What an exciting year to be a freshman Delegate in the state legislature! The 90-day session has just concluded with many notable outcomes. From passing a once-in-a-generation funding increase for education to raising the minimum wage to taking action to address climate change, it’s been a productive legislative session in Annapolis.
Before I recap the legislative work of this session, let me first express my sorrow at the loss of Speaker Mike Busch. He was the longest serving Speaker in Maryland’s history and espoused the view of “one Maryland”—looking out for the entire state’s interests. He will be greatly missed.
And a note about the legislative process: any bills that were passed by both the House and Senate are awaiting signature—or possibly veto—by the Governor. Any bills that only passed one chamber will not become law this year.
This was a momentous year for Maryland’s students, teachers, and families. The General Assembly passed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, legislation that begins to implement the recommendations of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (aka the Kirwan Commission). The bill provides an additional investment of $255 million for next year. This historic level of funding will be used to expand access to pre-Kindergarten for low-income families, to increase funding for special education programs and schools with concentrated poverty, and to begin to raise teacher salaries to be more in line with comparable professions.
We also overturned a veto to return control of school year calendars to local school boards. I was proud to co-sponsor legislation passed by the General Assembly to provide an additional $100,000 for grants for student programs in robotics and another bill to address lead in drinking water in schools. The House of Delegates passed legislation that would have doubled funding for school construction in Montgomery County; this would have been the largest one-time investment in school construction in Maryland’s history, but the Senate did not act upon the bill.
The Governor’s proposed widening of I-270 and I-495 has been on the minds of many Montgomery County residents. The Maryland Department of Transportation continues to rush the planning for a public-private partnership even though the environmental impact studies have not been completed. The House took two actions to try to slow down the project, including a budget amendment that urges the withdrawal of the public-private partnership program pre-solicitation report until the completion of the federally-required environmental study. The House also passed HB 1091, which would reform the process for the state to enter into a public-private partnership valued at more than $500 million. The Senate did not pass either provision.
My bill to enact a statewide roadway safety program called Vision Zero was passed. Vision Zero sets a goal of no traffic deaths or serious injuries by 2030; typically about 550 people die on Maryland’s roads each year. The enactment of this bill is an important step in reducing pedestrian, bicyclist, and vehicle fatalities and will be accomplished by improving infrastructure.
I joined the new Public Transit Caucus to help advocate for public transportation.
Children and Families
To make quality childcare more accessible for all families, the General Assembly increased the child and dependent care tax credit so that more middle-class families can qualify; under the expanded program, single filers with incomes up to $92,000 and joint filers making up to $143,000 will qualify for a tax credit from the state. We also passed legislation to increase childcare subsidy rates for low-income families. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, I am so proud that these reforms passed.
A bill passed to provide extra SNAP benefits in summer months for low-income families with children. I also co-sponsored a bill that passed that will require diaper-changing facilities in all restrooms in public buildings and places of public accommodation so that moms and dads are able to change their baby. Lastly, I co-sponsored legislation to create paid family insurance in Maryland, but that bill did not advance.
To assist seniors, we established a new grant program to help seniors to age in place. We also passed legislation that allows local governments to offer a property tax credit to elderly residents after a certain number of years of residency.
Fight for $15
Maryland became the 5th state to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. This means that 22% of Maryland’s workforce will get a pay raise. The state’s minimum wage is currently $10.10 an hour, although it’s higher in Montgomery County. I’ll readily admit that it wasn’t a perfect bill: no indexing for inflation, practically nothing to address tipped workers, and less-than-optimal reimbursement rates for caregivers. But I’m glad that the General Assembly overcame the Governor’s veto to enact this important policy reform to help the lowest-income workers.
In the wake of federal efforts to undermine Obamacare, the General Assembly took several actions to protect Marylanders’ health. HB 697 protects Marylanders with pre-existing conditions in the event that the Supreme Court overturns the protections provided in the Affordable Care Act. Another piece of legislation will ensure the continued stabilization of the health insurance market. We’re also making it easier for uninsured residents to enroll in free or low-cost health insurance coverage by adding a checkbox on state income tax returns to determine eligibility.
Legislation was once again introduced to allow terminally ill patients to have the ability to make the choice of how and when they wish to end their life. Although the aid in dying bill passed the House, it failed in a tied vote in the Senate.
