So. Md. of­fi­cials tout suc­cess­ful ses­sion

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JA­SON BAB­COCK jbab­cock@somd­ and MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

Ninety days and 834 ap­proved bills later, Mary­land has a new $42 bil­lion bud­get passed as the Gen­eral Assem­bly fin­ished its ses­sion Mon­day at mid­night.

For the sec­ond year in a row, the new state bud­get does not bring with it any new taxes. But it doesn’t in­clude tax re­lief ei­ther, which Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) sought.

“Once again, dis­ci­plined

spend­ing is the or­der of the day, with a $400 mil­lion sur­plus bal­ance that will re­sult in no new taxes,” Sen. Steve Waugh (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) said this week. “In ad­di­tion, we de­liv­ered on im­proved ed­u­ca­tion [fund­ing] and more job cre­ation in South­ern Mary­land.”

The state’s rainy day fund is head­ing to­ward $1 bil­lion now in­stead of the state scram­bling to fill a struc­tural deficit, Del. Matt Mor­gan (R-St. Mar y’s) said. “The grown-ups are back in charge,” he said.

“The bud­get is bal­anced with­out de­pend­ing on tax in­creases, and this is made pos­si­ble by the 45,000 more peo­ple [in Mary­land] work­ing this year than one year ago,” Mor­gan said.

“A very suc­cess­ful leg­isla­tive year,” said Del. Tony O’Don­nell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s). “Big­gest was sup­port­ing Gov. Ho­gan in his bud­get pri­or­i­ties and get­ting our state bud­get un­der con­trol. This is the sec­ond year in a row this gov­er­nor has sub­mit­ted bal­anced bud­gets with­out rais­ing taxes.”

Mem­bers of the Gen­eral Assem­bly rep­re­sent­ing Charles County said this week that they felt the 2016 ses­sion saw some pos­i­tive out­comes for Charles County and the state as a whole.

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton (D-Charles) said he and the se­nate “suc­cess­fully” fought for the needs of Charles County and South­ern Mary­land.

Pri­or­i­ties for the county and the del­e­ga­tion were se­cur­ing fund­ing for the Gov. Harry W. Nice Me­mo­rial Bridge and a col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing agree­ment with the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice and the county’s Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice.

Mid­dle­ton said the del­e­ga­tion man­aged to gain a lot of sup­port in both the house and the se­nate in se­cur­ing a re­place­ment bridge.

Ho­gan and his ad­min­is­tra­tion would not give a com­mit­ment to keep­ing the re­place­ment of the bridge as their num­ber one pri­or­ity for trans­porta­tion, Mid­dle­ton said.

But be­cause of HB 672, the Mary­land Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity must con­tinue to de­posit $75 mil­lion into the fund for the bridge’s re­place­ment start­ing in 2018. The bill states the project must also com­mence by Dec. 31, 2030.

“There are enough folks to over­ride a veto if the gov­er­nor chooses to veto it,” Mid­dle­ton said. “But we would much rather, as a del­e­ga­tion, sit down with the ad­min­is­tra­tion and de­velop a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing rather than a leg­isla­tive man­date.”

Sgt. John El­liot, pres­i­dent of the Charles County Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice, said the sher­iff’s of­fice and the FOP are sat­is­fied with how the ses­sion went. El­liot ne­go­ti­ated with the sher­iff’s of­fice and the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers on the salary sched­ule of the sher­iff’s of­fice.

House bill 505 re­quires Charles County to col­lec­tively bar­gain with the sher­iff’s of­fice be­gin­ning Sept. 1 of each year and their pay sched­ule must match that of the Mary­land State Po­lice.

El­liot said he was sat­is­fied with the ne­go­ti­a­tions and how well ev­ery­one worked to­gether. One thing the FOP wanted to have, he said, was bind­ing ar­bi­tra­tion for ne­go­ti­a­tions but that was a con­ces­sion the sher­iff’s of­fice had to give to get the deal done.

“We still came out with a very good bill. We’re still tied with the Mary­land State Po­lice pay scale,” El­liot said. “We have full col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights.”

County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said he did not sit at the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble with the county and the sher­iff’s of­fice and has not of­fi­cially seen the bill yet, but said all sides were able to come up with some­thing they were sat­is­fied with.

“This shows the com­mit­ment that we all have to forg­ing a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship,” Robin­son said. “It shows that we all be­lieve in col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing.”

One thing Robin­son and Mid­dle­ton were both un­happy with was both the house and se­nate vot­ing down leg­is­la­tion pro­vid­ing a video lottery gam­ing fa­cil­ity along the Po­tomac River in Colo­nial Beach, Va.

