Legislative Session Update – 3/22

Mar 20, 20210 comments

One year ago this past Friday, we adjourned Sine Die – leaving session early for the first time since the Civil War. Since then, we’ve lost too many Marylanders to the virus and we’ve seen so many Marylanders struggle with unemployment, with health needs, online learning and more. We’ve tried our best to support you and all our constituents in many ways – through information sharing, food drives, coat drives, unemployment assistance, organizing community groups, and reaching out to World Central Kitchen to work with us in Baltimore.

And now in session, I continue to work to pass legislation to support our families, small businesses, and communities and to help us emerge stronger from this pandemic. Simply returning to normal is not an option – we need to do better. Today is the first big deadline of the session – “Crossover” – the date by which legislation must be passed from one chamber to the other to stay on track for full passage. We had a full workday in the House and Committees on Saturday and will be working hard all day today and throughout the remaining weeks to pass legislation to build a better Maryland.

I also want to reiterate my support and love for our AAPI brothers and sisters. In the face of this horrible pandemic and recession, they have also had to live in fear simply because of their heritage due to the words of our former President and many of his supporters. I stand with them today and everyday: Maryland is lucky to have such a diverse population. We are a great place because of it! See my full statement on my website blog.

In this newsletter, you will find information on the following:

1.  Police Reform & Relief for Renters

2.  The Status of my Legislation

3.  My Work in the News

4.  How the Maryland RELIEF Act Supports Small Business

5.  Details of the American Rescue Plan

6.  Vaccine Update

Police Reform & Relief for Renters

Police Reform 

The Police Accountability Act of 2021 (HB670) is a significant law enforcement reform measure sponsored by my friend and House Speaker Adrienne Jones. Over the course of several days last week, the House debated the bill and considered 21 different amendments. On March 11, we passed this bill in the House with a veto-proof majority, 96-40. This bill includes the following provisions:

·    Repeals the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights

·    Creates a civilian-driven transparency process to try, discipline, and charge officers in the case of misconduct

·    Improves transparency of police misconduct and disciplinary records

·    Strengthens limitations on use of force

·    Requires independent investigations of police-involved civilian deaths or shootings

·    Creates local police accountability boards

·    Puts limits on no-knock warrants and after-hours police raids

·    Changes the way that law enforcement officers in the state are trained

·    Plus provisions related to body cameras, scholarships for officers, and more…

This bill is part of a police reform package that is a top priority for me and my colleagues. There are some differences between the Senate and House versions of these bills that will have to be worked out in a conference committee. There are separate bills to address the issues of local control of the Baltimore City Police Department (HB1027), prohibit law enforcement agencies in Maryland from receiving military surplus equipment (SB599), and more.

Housing Relief Package

This week my colleagues and I passed several bills to protect vulnerable tenants and homeowners while they recover from the financial impact of COVID, including the following bills:

·    HB1312 creates a statewide rent relief fund and makes significant changes to the eviction process in Maryland.

·    HB52 will help landlords and tenants resolve disputes before resorting to court action and give tenants additional time to seek help if needed.

·    HB50 – the Tenant Protection Act – increases protections for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking in lease terminations. It also improves transparency in utility costs when they are passed on to tenants and security deposit disbursement at the end of a lease.

·    HB104 requires landlords to give tenants additional notice (between 60 and 90 days) if they decide not to renew a lease agreement.

·    HB18, if approved by the Senate as well, will make Maryland the first state to grant very low-income tenants a right to counsel in specific eviction cases (similar concept to the right to counsel provided to all defendants in a criminal case, as required by the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).

·    HB31 will increase the fee to file for an eviction from $15 to $75 in order to reduce frivolous claims and incentivize landlords and tenants to resolve disputes outside of court, which will save everyone time and money. Currently, Maryland has one of the lowest eviction filing fees in the nation. The fees collected will be reinvested into rental assistance and legal aid programs.