The minimum age to buy cigarettes will be raised from 18 to 21 years of age. By reducing teens’ access to smoking, we can reduce addiction rates, premature deaths, and associated healthcare costs.
To address the opioid crisis, we passed legislation to create a special fund for treatment and recovery programs for any money received from a legal judgement or settlement against an opioid manufacturer. Maryland will also begin offering medication-assisted treatment to inmates in all local jails who are suffering from opiate use disorder; this population is 10 times more likely to overdose than the general public.
Several bills were passed to address the skyrocketing price of prescription drugs, including the creation of a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to study how to limit prescription prices purchased by health plans that serve state and county employees, requiring insurers to accept prior authorizations for prescriptions, and prohibiting insurers from making formulary changes during a plan year.
The House and Senate passed commonsense legislation to require background checks during the private sale of rifles and shotguns; unfortunately the differences between the two versions were not worked out before the end of session. Two other gun control bills were passed by the House, but not the Senate: to ban the creation, sale, or possession of a 3D-printed gun and to prohibit a school district from spending money to arm a teacher with a gun.
Maryland is the first state to ban polystyrene food containers and cups because of their negative impacts to human health and the environment. Legislation to address climate change by setting a goal of 50% renewable energy use by 2030 passed on the final day of the session. Another bill that we passed preserves important antibiotics for human use, instead of being overused in the livestock industry. We also passed several bills—and overcame a veto by the Governor—to restore oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, whose populations are at an all-time low. The House passed a ban on the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos—which has no safe level in food or drinking water—but the Senate did not pass the bill. Another bill to provide more review of new fossil fuel pipelines into the state did not advance.
Several notable bills advanced to try to make Maryland a more equitable state. We passed legislation that will allow a gender-neutral option on driver’s licenses; Maryland will become the 6th state with this option. We also prohibited employers from asking a job applicant about their prior criminal record (“ban the box”). The House passed a bill to prohibit a state or local government employee from asking about a person’s immigration status unless that information is required to be collected under federal law.
I was the floor leader for legislation that requires corporations and large non-profits to report the number of women serving on their boards; the bill passed both chambers. We also addressed the backlog of rape kits that have been sitting on shelves for years in police stations around the state. A new grant program will help to pay for the testing of rape kits and another bill requires the kits to be tested.
We created the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission to address the history of lynching in Maryland. I joined the Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus and was named part of the Legislative Review Committee. A bill to remove the statute of limitations to file a civil suit for victims of child sexual abuse passed the House but did not advance in the Senate.
Easy access to voting is at the heart of democracy. This year, the General Assembly implemented the directive from voters to have same-day voter registration. The bills I sponsored to create a permanent absentee ballot list and to change the name of “absentee ballots” to “vote-by-mail ballots” unfortunately did not advance.
Funding for Local Programs
Montgomery County will receive an additional 7% in state aid for transportation, education, libraries, and public safety. The District 17 delegation was successful in securing $150,000 for Manna Food to expand their freezers so they can increase their capacity to distribute healthy foods to hungry families. Sunflower Bakery received $75,000 so that they can grow their physical space and their capacity for employment training for people with developmental disabilities. The City of Gaithersburg received $1 million toward its new police station. Other Rockville and Gaithersburg non-profits that received funding include EveryMind and Montgomery County Humane Society.
In addition to my Vision Zero bill (see Transportation), I had two other bills that passed. HB 285 allows municipalities to assess a hotel tax on small hotels and short-term vacation rentals and will allow Gaithersburg and Rockville to generate additional revenues to pay for local services. HB 809 fixes a tax issue faced by a local business that is unfairly being taxed by the Comptroller’s Office as a “telephone answering service” because they employ a receptionist. My bill to establish an angel investor tax credit to leverage additional funding for startup companies did not advance this year.
Thank you to all of the residents of Gaithersburg and Rockville who contacted my office this session. Your visits, phone calls, letters, and emails are appreciated. Have questions about topics I didn’t address in this letter? Please reach out and ask!
Even though the legislative session is over, my legislative office will continue to operate year-round. Please do not hesitate to reach out if there is anything I can do to assist you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and (301) 858-3037.
Julie Palakovich Carr
Delegate, District 17
P.S. I’m still accepting applications for my Delegate Scholarship until April 30. Any District 17 student who is accepted to or currently attending a community college, undergraduate, or graduate program is eligible to apply. Contact my office for details on how to apply.