The pur­pose of the fa­cil­ity was to find ex­tra fund­ing for the Nice Bridge’s re­de­vel­op­ment, but many had an is­sue, Mid­dle­ton said, with the fa­cil­ity be­ing in Colo­nial Beach and, de­spite 93 per­cent of the rev­enue com­ing from places other than Mary­land, many were wor­ried that Mary­land would spend too much money on the fa­cil­ity and would not see a pos­i­tive rev­enue stream com­ing back.

“We were look­ing for ways we could find money for the fund­ing for this bridge. This would al­low an ex­pan­sion of gam­ing at Colo­nial Beach. We put some amend­ments on it that we thought would make it more plau­si­ble, but the com­mit­tees did not vote it out,” Mid­dle­ton said.

Robin­son said con­sid­er­ing the amount of gam­ing ex­pan­sion through­out Mary­land, he is not sur­prised the bill did not pass. How­ever, he said, he ap­pre­ci­ates the del­e­ga­tion for com­ing up with a cre­ative so­lu­tion for fund­ing.

The money from the gam­ing it­self would have ben­e­fited the state, Robin­son said, and should the bill come back he would sup­port it. But still, he said, he does not know if the bill would gain enough trac­tion to pass.

Del. C.T. Wil­son (D-Charles) said he feels like there were some stones left un­turned with some of the leg­is­la­tion passed.

He is sat­is­fied with the pass­ing of Jus­tice’s Law where those who are found guilty in caus­ing the death of a child due to abuse could face tougher penal­ties.

How­ever, Wil­son said, while that bill passed, there were other bills deal­ing with se­cu­rity and safety that were not, such as House Bill 1215, which would have given adults who were sex­u­ally as­saulted as chil­dren an ad­di­tional 20 years to file a civil suit against their abusers. House bill 574, known as Ji’Aire’s Law, which was es­tab­lished to pro­tect adults with men­tal ill­nesses and their chil­dren, never made it out of com­mit­tee for a vote.

Del. Sally Jame­son (D-Charles) was dis­ap­pointed with the lack of progress with Ji’Aire’s Law this ses­sion.

“I was very dis­ap­pointed it didn’t make it out of com­mit­tee. I met a lot of dif­fer­ent peo­ple from dif­fer­ent de­part­ments and they all ex­pressed con­cerns. We’ve been look­ing at men­tal health is­sues for years. So, here we go again, stuck,” Jame­son said. “It seems to me that no­body knows how to move for­ward with th­ese men­tal health is­sues. And it’s some­thing we’ve got to con­quer.”

She said she can un­der­stand that so­lu­tions can­not be found in­stantly ev­ery day but while they search for so­lu­tions many peo­ple are be­ing “lost in the sys­tem.” She said the Health and Govern­ment Com­mit­tee had a lot on its plate with opi­oid bills, the Prince Ge­orge’s Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter and other things.

“It’s just a shame that we were not able to move this one study for­ward. I’ll con­tinue to fight for this and do what I can to keep up on men­tal health is­sues,” she said. “There’s al­ways an­other year.”

Wil­son said he does not be­lieve the state and some state leg­is­la­tors pri­or­i­tize pub­lic safety enough. Peo­ple re­act to statis­tics, he said, and not sit­u­a­tions. If leg­is­la­tors ex­pe­ri­enced or wit­nesses some of the crimes and sit­u­a­tions th­ese bills per­tain to, their per­spec­tives may change.

“Every­thing they read is that the jus­tice sys­tem is un­fair to mi­nori­ties, and I do agree that it is to a cer­tain ex­tent, but we’re also pri­mary vic­tims of th­ese crimes as well,” Wil­son said. “They don’t re­al­ize the ram­i­fi­ca­tions of things that they’re do­ing can ac­tu­ally hurt the peo­ple they want to pro­tect.”

Mid­dle­ton said he was able to fight for project open space and grant more rights to farm­ers look­ing to buy prop­erty with two bills he sup­ported on the se­nate floor.

About $40 mil­lion of the $90 mil­lion will be used to con­trib­ute to cap­i­tal projects and the de­vel­op­ment of parks around the state, Mid­dle­ton said. The state has fallen be­hind in keep­ing up with park main­te­nance, he said, and this will pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for the county to de­velop hik­ing trails or bike trails in its parks next year.

Over­all, Wil­son said, he feels there were some very suc­cess­ful floor de­bates, but the South­ern Mary­land del­e­ga­tion still has things to fight for.

