General Assembly session called ‘best one yet’

Calling the 2018 Maryland legislative session “our best one yet,” Delegate Carl Anderton praised fellow legislators and Gov. Larry Hogan for working well together during the 438th term.

“Having this governor in office makes it much easier for us. Being able to work with the Speaker of the House makes it much easier. There are times we don’t agree on anything but when we do agree it’s really neat to see how this whole process works. It’s been awesome to accomplish the things that we have as fast as we have. We have a great team,” he said, calling Delegate Mary Beth Carozza one of the smartest people he’s ever met and praising state Sen. Jim Mathias for being his mentor.

Delegate Chris Adams, he said, “really knows his stuff on the business side.”

“I feel very comfortable when it’s something business related, talking to him. We have a great team,” Anderton said.

This year, he said, “there were some really cool things in the budget.”

“For the fourth year in a row, the Salisbury mayor and Wicomico County Executive have gotten what they asked for, so we’re four for four when it comes to that. The construction in Downtown Salisbury, we’ve been able to continue being an investor in that.

“We passed some cool pieces of legislation this year. Everybody hates potholes, right? Who wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I can’t wait to hit a pothole’? We’ve been having to deal with that because of cuts to highway user revenues. We got a bill together this year, myself working with Delegate Pam Beidel from District 32 in Anne Arundel County. After four years, working with the Speaker on the House side we got it through, also working with our colleagues in the Senate. They agreed to meet us halfway on the deal. Wicomico County will get double from last year. They were getting $600,000.

“Wicomico County is still real underfunded, so we have a long way to go,” Anderton said.

Cities and towns are now at 90 percent of full funding for roads, a considerable increase from 10 percent, with Salisbury receiving $1.32 million, Delmar getting $151,000 and Fruitland realizing $266,000.

“There is no reason potholes can’t be filled in now. Everybody who’s been blaming the mayors for the streets while it’s been the state’s fault? Now it’s on them,” Anderton said.

Among bills passed was one that will allow motorcycles to be sold in Wicomico County on Sundays, a move expected to lure Harley Davidson back to Maryland. A local dealership moved to Delaware, where Sunday sales are allowed. Anderton and Mathias put in a bill and Hogan signed it last week, Anderton said.

“As long as the county does its part they will come back. There is no state law in the way now,” Anderton said.

The Sunday Deer Hunting bill, to allow the sport in Wicomico County on as many Sundays as are permitted in Somerset and Dorchester counties, did not pass, but Anderton said he will keep working on it.

The pharmaceutical parity bill was also successful.

When the session began in January, legislators were asked to support local pharmacists who, as one phrased it, “want to level the playing field” for all pharmacists.

Asking not to be identified, that Salisbury pharmacist said there is great need for transparency in pricing so smaller, local pharmacies don’t suffer.

He explained that Pharmacy Benefit Managers, or PBMs, have managed to cut reimbursement to pharmacies for generic drugs by 50 to 75 percent because laws are so weak in Maryland.

“Pharmacies aren’t getting paid the full amount they should be. Does the Maryland Insurance Commission have enough teeth to do anything about it? They have technically complied with the law. They set these arbitrary prices below what any pharmacy can buy them,” he said.

He, and other pharmacists, “are trying to get it so the PBMs have to show us how they calculate the price.”

“There has to be an electronic format for why price is what it is. If they deny our appeal, they have to tell us where we can find it for that price,” he said.

“We are asking for transparency. Show everybody what you are doing. We are asking for light to be shined on their way of business. Show us why you arrive at those prices. Right now, they don’t have to tell them anything,” he said.

Anderton said 80 disgruntled pharmacists went to Annapolis for the bill hearing.

“They were very concerned about this. Apple Drugs was contemplating closing it up but we got it. This is one of the things that, I sit there and my eyes water. It gives me goosebumps that somebody gave me a shot to do something like this. I wake up every day so grateful,” Anderton said.

“I try to navigate my way through that partisan stuff. That serves no purpose. You believe what you believe. You hold your beliefs to yourself. This job as a delegate is not for you. It’s for them. It’s for the people who sent you,” he said.

Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, praised Hogan and colleagues for passing the state’s $44.4 billion annual budget with no new taxes and funding Shore priorities “while holding the line on spending and leaving nearly $1.1 billion in cash reserves.”

