Friends & Neighbors:
We are officially halfway through the 2017 session! Last week was a great week of action in Annapolis: starting with the Women’s Rally in Annapolis on Monday night highlighting a variety of legislation concerning women and family issues, and then great rallies for the Keep the Door Open Act (supporting mental health services) and a huge one on Thursday night in support of Baltimore City Public Schools! It was an exciting week and great to see so many Marylanders come out to show support for bills and issues they care about.
The last two weeks have been filled with bills, the budget, and Baltimore issues!
Since my last newsletter, in addition to hearing many, many bills assigned to the Appropriations Committee (on which I sit), I have also presented six bills to their respective committees:
HB 425 (Early Childhood Expulsion & Suspension Ban) and HB 454 (Healthy Out of School Time Recognition Program): On February 14, the Ways and Means Committee considered HB 425, which curbs the use of suspension and expulsion of students in pre-k through second grade. The Committee heard from a panel of representatives from the ACLU, Disability Rights Maryland, Project ACT, Project Heal, ARC of Maryland, and listened to stories from parents and youth advocates about the long-term damage caused by these disciplinary measures. I’m optimistic and working hard to ensure that the bill will receive a favorable report given the broad support and press garnered around the issue. I’m also optimistic that the Committee will issue a favorable report on HB 454, the Healthy Out of School Time Heroes Recognition Act.
HB 229: No more foam! On Feb. 15, the Environment and Transportation Committee considered HB 229, the bill I sponsored with Sen. Cheryl Kagan to phase-out the use of expanded polystrene food packaging. The Committee heard from Trash Free Maryland, Waterfront Partnership, and other advocates about the potential risks polystyrene poses to our health and environment. The Baltimore Sun published an op-ed endorsing the ban and underscoring the damage caused by this non-recyclable product, and I hope you’ll check it out! If you support this, please check out this website and take action: http://banthefoam.org/.
HB 860, HB 865, HB 334: Expanding food stamps, scholarships for Maryland Dreamers, and State Pensions/Workers’ Compensation: Last Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee heard HB 860, which ends Maryland’s arbitrary one year ban on eligibility for food stamps and cash benefits for ex-drug offenders. I am hopeful that this bill, which is supported by the Job Opportunities Task Force, Maryland Hunger Solutions, Family League, Out for Justice, the No Boundaries Coalition, will be voted favorably out of committee with bipartisan support. Likewise, the Ways and Means Committee considered HB 865 (the Jill Wrigley Memorial Scholarship Expansion Act), which expands certain need-based financial aid programs to students who receive in-state tuition under the Maryland Dream Act. A panel of witnesses told the committee that they were not going to let their undocumented status keep them from getting an education and achieving their dreams, and I was so impressed by their courage to speak out. Finally, the Economic Matters Committee considered HB 334, a bill I am sponsoring to streamline how workers compensation benefits are calculated for injured state employees. State employees serve our communities and pay into their pension systems, so we must ensure that those who are injured are not denied benefits that they have earned.
Coming up: On March 7, the Economic Matters Committee will consider HB 1134, the Maryland Paystub Transparency Act. If you’re interested, I encourage you to attend in person or watch them live on the MGA website.
The FY18 Budget
Although over 1500 bills have been introduced this session, the only one we are constitutionally required to pass is the state’s budget. I serve on the Transportation and Environment Subcommittee, which is responsible for reviewing the budgets of all the environmental and transportation agencies. Every week we have had multiple hearings with the Secretaries of these agencies to review their budget and programming, and their responses to any requests the General Assembly made in previous years. All the reports about their budgets are available online at the “Budget” tab of the Maryland General Assembly website. After we have reviewed all of the individual budgets, my subcommittee will meet to decide which recommendations from the Department of Legislative Services we will accept, which we will reject, and if other changes are necessary. Although we cannot add money to the operating budget items, we can cut money from various programs and then “fence off” that money for specific uses. Because the Governor introduced a bill – called a Budget Reconciliation Financing Act, or BFRA – this year, we can amend that legislation just like any normal policy bill. In that bill is where the Governor made many changes that impact Baltimore – cutting various programs that benefit our neighborhoods like the Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative – and I am hopeful that we can restore at least some of this funding by finding savings elsewhere. The other major challenges confronting us are the lack of a promised raise to behavioral health workers, the lack of a COLA for state workers, and the huge decrease in funding for Baltimore City Public Schools. These are all issues we are currently grappling with as we review the budget and work with the budget analysts. Things are moving fast though – we will be reporting out the budget from the Appropriations Committee next week and sending it to the full House for a vote. After that, it goes to the Senate for a vote. If there are any differences, they will be ironed out in Conference Committee, at which point both chambers will pass a final version that will become law.
