January 22, 2018
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  • The General Assembly will get underway on Wednesday, January 10, at noon and conclude on April 9.
    The General Assembly will get underway on Wednesday, January 10, at noon and conclude on April 9.
  • Paid sick leave has widespread support across the state, but in District 33, it remains a polarizing issue because of the large small-business population.
    Paid sick leave has widespread support across the state, but in District 33, it remains a polarizing issue because of the large small-business population.
  • Currently, for a new bridge crossing to be built above the Chesapeake Bay, the nine counties on the Eastern Shore would have to approve the plans.
    Currently, for a new bridge crossing to be built above the Chesapeake Bay, the nine counties on the Eastern Shore would have to approve the plans.
  • Senator Ed Reilly and Delegate Michael Malone are both working on legislation determining the monetary assets left to a person following the death of a spouse.
    Senator Ed Reilly and Delegate Michael Malone are both working on legislation determining the monetary assets left to a person following the death of a spouse.

With Elections Looming, General Assembly Promises Fireworks

Zach Sparks
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January 10, 2018

District 33 Legislators Weigh In On The 2018 Session

Reconvening nine days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Republicans and Democrats alike expected partisan bickering during the 2017 session of the General Assembly. There were some squabbles — especially with discussions over how to nullify federal mandates that would impact Maryland — but there was also compromise as the state’s 188-member legislative body passed 935 laws that banned fracking, allotted additional resources to fighting the opioid epidemic, set the stage for an elected school board in Anne Arundel County and tackled an assortment of other issues.

With a gubernatorial race and an election year underway, District 33 representatives expect to see more divisiveness in 2018 but, more importantly, they anticipate debates on key issues. As of January 7, 114 bills had been pre-filed in the Senate and 70 bills had been pre-filed in the House of Delegates.

The General Assembly will get underway on Wednesday, January 10, at noon and conclude on April 9. With spending outpacing revenues, budget cuts will again be a sticky subject. What other topics will dominate this year’s 90-day session?

Taxes

A GOP tax bill has received the stamp of approval from Congress, and with state and local tax deductions capped at $10,000, Maryland is expected to rake in more revenue.

During the Board of Public Works meeting at the State House on December 20, Governor Larry Hogan announced plans to submit legislation to mitigate any potential negative impacts of federal tax reform on Maryland taxpayers.

“It’s clear that some people’s taxes will go down, and some will go up,” Hogan said. “I know that Comptroller [Peter] Franchot and his team will be doing an analysis to determine how Maryland taxpayers will be affected. However, it is very clear that due to the loss of several longstanding federal tax deductions and exemptions, Maryland state revenue will likely increase by hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Paid Sick Leave

Despite opposition from the business community, last year, the state legislature passed a sick leave bill requiring businesses with 15 or more employees to offer five paid sick days a year. Hogan vetoed the bill, but sensing an inevitable veto override led by the Democratic majority, the governor announced another proposal in November. His new legislation would phase in the mandate for smaller businesses and offer tax credits to help offset costs for businesses of fewer than 50 employees.

“Instead of the legislature beating the businesses and providing penalties and unfunded mandates, the governor was willing to give $100 million in tax incentives to encourage businesses to provide paid sick leave,” said Delegate Tony McConkey. “I think we need to do more carrot and less stick.”

Paid sick leave has widespread support across the state, but in District 33, it remains a polarizing issue because of the large small-business population.

Although the bill has language requiring certain employees to provide an employer with a certificate of illness or disability under certain circumstances, Delegate Sid Saab took exception to the particulars of the bill.

“I don’t even think it defined ‘family member,’ like if your grandmother or a distant relative is sick, that would qualify you as taking a sick day,” Saab said. “If you are sick, you definitely deserve [the time off]. Businesses, if they are forced to do it, it’s an added expense for them, and two things can happen: Either they will have to work themselves, which they can only do so much, or they will have to raise the prices, which will affect the people that we serve.”

Senator Ed Reilly and Delegate Michael Malone agreed that Hogan’s proposal is too intrusive but better than legislation that was passed last session.

“Employees stay with good businesses when good policy is provided, and government doesn’t help the situation,” Malone said.

The Democrats have a veto-proof majority, and because of the election year, compromise on this issue is unlikely.

A “Sanctuary State”

Although it was withdrawn last year, the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act, also known as the “sanctuary state” bill, will return. Versions of the House and Senate bills last year would have removed liability from state and local officials who refuse to comply with federal authorities, and prohibited officers from stopping, arresting, searching or detaining an individual for purposes of investigating a suspected immigration violation.

McConkey is against the bill because he said it could limit the ability to protect Maryland citizens, but he thinks it might pass because it’s a wedge issue in an election year.

As an immigrant, Saab has received questions regarding his stance on the issue. “A lot of people say, ‘You should be sympathetic.’ I am,” Saab said. “We are a country of immigrants. We all came from somewhere, but we have to obey the law.”

Reilly said there is a misconception that the bill protects the hardworking, noncriminal, undocumented citizen, but because police are instructed not to discuss national origin or citizenship during an incident, he sees it as a way to protect “the drug dealer, the attempted murderer.”

“I disagree with the advocates’ position that it should cast fear into the hearts of the local neighborhoods,” Reilly said. “If you’re not dealing drugs, you’re not in a gang, it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Death With Dignity

Death with Dignity will again be debated after failing to make it out of committee last year. Malone, who has ties to the disability community, believes it could create a “slippery slope.” Reilly argued that because there have been no recent cases in Maryland in which someone was convicted of assisting somebody’s death (although one doctor had his medical license revoked), there is no problem in need of fixing.

McConkey believes it creates an “atmosphere that is anti-life,” but regardless of personal beliefs, he sees flaws with the bill.