Hogan, she said, financed $6.5 billion for K-12 education and $322.4 million for community colleges, plus $60 million in capital projects, $6 million for the nonpublic Student Textbook Program and $7.6 million for the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today Program for non-public schools.

For the Innovation & Excellence in Education Commission, which focuses on pre-kindergarten expansion, teacher recruitment and career and technology education, $200 million was approved.

Hogan’s budget also included:

*$31.7 million to combat the heroin-opioid epidemic

*$87.6 million in highway user revenues

*$52.9 million for the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund

*$123.3 million for employment and independence of those with disabilities

*$13.1 million for the Office of Tourism Development and the Maryland Tourism Board

*$6.9 million to improve retention of correctional officers

Highlights of the budget that directly affect the Shore include:

*$3.7 million for West Salisbury Elementary School

*$2 million for Delmar Elementary School

*$3.4 million for airport extension

*$2 million for the Ocean City Beach Replenishment and Hurricane Protection

*$580,000 for Perdue Shorebirds Stadium capital upgrades

*$4.9 million for the Salisbury Animal Health Laboratory replacement

Delegate Chris Adams, too, lauded Hogan’s budget.

The most important message during the legislative session and the past four years is Hogan passing “a responsible budget that has put our state in a very good position,” he said.

“To have a governor, who held the line on spending, is very important. Our only one job in Annapolis is to pass a budget. All the bills are in addition to that,” he said.

“We have some tough times ahead with our budget because of the Medicaid spending and also all of the debt spending under the previous administration. All of that starts to come due in the next four to six years. These are budget busters. Had we not had our governor hold the line the way he has these past four years I’d hate to see where we would be,” Adams said.

Sen. Jim Mathias, in a news release, called the 2018 session “the busiest and best ever,” and one that ended “with a record-high number of bills passed” under his primary sponsorship.

“First of all, I want to thank everyone for being involved. I thank everybody for reaching out, sharing their thoughts and opinions. We had telephone town halls that were terrific. Friends and constituents came to visit us ‘under the dome’ in Annapolis. It’s us, as a team, working together, to protect and grow the legacy of the Eastern Shore,” Mathias said.

Among bills passed is Cancer Care and Family Planning, which requires healthcare providers to provide coverage for certain fertility preservation procedures, allowing cancer survivors to have children.

The Maryland Nursing Home Resident Protection Act of 2018 requires the state to investigate nursing home complaints alleging immediate jeopardy to residents within 24 hours. State officials must investigate complaints alleging actual harm within 10 days.

“In response to raucous and belligerent motorists coming into Ocean City and creating trouble for law-abiding citizens and the police,” he said, legislation was passed to create a special traffic enforcement zone within the resort.

Concerning offshore drilling liability, to protect Maryland’s coastline from reckless oil and gas drilling, a bill was passed to establish that “offshore drilling activity is an ultrahazardous and abnormally dangerous activity.”

The bill further states anyone who causes an oil or gas spill while during drilling “will be held strictly liable for property, damages, injuries, or death attributable to the spill.”

Carozza co-sponsored legislation to oppose the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program and voted for the Offshore Drilling Liability Act. It “holds those engaged in an offshore drilling activity strictly liable for damages for any injury, death, or loss to a person or property that is caused by oil or gas spill in the federal outer continental shelf waters,” she said.

For the OC Inlet Dredging bill, Mathias secured $300,000 to help cover the cost of a feasibility study for critical dredging of the West Ocean City commercial inlet, which he said has been “plagued by shoaling that hurt the recreational and commercial fishing industries.”

For the Distillery Self-Distribution Cap Doubled bill, Mathias said he worked with lawmakers to double the amount of spirits that a local distillery, Seacrets, is allowed to self-distribute as a distiller onsite. This will create jobs and show support to the craft distilling industry for Maryland, he said.

Carozza said the Seacrets Distillery Economic and Jobs bill will allow Seacrets, a restaurant and bar in Ocean City with a distillery on premises, to raise the limit of gallons it can sell there, rather than requiring that it purchase its own spirits from an outside distributor. House Bill 509 and Senate Bill 384 increase the limit that can be transferred from the Class 9 distillery to its own local Class D license from 15,500 to 31,000 gallons, Carozza explained.