“It’s very much a mixed bag. We had some suc­cess. I think I did a good job of rep­re­sent­ing my state and my county,” Wil­son said. “I think good bills may take years to get through. So I try to be as pos­i­tive as I can about my fight up there. It’s dif­fi­cult.”

St. Mary’s County is to re­ceive the most state con­struc­tion money in the re­gion in this bud­get cy­cle with $7.4 mil­lion. That in­cludes $3 mil­lion for the de­sign of a third aca­demic and re­search build­ing for the South­ern Mary­land Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter in Cal­i­for­nia. Calvert County will re­ceive $6 mil­lion, with $3 mil­lion go­ing to stop ero­sion around St. Leonard Creek. Charles County will re­ceive $2.1 mil­lion.

“I think over­all South­ern Mary­land did re­ally well,” Waugh said. Jame­son agreed. “We pretty much got every­thing checked off our check­list,” Jame­son said. “It was truly a mixed bag de­pend­ing upon what each county’s pri­or­i­ties were. I was pleased with the out­comes of the Harry Nice bridge. We were able to get a bill passed to put money into a spe­cial fund so that we can build up fund­ing to com­plete the bridge. That wasn’t easy to do. I think we all worked very hard to make sure that we were get­ting some­thing set up for that.”

“Will the gov­er­nor be­lieve that it is an im­por­tant enough is­sue to sign? I know he’s got a lot on his plate, but I do be­lieve that for Charles County and South­ern Mary­land it is one of our top is­sues. So I’m re­ally hop­ing that it will move for­ward,” she said.

She said she is not done with the gam­ing bill and will con­tinue to push for the gam­ing fa­cil­ity in Colo­nial Beach.

Del. Deb Rey (R-St. Mary’s) voted against the fi­nal bud­get, though she said she sup­ports the gov­er­nor. “I voted against it, but in good con­science I couldn’t vote for a 4.9 per­cent in­crease,” she said. “We’ve got to cut the man­dates. The leg­is­la­ture cre­ates th­ese man­dates.”

Rey voted no more of­ten than any other law­maker in the 2015 ses­sion and has been nick­named “Red Deb” by a col­league, she joked. No votes on bills are sig­ni­fied in red on the elec­tronic vote tally board in the House of Del­e­gates; yes votes are green. Rey doesn’t know if she voted no the most times again this year, but said in her de­fense, “if the bills are bad, the bills are bad.”

In this year’s ses­sion, “we had a min­i­mal num­ber of stupid bills and we only had a cou­ple of losses,” Waugh said, cit­ing bills that of­fered tax cuts and looked at ger­ry­man­der­ing in con­gres­sional dis­tricts.

Over­all in Mary­land, “we’re go­ing in the right di­rec­tion. We’re go­ing re­ally, re­ally slowly, but we’re go­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” he said.

Mor­gan called the Mary­land Open Trans­porta­tion In­vest­ment De­ci­sion Act of 2016 “the worst bill of the ses­sion by far,” and

“the Democrats’ re­sponse to hav­ing the [Metro] Red Line cut” for Bal­ti­more.

The bill “was very ag­gra­vat­ing,” Rey said.

The bill cre­ates a scor­ing sys­tem for state trans­porta­tion projects, to be crafted in nine cat­e­gories by the trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary. The bill went through sev­eral amend­ments, was ve­toed by the gov­er­nor and his veto was over­rid­den by the Demo­crat-con­trolled Gen­eral Assem­bly.

“It’s not as bad as it was, but it’s still pretty bad,” Mor­gan said.

The scor­ing sys­tem is retroac­tive on projects back to 2014, which could jeop­ar­dize the $33.3 mil­lion pledged to road projects on Route 5 in Leonard­town and Scot­land and the bridge over Gil­bert Run Swamp on Route 234 in Charles County, Mor­gan said.

“Once again, the Democrats stuck it to the ru­ral ar­eas of the state,” he said.

“We’re go­ing to hear about this for an­other two years,” Waugh said. “This is go­ing to be a long, mul­ti­year fight.”

Mor­gan co-spon­sored a bill that would have placed limited terms in the Gen­eral Assem­bly to three. That bill failed.

“Com­mis­sion­ers have terms, gov­er­nors have terms, pres­i­dents have terms, but leg­is­la­tors do not,” Mor­gan said. Term lim­its would be a quick fix, but there also needs to be re­form in cam­paign fi­nance and re­dis­trict­ing. “It’s fun­da­men­tally wrong for a leg­is­la­tor to draw them­selves into a district they can never ever lose,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the bill’s anal­y­sis, about a third of the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly mem­bers have served more than three terms al­ready. Only 15 states have term lim­its on their state leg­is­la­tors. Staff

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