April 13, 2016 5:58 pm ET
Senator gives update on 2016 session
The following Op-Ed piece was received from Senator Johnny Ray Salling.
It is published as written.
The Job of Changing Maryland Is Still Ongoing
During the 436th General Assembly, there were 2,817 bills introduced and 834 bills approved.
The Governor’s $42 billion budget was approved without any legislative fighting. Few members can remember such smooth sailing for a governor’s budget. The good news is NO NEW TAXES are imposed and the BUDGET IS BALANCED! In fact, the Governor’s did not spend all the money the state had on hand. The money on hand exceeds budget spending by $139 million. The Affordability Committee told the Governor to hold spending growth to 4.85%, and Governor Hogan did better than that — he held spending growth to 4.6%. The BUDGET SURPLUS is over $400 million. Revenue in the RAINY DAY FUND exceeds $1 billion. Our commitment to our PUBLIC SCHOOLS was increased 2.7% to $6.3 billion. $1 billion capital budget, INCLUDING $280 MILLION FOR SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION STATEWIDE was approved.
THE TRANSPORTATION SCORING BILL was vetoed by Governor Hogan. However, the General Assembly overrode his veto. The new law will require the state to rate transportation highway and transit plans before deciding which ones would be funded. The criteria that would be considered in rating projects would include: cost effectiveness, safety and security, as well as the number of people that would be affected by the project. The Governor would be able to choose a lower-ranked project, but would have to explain and justify his choice. Those who supported the bill claimed it would bring transparency and clarity to the process of choosing projects. Frankly, I don’t believe that. I think it was a pure and simple power grab to dilute the Governor’s authority to determine which transportation projects would get funded and which wouldn’t get funded. What inspired and pushed the transportation scoring bill was the Governor’s decision to junk the Red Line Rail for Baltimore City and put a higher priority on highway projects than rail projects.
An INDEPENDENT POLICE COMMISSION was approved. The Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission will have a wide range of authority to establish uniform standards for hiring, training, punishing and helping officers. The creation of the independent commission was a direct response to the Baltimore rioting over the death of Freddie Gray. The joint legislative Public Safety and Policing Workgroup was appointed in May 2015 to examine police training resources recruiting and hiring practices, as well as community engagement policies. The Commission will have a statewide oversight role in some types of investigations.
Legislation to regulate FANTASY SPORTS was rejected. I’m sure the issue will be on the agenda for 2017. One of the bills would have regulated fantasy sports and the other would have put the question before the voters on referendum in November 2016.
A bill to provide $5 MILLION IN SCHOLARSHIP GRANTS TO STUDENTS FROM LOW-INCOME FAMILIES was approved. The program was created in lieu of the bill to provide tax credits to businesses that contribute to scholarships for children at private schools. Known as the Boast Bill, it had been unsuccessfully introduced for the past ten years and supported for the past two years by Governor Hogan.
TAX RELIEF was approved. The Earned Income Tax Credit value was increased from 26% to 28% in the 2016 tax year, extending it to working poor who are 18 and older who have no children.
The Legislature approved a $270 MILLION PACKAGE OF BILLS TO BEING OVERALL IMPROVEMENT TO BALTIMORE CITY. The programs created by the bills were supported by Governor Hogan, but the yearly mandated spending attached to most of the bills did not have his support. The Governor decided not to veto the bills, but allow them to become law without his signature. The bills include money for demolishing vacant housing – keeping libraries in low-income areas open for longer hours – mentoring programs to make it possible for 8th graders to get full scholarships to Maryland colleges and universities – grants for neighborhood City groups to redevelop communities – projects to improve City parks.
HEROIN ADDICTION AND OVERDOSE DEATHScontinue to skyrocket. The Assembly increased spending on substance abuse disorders increased by $12.1 million, including $5.4 million for new and expanded services and treatment. The most recent statistics available show that in Maryland, 527 people died of heroin overdoses in the first nine months of last year. That’s more than triple the number who died during the same period in 2010. Legislation was approved to make it mandatory for pharmacists and physicians to register and participate in the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Before filling a prescription for an opioid, a pharmacist must check the Program’s database for the previous four months to determine the person’s history of opioid use. And before writing a prescription for an opioid medication, a doctor must check the database for the previous four months to determine if the patient has a history of opioid medication abuse.
In Maryland, over 20,000 individuals are in prison. And to make matters worse, 58% of prison admissions in 2014 were for nonviolent offenses. The General Assembly approved legislation to reduce the state’s prison population and in so doing save the state money. The CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM legislation will reduce the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders and instead, provide drug abuse treatment for them. More than 3,200 people return to prison because of technical violations of their parole or probation. An example of a technical violation would be failing a drug test or missing an appointment with a parole officer. The bill would limit the penalty for first technical violation of probation to 15 days in jail, 30 days for the second technical violation and up to 45 days for the third violation. Judges could impose longer sentences if they feel the parolee poses a public safety risk.
DRUNK DRIVING legislation was approved. The state’s ignition interlock law was toughened to make all drunk drivers including first time offenders and those who refuse to take the breathalyzer test, have an ignition interlock installed in their cars for six months to three years, depending on the severity of the offense. When offenders are required to use ignition interlock devices recidivism is reduced by at least 60% and as much as 90%, according to the Maryland Task Force to Combat Driving Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol.
EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK legislation, which expands and strengthens the state’s equal pay law, was approved. The bill prohibits businesses from retaliating against employees for discussing or disclosing salaries. The window of time for an employee who wants to bring suit is three years after the date of the employee’s last paycheck.
Senator Johnny Ray Salling
District 6, Baltimore County