·    HB523 requires landlords to include proof of the property’s lead certificate and local licensure upon filing for an eviction. This puts the facts up front and ensures all proper documentation is available when dealing with these disputes in court. The health and cost implications of lead poisoning are tremendous and totally preventable. Maryland must ensure that those renting properties are up-to-date with lead licenses and certifications required by law.

It has been a financially and emotionally stressful year for all Marylanders. As a Legislature, we should be doing everything we can to ensure that residents can afford to stay and be safe in their homes.

Brooke’s Bills

Many of my bills are being well-received and voted favorably through the legislative process! Here’s an update on where things stand:

Supporting Affordable Housing & Building Diverse, Inclusive Communities

HB 90 requires the Department of Housing and Community Development and Political Subdivisions to demonstrate that they are Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing.

HB1239 establishes a Financial Assistance Program to cover Appraisal Gaps in Historically Redlined Areas.

Both of these bills were voted favorably out of the Environment & Transportation Committee today and will be brought up for a vote on the House Floor next week.

Protecting our Environment

HB 204 – The Environmental Accountability and Transparency Act requires the Department of the Environment and Department of Natural Resources to maintain a public website with de-identified information about environmental violations and that status of subsequent enforcement actions. HB204 passed the House yesterday and is on it’s way to the Senate!

HB 314 – The Plastics and Packaging Reduction Act, which bans plastic bags at point of sale in stores statewide. HB314 passed out of the House of Delegates last week and has been assigned to the Finance Committee in the Senate.

Connecting our State: Supporting Public Transit

HB 114 – The Transit Safety & Investment Act will close the funding gap required for MTA to pay for desperately needed capital improvements and safety enhancements and prevent crashes, delays, and breakdowns. Under this bill, MTA will be allocated the money it needs to maintain a state of good repair for the commuter buses, light rail, metro, and trains that it operates. HB114 passed the House yesterday, 101-25!

Supporting Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses 

HB 829 – The Maryland Capital Access Program (MD CAP) encourages banks and other financial institutions to make loans to small businesses that have difficulty obtaining financing. HB829 passed the House yesterday, 111-27!

Increasing Government Transparency & Accountability 

HB 183 – The Equitable Access to Records Act makes revisions to our Public Information Act laws with the intent of making the PIA process more friendly, affordable, and accessible to residents. HB183 passed the House unanimously yesterday!

HB 113 increases transparency and reporting from the Bureau of Revenue Estimates to ensure that it is providing the best possible assistance to the Legislative and Executive branches as they craft the state budget each year, and to aid local governments in their revenue estimates. HB113 passed the House earlier this month, 105-21.

Supporting our State Workers 

HB922 clarifies that a State retirement and pensions system member’s death that was caused or contributed to by COVID-19 can be eligible for line-of-duty death benefit under certain circumstances. HB922 passed the House unanimously today!

Protecting Taxpayer Dollars & Keeping Energy Affordable

HB 397 protects low-income customers from predatory high-priced energy companies: This bill passed the House last month and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.

Protecting Student Athletes

HB 125 – The Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act – ensures that intercollegiate student athletes at public universities are not prohibited from using their name, image, or likeness to earn income and provides important health and safety protections for our public university athletes. HB125 passed the House earlier this month (123-11) and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee.

In the News

Bill would protect student-athletes, allow them to get paid for endorsements (WBAL-11)

“We go to their games, we tweet our support and we support them in our words. And so now, it is time that we should support them here where we can truly make a difference,” said the bill’s sponsor, Baltimore City Delegate Brooke Lierman, D-District 46.

Maryland joins push to give college athletes the right to profit from names and likenesses with Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act (The Baltimore Sun)

“I think it’s important for the General Assembly to demonstrate to athletes who attend our schools already and to potential student-athletes that we believe they should retain their rights to their name, image and likeness,” said Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the House version of the Maryland legislation. “Would I like to see the NCAA and the federal government step up and do the right thing? Absolutely. But am I willing to wait for them to do the right thing for our student-athletes? Absolutely not.”