The budget bills can be found in the middle of the page in the “Budget” box here: http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/ – HB 150 (operating budget), HB 151 (capital budget), and HB 152 (BRFA).
This year, I have received more feedback from constituents and other City residents than ever before! Below are updates on some of the issues and questions that constituents are emailing me about:
Earned sick leave: Last week, HB 1 was successfully voted out of the Economic Matters committee. A top priority for Team 46 and the state, the legislation will ensure that more than 500,000 additional Maryland workers no longer have to choose between getting healthy or taking care of a sick child over earning a paycheck. This bill will be debated on the House floor this week.
Funding for City Public Schools: Many families and educators have expressed profound concerns, frustration, and anger over the City Schools funding gap for next year. None of those feelings is misplaced! Everyone on Team 46 has taken notice of your concerns and shares them. Our joint statement to constituents is posted to my website and can be reached here. We hope to have more news to share this week. The situation is dire and we are all dedicated to ensuring that we stop the annual desperate search for funding that our schools need and that we create a fix to last until the new funding formula is implemented.
Immigration and HJ 5/SJ 3: I have heard from so many of you about President Trump’s Executive Order and the ICE enforcement raids. I share your concerns about what is happening – or could happen – to our neighbors. On January 31, leaders from the General Assembly held a press conference to release a package of bills aimed at protecting against presumed actions upcoming by the Trump Administration. That package included the TRUST Act, and HJ 5, a resolution that clarifies the Attorney General’s powers and has now been successfully passed in both chambers.
Governor’s Voucher Program: I have heard from many people regarding the Governor’s request to increase the amount the state puts toward the BOOST program, or school vouchers. Last year $5 m was included in the budget to create a voucher program in the state. This year the Governor wants to expand it. Although I understand the importance of our local non-public schools, I do not support the voucher program. The state has limited funds and a constitutional requirement to provide a free public education system. Baltimore City Public Schools is already underfunded and I don’t believe that diverting funding and students from the system is the answer. The City’s school system has declining enrollment for many reasons (that leads to less funding), one of which is the voucher program started last year. I also have concerns about school vouchers based on the recent troubling reports about outcomes for students using vouchers and because of church-state separation issues.
HB 1325, Prohibition on Fracking: Many people have emailed me about supporting the ban on fracking. HB 1325 was heard in the Environment and Transportation Committee on 02/22/17. I plan to vote for this bill if it reaches the House floor.
HB 580, Keep the Door Open Act: Many constituents have reached my office regarding the Keep the Door Open Act. I am a co-sponsor of this bill, which is scheduled for a hearing on 2/28. There was also an amazing rally on Thursday in support of the Keep the Door Open Act! I am hopeful that we can pass it this year.
In the District
Taxes: CASA is offering free tax preparation at the CASA Welcome Center on East Fayette Street from January 28 to April 15, 2017. Call 410.732.2694 to schedule an appointment. The Baltimore Cash Campaign also helps individuals and families every year with taxes – check out their website for more information! http://www.baltimorecashcampaign.org/
Baltimore Gateway Partnership Public Meeting: Tomorrow, February 28th at 6:00 p.m., community leaders are meeting at the Baum Auditorium of MedStar Harbor Hospital to share their progress and ideas for how funds from the Horseshoe Casino can best benefit our City. More information is available at my Facebook page.
Water: If you stand to lose your home over warped water bills, please call or visit my office. Recently, Mayor Pugh has implemented a plan to reform the public works department. If you need help with water bills, please reach out.
Breakfast with Brooke: My next Breakfast with Brooke will be next Monday, March 6 from 8:00-9:00 a.m. at Teavolve. Please RSVP if you can join us to Brooke.Lierman@house.state.md.us. I look forward to seeing you there!
To connect with me during session call me at 410-841-3319 or email me at Brooke.Lierman@house.state.md.us. I also encourage you to come to visit Annapolis between now and the end of session in April. Please email or call my office to let us know if you are coming. I would be happy to set up a tour for you, and to visit with you while you are here!