The 2014 session of the Maryland General Assembly concluded on the 7th of April, and I wanted to update you regarding the outcome of some of the issues that might be of interest.
Operating Budget: Maryland continues to fulfill its commitment to funding education by providing $624 million to Montgomery County's public schools. Montgomery County will also receive:
- $47.5 million for Montgomery College
- $3.8 million for our local health formula
- $7.6 million for transportation
- $17.2 million for public safety
- $4.1 million for recreation services
Capital Budget: Montgomery County will receive $28,540,000 in school construction funding, with additional money likely to be allocated by the Board of Public Works. In total Montgomery County will receive a little over 57 million dollars to fund various construction projects in the county.
Minimum Wage: The minimum wage in the state will be raised to $10.10 per hour. The increase in the minimum wage will be phased in over several years with full implementation of the new wage taking effect in 2018. State funded workers who care for our citizens with developmental disabilities will also receive pay increases phased in over the next several years.
Marijuana: Small amounts of marijuana possession will no longer be punished as a criminal offense. Possession of ten grams or less (approx. 1/3 of an ounce) will now be punishable by a civil fine. It will still be illegal to possess small amounts of marijuana, however the sanction for doing so will not include the possibility of serving time in jail. The legislature also modified last year's bill providing for the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The new legislation will allow for a physician who receives a special license from the state, to recommend marijuana for patients with serious illnesses. Patients will be able to buy the marijuana from state licensed distributors.
Domestic Violence: Judges will now be able to impose a more stringent sentence for an individual convicted of domestic violence, if the abuse took place in front of a minor. The psychological scars that domestic violence leaves on minors, who are witnesses to such abuse, are significant. This legislation was sponsored by Delegate Luiz Simmons and myself and was strongly supported by the Governor.
Equal Rights: The legislature passed a bill that makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity in public accommodations, labor, employment and housing. Current law prohibits such discrimination on the basis of race, sex, age, creed, color, religion, national origin, marital status, disability and sexual orientation.
On a personal note, I was pleased with the passage of a number bills that I introduced this session.
HB723: As passed, this bill requires money transmitters (Western Union, Money Gram, etc.) to provide training materials to their agents on how to recognize financial abuse and financial exploitation of elder adults. The training will also provide for how the agent is to respond if the agent suspects that she or he is being asked to engage in a fraudulent transaction in which an elder adult is the victim of financial abuse. Many scams being perpetrated on our senior citizens involve the use of wire transfers. These scams often ask the victim to wire money for taxes that are due on "Lottery Winnings" or money to get a "loved one", who is out of town, "out of a jam."
This legislation will help to curb this kind of financial exploitation. With its passage, Maryland will join California as one of two states to successfully take action in response to this financial abuse of our senior residents. This bill was the top priority of the Montgomery County Commission on Aging this session, and they were very active in securing its passage.
HB1165: This bill expands on opportunities for local governments, non-profits and businesses to receive low or no interest loans to make energy efficient improvements to their buildings and equipment.
Our state has made significant improvements in our use of renewable energy sources to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. However, we have much work to do in reducing the amount of energy that we consume. The greatest impact that we can have on reducing our carbon footprint is to reduce the amount of energy that is being used in the state. Energy efficiency, which is at the core of this legislation, will bring about significant reductions in emissions of carbon pollution.
This bill was actively supported by a number of environmental organizations.
HB665 and HB667: These two bills provide for the humane treatment of dogs and cats. Included in these bills is a requirement that cosmetic surgery on dogs (ear cropping, tail docking, etc.) be only performed by a licensed veterinarian under appropriate anesthesia.
This legislation was necessitated by the need to stop breeders from doing these procedures without the use of anesthesia.
With passage of these bills, the inhumane practice of severing the vocal chords of dogs and cats will be prohibited. Many dog and cat owners and breeders have been silencing these family pets by having their vocal chords severed. In addition to the psychological harm that results from this cruel practice (just like humans, dogs and cats communicate with their voices) there often are physical complications like difficulty in breathing, eating and swallowing. The United States Humane Society was very active in supporting passage of these measures.
HB579: This bill requires the Dept. of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR) to enforce the minimum wage in Montgomery County. Previously, by law, DLLR was only able to enforce the State of Maryland's minimum wage. However, Montgomery County's minimum wage is different from that of the state.
With passage of this bill, Montgomery County taxpayers will no longer be paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to have local government enforce the minimum wage, when their tax dollars to the state were already paying for its enforcement by the state.
Finally, I was pleased to work with the District 19 Delegation, Delegates Bonnie Cullison and Sam Arora and Senator Roger Manno to secure funding for several capital projects in Montgomery County and District 19. These projects include funding for the Ann L. Bronfman Center, which provides a home for nineteen different non-profit charitable organizations in Montgomery County. Funding will also be provided for the Homecrest House, which provides subsidized housing for elder seniors and the Berman Academy, which offers the Aspen Hill community the opportunity to have access to outdoor recreation and sports facilities.
These are just a few of the many issues that my colleagues and I worked on during the 90 day session. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or comments about these or any other issues of interest.
It continues to be an honor to represent and serve the residents of District 19 as a member of the Maryland State Legislature.
My thanks and best wishes,
Delegate Ben Kramer