Maryland Thought Deregulating Utilities Would Lower Rates. It’s Cost the State’s Residents Hundreds of Millions of Dollars (Inside Climate News) 

Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore) is the General Assembly’s House sponsor of the energy supplier bill, HB0397. She first became aware of the issue after her constituents started contacting her because they weren’t sure if the people going from door to door selling energy were crooks, or whether they were even allowed to do so.

Maryland could be the next state to ban plastic bags (The Herald-Mail)

Del. Brooke Lierman, D-Baltimore City, who sponsored the House bill, said she worked to weigh all of those interests. “We’re doing the best we can to both create a cleaner environment and beginning to solve the crisis of single-use plastics that our state and planet are facing while also balancing the needs of our small businesses,” Lierman said in an interview.

Guest View: Sunshine Week reminder that news media stands in for public as watchdog (Baltimore Sun)

In Maryland, advocates, including the MDDC Press Association, are working towards passage of a major reform to the Public Information Act. HB 183, sponsored by Del. Brooke Lierman, expands the jurisdiction and power of the existing Public Information Act Compliance Board to make binding decisions and resolve disputes between records custodians and requesters of public records.

Public records survey highlights unevenness of Maryland state and local government tracking and responses (The Baltimore Sun)

HB 183 in the House, sponsored by Del. Brooke Lierman, a Baltimore Democrat, and SB 449 in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Cheryl Kagan, a Montgomery County Democrat, propose several enhancements of the public records system. The legislation would grant additional authority to the state’s PIA Compliance Board, giving it new review duties after other attempts to obtain public records fail.

RELIEF Act – Small Business Resources

The Maryland Department of Commerce has released additional details about the new economic relief funding made available through the bipartisan RELIEF Act of 2021. This information is available on the Department of Commerce website. In short, the Department of Commerce will provide funding through six new programs targeting specific groups of businesses.

Programs Administered Through the Department of Commerce

  • Small Business COVID RELIEF Grant Program: To support Maryland’s small businesses that face continued financial impacts from the Coronavirus, the state established the new Maryland Small Business Covid RELIEF Grant Program with $10 million in state Relief Act funding.
  • Small, Minority and Women Owned Business Administration COVID RELIEF Program: To support Maryland’s small businesses, the state established the Maryland Small, Minority and Women-Owned Business Administration COVID RELIEF Program with $10 million in state Relief Act funding.
  • Commuter and Shuttle Bus COVID RELIEF Grant Program: To support Maryland commuter and shuttle bus companies, the state established the Maryland Commuter and Shuttle Bus COVID RELIEF Grant Program with $8 million in state Relief Act funding. The grant is directed to those companies that were impacted by reduction of routes by the Maryland Transit Administration. 

Programs Administered Through Counties and Baltimore City 
Online Sales and Telework Assistance COVID RELIEF Grant Program: To support Maryland small businesses seeking to expand online sales and teleworking capabilities for their employees due to the continued financial impacts from the novel coronavirus, the the state established the Maryland Online Sales and Telework Assistance  COVID RELIEF Grant Program with $500,000 million in state Relief Act funding. Applications will be available through each county and Baltimore City.
Restaurant and Caterers COVID RELIEF Grant Program: To support Maryland restaurants, Commerce is providing $22 million to the local jurisdictions to provide relief for economically disadvantaged restaurants in their areas. Applications will be available through each county and Baltimore City.
Lodging and Accommodations COVID RELIEF Grant Program: To support Maryland hotel, lodging and accommodation businesses, Commerce is providing $10 million to the local jurisdictions to provide relief for economically disadvantaged lodging and accommodation businesses in their areas. Applications will be available through each county and Baltimore City.

American Rescue Plan Summary

Thanks to President Biden and our Democratic colleagues on Capitol Hill, the American Rescue Plan passed last week, which provides much-needed relief to our families, communities and businesses. The bill provided $1.9 trillion in relief including money for vaccines, schools, small businesses and anti-poverty programs such as an expanded child tax credit. 

