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

Montgomery County’s Priorities for the 2015 Session

As the Chair of the Montgomery County House Delegation, Montgomery County’s Priorities are my priorities. Below is a list of the County’s priorities. You can also find them on the Montgomery County Office of Intergovernmental Relations website.

Montgomery County’s Priorities for the 2015 Session

  1. Public School Construction
    Montgomery County continues to seek supplementary funding from the State to address critical capacity needs across the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). Today’s enrollment of 154,230 is expected to grow to more than 165,300 by 2020. Between 2007 and
    2020, enrollment will have increased by more than 27,600 – more growth than that of Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick, and Baltimore Counties combined. This enrollment growth, coupled with maintenance needs in older schools, is placing enormous pressures on MCPS
    facilities. Montgomery County continues to provide substantial financial support for its school construction program; but, it cannot keep pace. In order to break the logjam of projects, the State needs to provide the County with a steady source of funds over and above
    the amounts it has traditionally allocated for MCPS school construction projects. (See Attachment 1 for listing of MCPS projects).
  2. Transportation
    The State must be a full partner in investing in Montgomery County’s transportation infrastructure to create transportation capacity necessary for reducing congestion and supporting job creation objectives. The Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway remain at the top of the County’s long list of priority transportation projects. (See Attachment 2 for listing of transportation priorities).
  3. Montgomery County Businesses
    Montgomery County must establish an active partnership with the State to unlock the County’s potential as a leader in biotech, cybersecurity, and health IT supported by a diverse economic base, state-of-the-art transit and digital networks, a ready and able workforce, and a business-friendly regulatory and tax climate.
  4. Health Care
    Because the State actively embraced the Affordable Care Act, 55,000 residents of Montgomery County that were previously uninsured now have access to quality health and behavioral health services. The County is also working on improving health access, building networks, and being innovative. The State must continue to support full implementation of the law in order for the County to maintain this momentum.
  5. Other Capital Projects
    • Libraries – $1.5 million to help underwrite the costs of capital maintenance projects at Aspen Hill (Rockville), Davis (Bethesda), and Little Falls (Bethesda)
    • National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence – $2 million to complete renovations
    • Music Center at Strathmore – $833,000 to help underwrite capital improvement costs
    • Avery Road Treatment Center – $140,000 to complete the planning phase for full replacement of this substance abuse treatment and detox facility serving suburban Maryland counties
    • Montgomery College, Germantown Campus – $15.4 million to renovate the Science and Applied Studies building
    • Universities at Shady Grove – $6 million to complete design of the Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Educational Facility. The $20 million parking garage funded by Montgomery County to help support the new facility is under construction.

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

Debating the Maryland Highway Safety Act of 2013

Earlier today, the Maryland Highway Safety Act of 2013–which would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a special class of driver’s license–passed the House of Delegates 82-56. I was a proud supporter of the measure: Our nation was founded by immigrants who came here in search of opportunity, and this bill continues our proud history of providing hope to the less fortunate. But what I was far from proud of was the choice some of my colleagues made in utilizing the politics of fear in an attempt to encourage others to join the opposition.

Immigration is part of the fuel for our economy: There are millions of undocumented immigrants providing services upon which our society relies. Indeed, we are stronger because of our diversity, not in spite of it. Some of my colleagues feel differently. And that is OK. They are here to represent their constituents, and opposing views are necessary for a healthy democracy. But what is not OK, what is downright deplorable, is reverting to jingoistic rhetoric that seeks to divide rather than unite. Referring to immigrants as “those people”–inferring that they are somehow inherently inferior–is a tactic that might have been acceptable to some a century ago, but has no place in today’s world. We are better than that. And, thankfully, our laws will now reflect that fact more accurately.

In the long arc of history all of our ancestors came here recently. I will proudly welcome with open arms any new Marylanders who may come as a result of these progressive changes. And I will know that we will continue to thrive, both economically and socially, if we legislate in a manner that acknowledges these realities.

Sincerely,
Shane

Annapolis Update — 3/7/13

Friend,

This week, the administration proposed a $3.1 billion transportation funding bill to address road congestion, aging infrastructure and job creation. It is no secret that our state is plagued by some of the nation’s worst traffic. Decreasing the time we spend on the road not only benefits our quality of life, but our economy as well. This plan will provide $700 million annually for road and transit projects through a phased-in 4% gas tax. This approach allows us to maintain funding for public safety, schools and other vital services, unlike Virginia’s recently passed transportation plan that instituted significant cuts. What is more, there will be no tax on hybrid or electric vehicles (another tactic utilized by Virginia). We need to incentivize consumers to seek out cleaner transportation, not discourage them. Furthermore, the majority of our roadways are aging. The longer we wait to address this unfortunate truth the more expensive and burdensome it will be.

In other news, the death penalty repeal bill has passed the Senate and will likely be on the House floor next week. I look forward to voting in favor of repeal and hope we will be sending the bill Governor O’Malley’s desk.

Lastly, my bill to ban fracking failed to make it out of committee in the Senate so I decided to withdraw the bill in the House. However, the hearing on my legislation to prevent fracking wastewater storage in Maryland will be held tomorrow. Our treatment facilities lack the capacity to handle this toxic waste. Ignoring this problem and sending 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. This bill would do exactly that.

Sincerely,
Shane

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