Local lawmakers ready for General Assembly 2018 session

By the time the gavel dropped at noon Wednesday, calling to order the 438th session of the Maryland General Assembly, lawmakers were situated in Annapolis and ready to legislate.

“I am so excited about this session. I just can’t wait,” an upbeat Delegate Carl Anderton said this week.

“I don’t know if we could be positioned any better. We can go to the governor if we need anything. And the Speaker of the House, if we need anything. To build the friendships we have and the relationships we have as fast as we have is just beyond our expectation. We’re going to continue to do what we have been doing and work hard for everybody,” Anderton said.

BUDGET

The governor is expected to present the 2019 budget on Jan. 17 and Anderton said he doesn’t expect, or want, an increase in taxes.

“The governor will do everything in his power and we will support him to be sure taxes are less onerous on Marylanders. No way will we have more taxes. I expect somebody to talk about it, but no way. Never,” he said.

Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who, during the summer announced her candidacy for state senator, pitting her against incumbent Sen. Jim Mathias, said this week her focus will continue to be the budget. She is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

“Passing a balanced budget is the most important constitutional responsibility we have as members of the Maryland General Assembly as it is the only bill that must pass during session. My budget and legislative work will continue to be focused on the priorities of the Shore and my constituents,” she said.

“As I have done the past three sessions, I will continue to work with Gov. Hogan and my colleagues in the legislature on both sides of the political aisle to ensure passage of a structurally and fiscally-sound balanced budget that provides fair funding to Shore priorities and holds the line on mandated spending without no new taxes,” Carozza said.

HEROIN AND OPIOIDS

Among problems lawmakers continue to face is the ongoing battle against heroin and opioids. Anderton vowed to “push for more treatment facilities and dollars being used in the best way possible.”

“I am supporting our health department and Wicomico County Council and the County Executive as we continue this fight,” Anderton said.

The governor has allocated $22 million to conquer abuse of the drugs, treat those affected and support law enforcement.

Carozza promised dedication to combat the epidemic by “using my position on the House Health Appropriations Subcommittee and strong relationships with local partners, fellow legislators and Gov. Hogan’s administration to ensure that we’re attacking the crisis on all fronts.”

In March, the governor declared the opioid crisis a state of emergency. The Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort and Treatment Act was passed, establishing treatment centers and increasing access to Naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose.

REFORM ON TAP ACT

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot is determined to uncork regulations on micro-breweries.

The regulations are stifling, he said, and if they are eased, it could mean an economic boost in Maryland from millions to billions of dollars every year.

He will propose the 12-point Reform on Tap Act of 2018 during the legislative session, in an effort to no longer limit sales or how much can be taken home from breweries in Maryland.

Beer production wouldn’t be limited and city officials could no longer set what hours taprooms can be open.

“I love the innovation and entrepreneurship of the sector. I think it has a large growth potential.  Right now there is about $800 million in economic activity and that could be several billion in a few years,” he told the Salisbury Independent in December.

His proposal will address “decades of inconsistent, antiquated statutes and regulations that have been added to Maryland law and have collectively resulted in a large impediment to the growth of these independent breweries,” he said.

Anderton said the goal is to be on a level playing field with neighboring states, especially Delaware and Virginia, both who have regulations “that have been more friendly than ours,” Anderton said.

“We’ve come a long way, Wicomico County especially. We already have an advantage over every other county in the state. Wicomico is in better shape than other parts of the state. Our goal is to match what Delaware and Virginia have,” he said.

PHARMACEUTICAL PARITY

Legislators are being asked to support local pharmacists who, as one phrased it, “want to level the playing field” for all pharmacists.

Asking not to be identified, the 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 percent 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.

COMMITTEES

Carozza said she will continue to use her role on the Appropriations Committee to “advocate and advance the priorities of my constituents including a leadership role last session with the passage of my amendment to provide equitable funding for the small community colleges in Maryland, including Wor-Wic Community College.

“In addition, my position on Appropriations allows me to impact my constituent priorities early in the budget process. Past examples include funding for the upgrades at Shorebirds Stadium and Downtown Salisbury Main Street improvements, the Ocean City Performing Arts Center, working for a return of Maryland’s highway user funds to our counties and municipalities, restoring funding to local hospitals to start paying down the $25 million hospital tax and providing adequate funding to our community health providers, especially those providing services to individuals with disabilities,” she said.

ADULT PROTECTIVE SERVICES

Carozza said she will focus on legislation including her bill to strengthen the Adult Protective Services investigations to “better protect vulnerable adults.”

She said the matter was brought to her attention by Social Service employees from Worcester and Wicomico counties. She wants to increase the penalty for homicide by a motor vehicle while impaired by a controlled dangerous substance from three years to five years.

Both bills were approved by the General Assembly and signed into law, she said.

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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