The goal of the Act  is to fight back against both the health crisis and the economic crisis of COVID. Key features include:
Stimulus checks: Provides $1,400 in stimulus funding per person and some of our community members have already seen that money hit their accounts. Individuals will receive an additional $1,400 payment for each dependent claimed on their tax returns. 
Unemployment: Federal unemployment insurance was extended through September 6 with an extra $300 per week for qualified claimants
Education systems: $128 billion in grants were allocated for state educational agencies
Children & Families: Temporarily expands the child tax credit, increasing the amount to $3,000 for children ages 6-17 and $3,600 for children under age 6
Small businesses: $7.2 billion in new money will go to the small-business loan program known as PPP. This is in addition to the $30 billion for transit costs, $25 billion for rental assistance, and $7.5 billion for the CDC to administer and distribute vaccines. 
Transit: Allocates nearly $30 billion for transit costs, including payroll and PPE; $8 billion for airports, and about $15 billion to support transit and airline workers. 
Housing & Energy: There is $25 billion for emergency rental assistance, including $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers for certain populations. It also provides $4.5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. 

What about Maryland? Our state will get roughly $6.3 billion in direct aid – $4 billion for state government and $2.3 billion for local governments. Specifically, Baltimore City gets $670 million in direct funding. MTA gets $350 million to support Baltimore-area public transit and $1.4 billion for Washington-area transit.

American Rescue Act Summary

The goal of the Act is to fight back against both the health crisis and the economic crisis of COVID. Key features include:

·    Stimulus checks: Provides $1,400 in stimulus funding per person and some of our community members have already seen that money hit their accounts. Individuals will receive an additional $1,400 payment for each dependent claimed on their tax returns.

·    Unemployment: Federal unemployment insurance was extended through September 6 with an extra $300 per week for qualified claimants

·    Education systems: $128 billion in grants were allocated for state educational agencies

·    Children & Families: Temporarily expands the child tax credit, increasing the amount to $3,000 for children ages 6-17 and $3,600 for children under age 6

·    Small businesses: $7.2 billion in new money will go to the small-business loan program known as PPP. This is in addition to the $30 billion for transit costs, $25 billion for rental assistance, and $7.5 billion for the CDC to administer and distribute vaccines.

·    Transit: Allocates nearly $30 billion for transit costs, including payroll and PPE; $8 billion for airports, and about $15 billion to support transit and airline workers.

·    Housing & Energy: There is $25 billion for emergency rental assistance, including $5 billion for emergency housing vouchers for certain populations. It also provides $4.5 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

What about Maryland? Our state will get roughly $6.3 billion in direct aid – $4 billion for state government and $2.3 billion for local governments. Specifically, Baltimore City gets $670 million in direct funding. MTA gets $350 million to support Baltimore-area public transit and $1.4 billion for Washington-area transit.

Vaccine Update

There were two major announcements in Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign came last week. First, the State has launched a pre-registration site for its mass vaccination sitesEligible Marylanders can also pre-register for appointments by calling the vaccination support center at 1-855-MD-GOVAX (1-855-634-6829). Appointments will not be scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis, but they will be distributed equitably based on eligibility and supply. This move to centralize distribution is a good start that the Senate Vaccine Oversight Group has advocated for over the past two months. Second, Governor Hogan outlined the timeline of opening up vaccine eligibility yesterday:

Phase 2A: Tuesday, March 23 – Marylanders 60 and older
Phase 2B: Tuesday, March 30 – Marylanders 16 and older with underlying medical conditions that increase the risk of severe COVID-19 illness
Phase 2C: Tuesday, April 13 – Marylanders 55 and older, or who are essential workers in critical industries including construction, food services, utilities, transportation, financial services, and IT
Phase 3: Tuesday, April 27 – All Marylanders 16 and older 

This expansion is due to an expected significant increase in Maryland’s vaccine supply after March 29. The Senate has a Vaccine Oversight Workgroup that meets on Mondays and monitors these efforts. will continue to monitor these efforts to ensure that our State’s administration capacity is able to keep up with the increased supply soon-to-come. Maryland had a slight uptick in hospitalizations last week – please continue to wear a mask and socially-distant as much as possible until more Marylanders are vaccinated! 

Take care, stay safe, and keep in touch!
#MasksOnMaryland
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