The 2015 legislative session concluded on April 13th. I want to share some developments from this year’s session, including legislation that I championed and passed through the legislature, as well as a few other notable pieces of legislation that passed.
Budget FY 2016
The Senate and House of Delegates voted to approve a $40.7 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2016 that reduces the structural deficit by over 69% without raising taxes. The approved budget designates $68.7 million for state employee raises; $132 million increase for our public schools; and about $65 million to pay Medicaid expenses and several health care initiatives. Although the above mentioned funds cannot be used for any other purpose, the legislature cannot force Governor Hogan to spend the money. Governor Hogan has vowed not to spend the money allocated for schools and other priorities citing a lack of advancement of his own legislative agenda.
BILLS I SPONSORED THIS YEAR THAT PASSED THE LEGISLATURE:
Body-Worn Cameras for Law Enforcement
I am proud to have been the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 482, which requires the Maryland Police Training Commission to work with a commission of stakeholders to develop and publish a policy for body-worn cameras by January 1, 2016. This legislation is a crucial first step in the development of a sound body camera policy that properly addresses the need for transparency, safety, and privacy.
Bond Bills for Capital Improvement Projects
From the Senate side, we were able to secure monies for several capital projects within the 47th legislative district in the following amounts: $50,000 for the Landover Hills Town Hall; $50,000 for the Bladensburg Road Economic Development; and $25,000 for the renovation of the Elizabeth Seton High School library.
Protecting Victims of Domestic Violence
I am pleased to have sponsored two pieces of legislation that give our courts the tools they need to protect victims of domestic violence. Senate Bill 315 clears-up an existing domestic violence law to specify that a court may issue a two-year final protective order by consent of the abuser when the victim is re-abused. Additionally, Senate Bill 477 allows the protection of a protective order for victims of domestic violence who are in dating relationship with their abuser.
Youth Wellness Program
Senate Bill 295, which I sponsored along with Delegate Diana Fennell, establishes a Youth Wellness pilot program in Prince George’s County for 125 students in public high schools. The program is modeled after a successful community-based organization in the Prince George’s County Port Towns Community which emphasizes health and wellness, academic performance, peer education, leadership, career development, and economic well-being.
Community Solar Program
I am proud to have sponsored Senate Bill 398 which expands access to renewable energy by allowing multiple people to invest in or subscribe to one solar energy project and offset a portion of their electric bill from the energy generated through a credit. Projects could be located in a variety of places such as a roof of an apartment building, a community center, or a church.
OTHER LEGISLATION OF INTEREST:
Providing Rehabilitated Offenders a Second Chance
This session the legislature passed Senate Bill 526, authorizing a person to petition the court to shield their court and police records relating to certain nonviolent prior convictions, after satisfying their sentencing conditions.
Protecting Youth Victims of Human Trafficking
Senate Bill 521 establishes a Workgroup to Study Safe Harbor Policy for Youth Victims of Human Trafficking. This workgroup brings together a broad coalition of members to study legal protections and the provision of services for the youth victims of human trafficking.
Creating a More Sensible Drug Policy
Senate Bill 517 decriminalizes possession of marijuana drug paraphernalia and makes smoking marijuana in public punishable by up to a $500 fine.
Addressing Maryland’s Heroin Epidemic
Senate Bill 607 establishes the Maryland Opioid Abuse Disorder Consortium, a joint legislative, executive and local government consortium that will build on existing efforts and develop a firm timeline for addressing this epidemic in a number of key areas.
Expungement of Records
Senate Bill 651 allows a person to expunge a conviction from their criminal record if the act on which the conviction was based is no longer a crime. Bill 652 allows persons to expunge their criminal records when they were not found guilty, regardless if they are subsequently convicted of a crime.
Senate Bill 868 requires insurance and criminal background checks for all drivers working for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.
Addressing Climate Change
Senate Bill 258 charges the Maryland Commission on Climate Change with addressing the causes and results of climate change in Maryland and developing annual action plans with benchmarks and timetables for implementation.
Addressing Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) in Maryland
This session the legislature considered a wide range of legislation regarding the practice of fracking in Maryland. Senate Bill 409 requires that regulations be issued by October 1, 2016 and places a moratorium on fracking until at least October 1, 2017.
Reforming the Watershed Protection and Restoration Programs
Senate Bill 863 makes changes to the state’s Watershed Protection and Restoration Programs (the so-called “Rain Tax”). Under this legislation, Baltimore City and the state’s nine other jurisdictions that were previously required to collect a fee on paved surfaces would no longer be required to do so. However, the jurisdictions would be required to submit a plan to the Department of the Environment that will reduce storm water pollution and meet their federally mandated requirements.
Seven-Day Alcohol Sales in Prince George’s County
House Bill 931 allows Sunday sales of alcohol in Prince George's County with limitations on the amount of stores that would be allowed by law.
Thanking Our Veterans:
Senate Bill 592 increases subtraction modification for military retirement income from $5,000 to $10,000 for all Veterans over 65 years of age. Additionally, Senate Bill 80 recognizes and commemorates the brave men and women who fought and the many who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty during the Vietnam War. This legislation establishes March 30th as “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day.” Senate Bill 30 helps ensure that agencies award a percentage of their contracts to verified veteran-owned small business.
I appreciated hearing from you during the session. Thank you to all those who participated in the District 47 legislative survey which helped me better understand your views. If you have any questions about legislation, or if you think I can be of assistance in any way, please do not hesitate to contact me at (301) 858-3745 or Victor.Ramirez@senate.state.md.us
Victor R. Ramirez, Esq.
Legislative District 47
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