Local lawmakers happy with General Assembly outcomes

When Maryland’s 437th General Assembly began in January, Delegate Carl Anderton said his priorities included seeing Salisbury’s Main Street Master Plan funded.

It was.

In February, Gov. Larry Hogan visited Salisbury and announced $1 million for the Downtown revitalization project, plus $29 million for other projects in Wicomico, Worcester and Somerset counties.

“I am pretty stoked,” a jovial Delegate Carl Anderton said this week.

“It is awesome. The governor put it in the budget and we kept it in the budget the whole way. And this was a very contentious budget at times. Items were put in, taken out, put in, taken out,” Anderton said.

In January, he said the local government “is the biggest piece” of the Master Plan, which he described as a “$200 million public-private joint venture to add more commercial, retail and residential space Downtown.”

“It’s the vision of the mayor and the city. All I can do is act as a conduit between their vision and the administration, the governor, to put those pieces together and see if we can make it work,” Anderton said.

A day after the session ended, he wasn’t as pleased a bill to allow deer hunting in Wicomico County on all Sundays during rifle season failed. Currently, it’s allowed on one Sunday.

“But, overall, I am super excited about the session. I was able to stop some amendments that would kill some good bills,” Anderton said.

Delegate Mary Beth Carozza called it “very productive.”

“I give Gov. Hogan credit for setting the blueprint for our session. He came forward with a $43.5 billion budget, including a $17 billion operating budget that closes the state’s $400 million revenue gap. It is a fiscally responsible budget that holds tuition increases to 2 percent and provides school funding. There is some funding for low-income students to attend private schools. Gov. Hogan has been a proponent of giving students and families another option, not at the expense of public schools. He did put $6.4 billion in for public schools, but this is to provide additional funding as an option,” Carozza said.

Also, $500,000 for improvements and renovations to Perdue Stadium was approved.

Taxes did not increase this year and to the delight of Wor-Wic Community College President Dr. Ray Hoy, state funding was made equal for all 16 small colleges in Maryland.

“It’s huge, absolutely huge,” Hoy told the Salisbury Independent.

Wor-Wic will receive $410,590 this year and, in FY 2019, $851,300. The college has a $25 million annual budget.

“We project 2019 to not be a good budget year at the state level, so this might be the only additional money we get,” Hoy said.

“We had a really good session. The Somerset Economic Impact Scholarship that the governor put into his budget is great. We had legislation put forward by Charles Otto in the House and Sen. Jim Mathias in the Senate, but the governor really helped us with the Small College Funding Parity Bill. I am really pleased,” Hoy said.

Another $1 million is in the budget, to be shared among the 16 small colleges, for scholarships for non-credit students interested in learning a trade such as truck driving or HVAC repair.

Mathias, who worked closely with Hoy to get the funding approved, said he was also happy to see $20 million during the next three years approved for Phase 3 of the Ocean City Convention Center expansion.

The Jimmy Carter Cancer Treatment Bill will allow oncologists to direct patients to best practices, or more intense treatment, instead of allowing insurance companies to force them to go through certain steps of less aggressive treatment.

A bill passed to allow local poultry trucks to carry heavier loads when chickens are hauled to processing plants. “It puts us in parity with Virginia and Delaware and will reduce the amount of emissions,” Mathias said.

His bill to increase penalties for animal cruelty and to create a registry for abusers did not pass but he said he will try again next year.

Funding was approved for Believe In Tomorrow, a structure in Ocean City where children with serious illnesses vacation with their families.

“I worked extremely well with Gov. Hogan and Gov. Hogan’s office, with leaders in both the House and Senate, on bipartisan bills … on tourism, on agriculture, on poultry, for education, for people. For me, Session 2017 was the best session I’ve ever had and that was based on relationships we are continuing to strengthen,” Mathias said.

Hogan’s office issued a news release stating top legislative priorities were passed “ensuring that the governor’s proposals to create thousands of new jobs, restore integrity to state government and move forward with dozens of critical transportation projects across the state will become law.”

Priority items include the More Jobs for Marylanders Act, the Public Integrity Act and the Road Kill Bill Repeal.

“Today is a great day for the legislative process and a win for bipartisanship – but most importantly, it is a win for the people of Maryland, who deserve more jobs, improved roads and the highest level of integrity from their elected officials.

“Creating jobs, building roads and ensuring ethical and transparent government will always be top priorities of our administration,” Hogan stated.

More Jobs for Marylanders will to focus on creating jobs and improving the economy.

While more than 105,000 jobs have been created and employment reduced to 4.2 percent — the lowest in nearly a decade — some regions continue to experience higher unemployment.

“This legislation will target job creation to the areas that need it the most — such as Western Maryland, Baltimore City and the Lower Eastern Shore — by incentivizing manufacturers to relocate and expand in these areas. The legislation provides major tax incentives for new manufacturing companies that move into these areas, as well as tax credits for any new jobs created by existing manufacturers,” Hogan said.

As the session drew to a close, legislation to create medical marijuana businesses did not pass.

“Members of the Black Caucus made it a priority to push forward a bill that would include more minority-owned businesses. The problem with the bill is that they were changing the rules in the middle of the game for many of the small businesses that had already gone through the process. In the end, the House and the Senate couldn’t agree on the final version,” Carozza said.

Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes was in favor of that bill. “It would have required a disparity study, but we won’t have that now,” she said.  Although a plan of action will be formulated to bring it back next year, by then the market will be saturated, she said.

Legislation to repeal the mandatory Transportation Scoring System, known as the Road Kill Bill Repeal, was passed.

Carozza said it’s important because the transportation scoring system jeopardized priority projects.

“The secretary of transportation and his team would come and meet in every jurisdiction across the state to work with elected officials and local communities on transportation projects in their area. This new transportation scoring formula now gives priority to urban, more populated, areas with more focus on transit projects, which then puts in jeopardy highway projects that we have prioritized across the Shore and across the state,” Carozza explained.

During the 2016 legislative session, Hogan vetoed the bill. Carozza supported that veto but it was overridden.

If passed, the bill would have canceled all but seven major transportation projects, including halting work on the Route 50 Bridge going into Ocean City, Route 589 in Ocean Pines and Route 404, which Carozza called a major artery into the resort.

“We definitely need our roads,” Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes said early this year.

“I didn’t believe it was beneficial on the Eastern Shore. It should be an open process involving the citizens,” she said.

Anderton called the bill “detrimental to our opportunities to improving to our infrastructure on the Shore.”

Other successes included the Public Integrity Act, to expand financial disclosure requirements for public officials, and a tight focus on the state’s heroin problem.

The governor appointed Clay Stamp, formerly director of emergency services in Ocean City, then of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, to run an operational command center.

It will lead the fight against the drug crisis, Carozza said.

Empowering local emergency managers to know where resources are, and coordinating with law enforcement officials and schools, is “how, in the end, we will win this war,” Carozza said.

“For two years now, together, we have all been committed to facing this crisis head on,” Hogan said in February.

“Together, we made the investments to implement the recommendations of the Emergency Task Force. We have gone after it from every angle including education, treatment, interdiction and law enforcement. We have made strides, but this crisis continues to grow out of control all across our country. We can – and we must – do more to save the lives of Marylanders,” he said.

The Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort, known as the HOPE Act, “establishes a standing order to allow licensed health care providers to prescribe and dispense naloxone,” Hogan said.

Mathias called HOPE “tremendous” and praised Hogan for approving $50 million during the next five years to battle the heroin problem.

“We have really taken major steps toward working to address and reduce the tragedy that is affecting so many Marylanders through the entire state as well as on the Eastern Shore,” Mathias said.

Senator Addie Eckardt, in a news release, praised the early intervention, treatment and prevention of heroin and opioid use.

“Senate Bill 967 focuses on expanding services and intervention programs through current drug court practice. Institutions of higher education must offer education credits related to substance use disorders, as well. Lastly, this bill requires the governor to include in the FY19 budget, and each year thereafter, specified rate adjustments for community behavioral providers,” she stated.

“Senate Bill 1060 requires the state Board of Education to expand existing programs that encompass drug addiction and prevention education for public schools. This bill also requires local board of educations to establish a policy requiring schools to store naloxone, authorize a trained school nurse to administer it and hire a community action official or regional community action official,” she said.

Also passed was a bill making the penalty the same for committing vehicular homicide while impaired by drugs as it is for committing homicide while the driver is influenced by alcohol. The penalty is now five years for both. It used to be three years if drugs were involved, and five years if alcohol was a factor, Carozza explained.

Delegate Chris Adams, summarizing the session, said he feels “very fortunate to be serving at the same time as Gov. Hogan.”

“It is easy to be a Republican when we have a leader who has a very straightforward policy on jobs, the budget, who has a bipartisan approach to problem solving. The way that helps me is, we can get to the work at hand in my committee and some legislative priorities I have. Overall, I am very happy to see the relationship in the session. While we have some major policy differences here and there, this was, overall, the best session of my three,” he said.

He was pleased the Restoration Fund Eligible Costs Expansion Bill passed, to allow smaller towns such as Hebron, East New Market and Trappe to use money from the Bay Restoration Fund. Legislators were asked by Preston city officials for help because they were under a consent order to upgrade the city’s infrastructure, he said.

He was opposed the Sick Pay Bill, which passed. It will require small businesses to provide paid sick leave for employees. “Hopefully, the economy catches up and these businesses can cover this,” he said.

Sample-Hughes, though, said it’s important, since it will affect 700,000 men and women who need time to recover from illness or care for their children or ill parents.

“They will have the ability to earn — and that’s the key word, earn — sick leave to be able to maintain their jobs in the event that they are sick themselves or if they have to take care of a loved one. It is earned. It is not given to them,” she said.

Sample-Hughes is also pleased a bill passed to allow the attorney general of Maryland to investigate why prices of prescription drugs are increasing.

“A lot of what I heard from a lot of senior citizens is they were concerned about the cost. First of all, our citizens can’t afford it and secondly, this gives us a tool to have those questions answered,” she said.

“I thought we did well this session looking at some of the concerns around the protecting oyster sanctuaries,” Sample-Hughes added.

A bill passed that requires the Department of Natural Resources to have a plan in place before sanctuaries are reduced or boundaries altered.

An anti-bullying bill will require every school system in Maryland to establish a two-way electronic tip program, to allow children to anonymously report incidents and perpetrators.

Eckardt said despite areas of disagreement, “both the administration and the General Assembly were able to find common ground and work in a bipartisan fashion on many important policy initiatives to benefit Marylanders during this session.”

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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