“There are a lot of possibilities for the elderly, for the disabled, to be coerced. There are very few safeguards,” McConkey said. “You have to have a second doctor’s opinion, but there are no specifications. The second doctor could be the partner in the next room.”

Saab added, “The doctor could be a podiatrist. It doesn’t even say what kind of doctor.”

“And you have to have a witness,” McConkey continued. “And the witness could have met you five minutes before. There’s no requirement that the person knows their mental state or knows anything about them, just that they met them five minutes ago. Anybody can sign. It’s like going to a notary or something.”

Parental Rights

Garnering bipartisan support is a law terminating parental rights for a person who fathers a child through rape. It failed last year, but look for it to pass this session.

“The bill last year, there was no requirement for there to be a conviction of rape, there was no requirement for there to be any sort of proof,” McConkey said.

“Within the bill, there are due-process mechanisms to make sure someone doesn’t just use it as leverage to try to cut somebody out,” Malone said of the amended version. “There’s a risk of false accusations, someone wants to cut a parent out, but it’s been vetted by the lawyers and House Judiciary Committee, and I assume some vetting happened in the Senate.”

Gerrymandering

All four District 33 legislators are staunch supporters of changing the legislative boundaries so that people are picking their representatives and not the other way around. In 2017, a bill ceding authority to an independent panel was passed on the contingency that Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, New York and New Jersey signed the same pact.

Hogan vetoed the act, which Saab called a “sham bill.” Malone would like to see the issue put to the voters.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case involving Republican voters in Maryland who argue that redistricting has stripped them of their voting rights. That outcome could have big implications, but Reilly doesn’t expect the ruling to go in the Republicans’ favor. Malone is hopeful.

“I think it would be widespread. It would be huge,” Malone said of a verdict favoring the plaintiffs. “Hopefully we get a ruling that will affect how the lines are drawn for 2020. I don’t think we’re going to get a ruling in time for 2018.”

Bridges, Estates And Decrepit Hospitals

For a new bridge crossing to be built above the Chesapeake Bay, the nine counties on the Eastern Shore would have to approve the plans.

At the end of the day, I’m pretty sure they’re going to put it next to the other two,” Reilly said. “But there’s a chance it could go from Calvert Cliffs to Cambridge, from Sparrows Point to Chestertown. And if, in fact, for the good of the people, it’s other than a current location, the counties could gather together and reject it, and we want to remove that parochial attitude from the code so that if the state of Maryland in its objective evaluation says, ‘This is the next best place to put a bridge crossing,’ that it can’t be blocked by the Eastern Shore counties.”

The senator expects support from chambers of commerce and opposition from environmentalists and “folks who want a slower, lower Eastern Shore.”

“It’s going to be one of those progress versus preservation [issues],” he said. “It will be a very spirited debate.”

Reilly and Malone are both working on legislation determining the monetary assets left to a person following the death of a spouse. Despite a long marriage, Malone said, some spouses don’t get a fair amount when their spouse dies intestate, without a will.

Reilly’s inspiration for the bill was a family from Severna Park. Reilly said the original law gave $10,000 to the spouse, and after advocating for $100,000 last year, the amount was bumped to $40,000. He wants to see another increase.

“So, we have a husband and wife, no children, no will. His wife gets $40,000 and his family gets half of what’s left,” Reilly said, referring to the Severna Park case. “The couple is married for 30 years, they have substantial assets, they’re getting ready for retirement with this block of assets anticipated to be used for their retirement, he passes [away], and half of the estate goes to the in-laws.”

McConkey is examining another local issue. In 2015, he passed legislation to create a task force to study options at the site of Crownsville Hospital Center, which has sat vacant since 2004. The Chesapeake Bayhawks are interested in the property, and McConkey hopes to facilitate legislation that codifies the state commitment to preparing the property for development.

“For District 33, the biggest white elephant in the room is that giant 560 acres at the hospital that is sitting there rotting, 69 buildings,” McConkey said. “It’s like one of those post-apocalyptic movies where you have all of these buildings falling down and the only thing out there is a grass-cutter.”

McConkey is also sponsoring a resolution to endorse the concept of a public-private partnership to expand highway capacity, and he wants to revisit the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Act, passed in 2016, which releases felons early from state prisons.

Second Amendment Rights, Term Limits And Bond Bills

Saab is sponsoring several bills including one that would reduce the number of required training hours to obtain a handgun permit. He also wants to eliminate elder abuse and set term limits for state representatives.

“The president serves two terms, the county council and the county executive, two terms,” Saab said. “Three terms is good; come back and do something else or run for a different office.”

Delegate Ned Carey pre-filed legislation for a $2,000 bond bill that would help Broadneck High School double its stadium seating capacity on the visitors side.

Reilly hopes to pass two bond bills: one to help the Arc Central Chesapeake Region with renovations to a new building and one to help the Cape St. Claire Improvement Association refurbish its beachfront, which has been eroded by “years of heavy commercial boat traffic and commercial shipping up and down the bay,” according to Reilly.

An Acrimonious Session?

McConkey expects the legislature to debate several grandiose “gotcha” bills meant to embarrass the governor. Between those proposals and rhetoric coming from the White House, Reilly hopes his constituents stay focused on the issues and voting records.

“One of the big issues that we’re going to have in the next 36 months is that every time Trump sneezes, everyone wants to say we are all getting colds in Maryland,” Reilly said.

“It’s going to be a contentious session because it’s going to be, ‘What can we do to position ourselves favorably for the election and to position the governor in an unfavorable light,’” Reilly added. “And that’s going to be an attitude that affects almost everything.”

 

Editor’s Note: Although they do not represent District 33, House Speaker Mike Busch and Senator Ed DeGrange were contacted to provide a Democratic perspective on these issues. They did not respond to interview requests.


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