“By allowing Seacrets to raise the limits, more jobs and revenue stay in Worcester County. I sponsored the House version of this legislation which cleared both chambers,” she said.

Other laws sponsored or co-sponsored by Mathias, set to take effect this year, are:

*SB 50 – Recognizing correctional officers as public safety officers and expanding their disability access.

*SB 1069 – Aiding the agriculture industry by expanding the allowable weight limit during harvest time for farm vehicles.

*SB 353 – Allowing residents of Crisfield, who are known to travel through town on golf carts, to drive the carts on state roads where the speed limit does not exceed 30 mph.

Carozza, who is vacating her position as delegate and running for Maryland senator, the seat now held by Mathias, said school safety became a defining issue this year. Hogan introduced “a landmark school safety package,” the Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018, to increase funding for the Maryland Center for School Safety, she said.

The act creates statewide standards, requirements for training and school resource officers and requirements for school systems to develop behavioral assessment teams for interventions for students who pose a threat to safety, Carozza said.

The More Jobs for Marylanders Act will offer tax credits and target job creation.

Currently, Somerset and Worcester counties, both in Tier I, are eligible for the program. This year’s More Jobs for Marylanders Act adds Wicomico County to that tier.

She supported the governor’s Protecting Maryland Taxpayers Act of 2018 and several pieces of tax relief legislation she said will save taxpayers up to $1.3 billion in the upcoming fiscal year.

Small Business Relief Tax Credit gives an income tax credit to small businesses that provide paid sick leave to employees. Carozza said the initiative will “ease the burden the paid sick leave bill will have on small businesses.”

“It applies to businesses with fewer than 15 employees. This tax credit has a cap of $5 million in FY 2019,” the delegate said.

Another Hogan initiative will make it easier to prosecute high-volume drug dealers and adds fentanyl to the volume dealer drug. The legislation increases penalties for witness intimidation from five to 10 years.

Concerning animal welfare, Carozza sponsored the Humane Adoption of Companion Animals Used in Research Act of 2018, known as the Beagle bill, “to help find adoptive homes for animals no longer used in animal testing.”

“It would require laboratories using dogs or cats as test subjects to establish a list of organizations that would take animals from the research facility and offer them up for adoption,” Carozza said.

The No More Puppy and Kitten Mills Act of 2018, she explained, “will prohibit retail stores from selling dogs or cats obtained from puppy or kitten mills.”

“These animals are often bred and kept in horrific conditions and the bill’s intention is to stop pet stores from selling animals acquired from such operations,” she said. The bill passed the House and Senate.

Passage of the Veteran-Owned Small Business Enterprise Participation “brings my work in support of veterans full circle,” Carozza said. The bill, which passed at 11:59 p.m. on the final day of the session, will increase participation of veteran-owned businesses in state procurement, Carozza said.

“The legislation I sponsored this year builds on that 2015 bill by allowing the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs to verify the status of the business owner seeking certification as a veteran-owned business for the state’s program. It also allows for the Governor’s Office of Small, Minority and Women Business Affairs to be the agency responsible for ensuring oversight, training and compliance for state agencies to meet the 1 percent goal,” she said.

Adams said he is not pleased the sick leave mandate for small businesses passed, requiring small business owners to provide paid sick leave to employees.

“I’ve heard from many businesses that are very upset with the position the government put them in. Most businesses are going to say to their employees that the government has written their vacation policy now. I’m sure that wasn’t the intention of the legislature but they tried to create a one size fits all and it’s just not going to work.

“Now that this law is in effect, how is it going to be implemented? I don’t think it’s going to be implemented the way the Democrats thought it would. I’m not happy about that one,” he said.

A bill Adams put in to be sure wind turbines are far enough offshore in Ocean City so they aren’t visible from the shoreline did not advance during the hearing.

“It was admitted that the Public Service Commission still has more public hearings. That whole project happening off Ocean City was happening without legitimate public input. That was upsetting to the business owners. The bill I support is out beyond the horizon, so the turbines couldn’t be seen from the shoreline,” he said.

“During the hearing, it was showed that the public process had not been played out. This is an issue I don’t think is going to go away. I don’t think it’s acceptable for these wind turbines to be visible from the shore,” Adams said.

Overall, though, he was “very much pleased” with the 2018 session.

“These four years have come and gone fast,” he said. “I’ve learned a great deal.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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