuana is an important step forward in that regard.

It was a pleasure serving you this year and I look forward to the work that remains next session. As always, please feel free to reach out in the interim and I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Shane

Annapolis Update — 3/19/13

Friend,

Last Friday, we passed a bill that repeals the death penalty.  I am proud to live in a state that will no longer sanction execution, and I would like to thank the organizers whose tireless work made this victory possible. No longer will we have to worry that an innocent man or woman may be put to death by the state.  And no longer will we have to waste money on a practice that has been outlawed by 128 countries.  Maryland is continuing to move forward into the 21st century and be a part of the impetus for progress.

We also passed the budget which now heads to Senate. Here are some highlights:

  • The plan continues record funding for public schools: $6 billion out of the $15.8 billion general fund will be allocated towards continuing us on the path that has resulted in Maryland schools being ranked first in the nation, $300 million of which will be earmarked for school construction. We are also dedicating funds to assure that tuition at state universities and colleges is prevented from increasing exponentially as has been the case in many other states–Maryland has gone from being the 6th costliest state in which to attend a public institution in 2007 to the 27th today.  Overall, public education would receive more funding than any budget to date.
  • In order to position Maryland to overcome the cuts brought on by sequestration, the rainy day reserve will be increased by 15 percent, to $920 million.
  • 83 cents of every general fund dollar would be spent on education, health and public safety.
  • Maryland would retain its Triple A bond rating–a signal to investors that they can remain confident in our fiscal health.
  • Programs credited with allowing Maryland to recoup 80% of the jobs lost during the recession would remain funded.
  • Local police aid would increase to a 20-year high and two new State Trooper classes would be formed (violent crime has decreased 25% in Maryland over the past seven years).
  • Environmental programs that position Maryland at the forefront of the renewable energy revolution would be prioritized.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and encourage you to reach out to my office.

Best,
Shane

Annapolis Update — 1/25/13

Friend,

I want to share some highlights from Governor O’Malley’s budget proposal. Should this budget be adopted:

  • 83 cents of every general fund dollar would be spent on education, health and public safety;
  • Maryland would retain its Triple A bond rating–a signal to investors that they can remain confident in our fiscal health;
  • Public education would receive more funding than any budget to date;
  • College tuition rates would remain steady (Maryland has gone from being the 6th costliest state in which to attend a public institution in 2007 to the 27th today);
  • $336 million would be allocated for school construction and $280 million for public colleges and universities;
  • Programs credited with allowing Maryland to recoup 80% of the jobs lost during the recession would remain funded;
  • Local police aid would increase to a 20-year high and two new State Trooper classes would be formed (violent crime has decreased 25% in Maryland over the past seven years);
  • Environmental programs that position Maryland at the forefront of the renewable energy revolution would be prioritized;
  • $325 million in spending cuts would be implemented.

Indeed, there is a lot to like about Governor O’Malley’s proposal. As the session continues, I will work diligently with my colleagues to ensure that Montgomery County’s priorities are sufficiently funded. I want us to pass a budget that continues to invest in our #1 ranked education system, positions Maryland to lead the clean energy revolution, and keeps us on the path of declining crime rates; Mr. O’Malley’s proposal is a good starting point. As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Best,
Shane

Special Session Update

Friends,

Governor O’Malley recently called a special session of the Maryland General Assembly which drew to a close yesterday afternoon with the passage of the Budget and Reconciliation Financing Act and the revenue bills. Had these bills not passed, $436 million in additional cuts to the state budget would have gone into effect this year. Make no mistake: These pieces of legislation were far from perfect, but the alternative was far worse.

What would have happened had we not acted? $436 million in cuts with the following consequences:

  • Job losses in the private sector. The highly successful $8 million biotechnology research and development tax credit, and the $10.4 million stem cell research program would have both been eliminated; disproportionately and negatively affecting Montgomery County.
  • Job losses in the public sector. Approximately 400 state jobs would have been eliminated, and state employees would have been forced to pay an additional $15 million for healthcare benefits.
  • Potential downgrade of Maryland’s AAA bond rating. Maryland is one of only three states that has maintained a AAA bond rating since the ratings began.
  • A 10-13% increase in college tuition. In Maryland, college tuition is still affordable for middle class families. Keeping higher education affordable is a must if we are to maintain our educated and qualified workforce–a serious economic advantage.
  • A 10% cut in community college funding. Our community colleges are some of the best in the country. Maintaining this affordable option is common sense, and the right thing to do.
  • A $138 million cut in K-12 education funding through the elimination of the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) which is a primary reason Maryland public schools have been ranked number one in the nation four years running.
  • A $20.8 million cut in local law enforcement funding.

The list goes on and on. To help avoid this we raised income taxes on individuals making over $100,000, and families making over $150,000. 84% of Marylanders did not have their taxes increased.

Was this a difficult vote for me? Yes. Do I think I made the right call? Absolutely. In these fiscal times we are faced with profoundly laborious decisions. But in these times we are also left to answer who we want to be as a people, as a community, as a state. When times are tough do we have the will to buckle down and protect our number one ranked school system, the safety of our communities, our investments in the future, our higher education systems, the safety of those most in need? Yesterday shows that we do.

Best,
Shane

Annapolis Update 3/25/11

Guest introductions on the floor

This week in Annapolis:

After a few days of debate, the House passed the budget–97-42– with only one Republican voting in favor. This budget is balanced; fully funds the Thornton education program; protects the future solvency of pensions; and doesn’t raise taxes.

I am proud of the work the House did on this year’s budget; I also feel that, going forward, we should continue to look for creative ways to increase revenue if we are to maintain the country’s highest ranked public education system, improve our infrastructure, put Marylanders back to work, and maintain essential public services.

In other news, I’m proud to report that my bill to protect the private information of senior center members — a bill that was cross-filed by Senator Nancy King — has now passed both the Senate and House. Now, it’s on to the Governor’s desk. Government should be doing what it can to protect vulnerable citizens, and this bill does exactly that. Additionally, working my first bill through the process was a great learning experience.

Further, as we finish up the last few weeks of this year’s legislative session, I’m hopeful that I will have more good news on my other bills–curbing the spread of invasive species, and instituting a regulatory program for bio-diesel. The former unanimously passed the House and is now in the Senate, and the latter made it out of committee and is on the floor in both chambers.

I look forward to continuing to hear from you as the session winds down.

Best,
Shane

By Authority: Friends of Shane Robinson; Mary Robinson, Treasurer.