April 12, 2018
The 2018 Maryland General Assembly Session concluded at midnight on Monday. This letter attempts to summarize the major issues that the 47 Senators and 141 Delegates have dealt with over the past 90 days. It is an honor to serve as your State Senator. My goal is to keep you informed on the battle to stand up for our values in Annapolis.
The State Budget
In the past four years, Governor Hogan has implemented common sense policies that have reduced the size of government and held the line on spending to less than the rate of inflation, while still responsibly funding essential programs like education, public safety, and road construction. Governor Hogan’s budget this year continues to be structurally sound and fiscally responsible. The balanced budget keeps nearly $1 billion in “Rainy Day” savings and helps shore up the States pension funds. The best part in the budget is that this is the fourth straight year that Governor Hogan introduced a budget that does not increase taxes.
However, as you may have heard, the state is subject to receive a windfall of additional income tax revenue as result from the recent Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Trump. While most Americans will pay less taxes overall, a number of Marylanders stand to pay more in state income taxes due to the revisions to the amount of state and local taxes that individuals can deduct during tax season and the fact that our state law doesn’t let people itemize at the state level if they take the standard deduction at the federal level.
The District 5 Delegates and I co-sponsored legislation with Governor Hogan to give any gained money back to its rightful owners, the taxpayers - expected to be over $300 million in state taxes alone, close to $100 million in corporate income taxes, and about $200 million more in county income taxes.
Unfortunately, the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly – despite their original public statements that agreed that all taxpayers should be held harmless – watered down the tax relief package Governor Hogan presented and instead, only passed tax changes to return about $100 million a year in the form of an increased standard deduction and expansion of the earned income credit. There was some modest corporate tax restricting that will provide some relief.
Despite repeated attempts by myself and other Senators to amend these tax relief bills on the Senate floor to give all the extra potential money back to taxpayers, the Democrat majority succeeded in passing a much stingier bill. Maryland is now likely to keep an estimated $300-400 million in state tax revenues. We did succeed in forcing a significant portion of that money to be set aside for education funding in the future but it is not what was promised originally. Before this tax “relief”, approximately 30% of Maryland taxpayers were going to pay more in state income taxes (albeit still likely less in overall taxes thanks to the Trump tax plan). After this tax plan, that’s whittled down to about 9% paying more, but it did not go far enough in my view.
In Governor Hogan’s FY2019 Capital Budget, Carroll County benefitted significantly. Over $38 million was included for a number of capital projects within the county. These projects include the planning and construction of the Freedom Readiness Center for the National Guard, the Veterans Independence Project in Westminster that will serve homeless Carroll County Veterans, and the Westminster Boys and Girls Club to help finish the narrowly remodeled facility to accommodate more students. Funding was also allocated to the Westminster Rescue Mission to help them expand their addiction treatment services and the Gamber Fire Company for facility improvements.
Good News from 2017 Session
HB-1461: Sanctuary State (SAFE ACT)- Defeated
This hazardous legislation would have made it illegal for local law enforcement agencies to work with ICE or Homeland Security following an arrest of an illegal immigrant for another crime. HB-1461 would have tied the hands of local law enforcement to handle dangerous criminals appropriately. This bill was heard only in the House and faced heavy opposition. Once it was clear that it would not pass, the committee chair put the bill in the preverbal drawer. This is a victory for the rule of law, commonsense, and public safety.
HB-1210: Tackle Football Ban- Defeated
Earlier in Session, legislation was submitted that would prohibit tackle football until high school. This bill was met with substantial opposition. Thanks to a strong local community voice, the bill was ruled unfavorable by the committee. If parents want their kids playing tackle football, that is their decision to make, not the Maryland General Assembly’s. We were all very happy to see the Committee report that rejected this burdensome bill.
School Safety Initiatives
Ensuring that our students are able to learn in a safe and productive working environment is our primary goal as legislators. While partisan divide seems to be the sole focus of the news cycle, I think that we all can agree that we need to implement school safety improvements. A series of bills that passed the legislature commit resources towards increased security measures. These include funding for school security enhancements and requirements for high schools to a have an armed school resource officer or adequate police coverage on campus.
Cracking Down on Violent Crime
This Session, the crime wave in Baltimore City and concerns about drug trafficking prompted several proposals that focused on harsher penalties for repeat offenders. The General Assembly was able to implement stronger penalties for repeat offenders of gun and drug crimes. Additionally, the crime package includes enhanced penalties for witness intimidation and distribution of fentanyl. Hopefully these measures in the crime bill will help curtail the violence in our State and take the fight to the gangs and drug dealers in every part of the state.
Bad News from 2017 Session:
HB-001/CH-001: Sick Leave Veto Override
Last year Governor Hogan vetoed harmful legislation that would mandate all employers with more than 15 employees to provide paid sick leave. This legislation has an admirable goal, but the burdens placed on job creators were far too great for me to consider supporting. While I voted to sustain the veto, unfortunately, the majority party was able to reach the 29 votes necessary to override the Governor’s veto. The Governor is working on finding alternative methods to help small businesses provide this benefit through the help of tax credits.
HB-1783: 21st Century School Facilities Act Veto Override
In a highly partisan attempt to take a swipe at Comptroller Franchot and Governor Hogan, the majority party pushed through unwise legislation that would take the Board of Public Works – where the Governor and Comptroller are two of the three members - out school construction spending decisions. The authority will be stripped from the BPW and given to an unelected commission. The newly formed school construction commission reduces transparency by placing important decisions in the hands of an unelected body not accountable to the voters. Governor Hogan vetoed the bill, but the Democrats overrode the Governor’s veto by a single vote despite bipartisan opposition.
Ready Legislative Initiatives:
SB-362: Vehicle Registration Fee Exemptions for Disabled Veterans-Passed
I introduced this bill with bipartisan support to exempt disabled veterans from paying vehicle registration fees. Our veterans have paid extreme costs for preserving our freedom, it is important that we do all that we can to help them adjust to civilian life. SB-362 passed through both chambers of the legislature and is expected to be signed into law by Governor Hogan.
SB-533: Fetal Homicide Law Revisions (Laura and Reid’s Law) (Did not receive a vote)
This legislation was inspired by the highly publicized murders of Laura and Reid Wallen by her boyfriend and child’s father, Tyler Tessier. Tessier was charged with first degree murder for Laura’s death, but since Reid was only 14 weeks in development and not yet viable outside the womb, the State’s Attorney cannot charge him with Reid’s murder. I introduced SB-533 to expand the application of prosecution for the murder or manslaughter of a pregnant woman’s fetus. The legislation was carefully written to protect babies like Reid in the specific instance of murder, but special interests who defend abortion opposed the bill – even though it would not have impacted any procedures -and would not concede to any changes in fetal homicide law. The bill unfortunately never received a vote. I plan to bring this bill back again next year if I am fortunate enough to return.
SB-496: Residential Graywater Usage- Passed
Water conservation means are not only helpful to the environment, they are economically beneficial. I sponsored this legislation, working with Governor Hogan’s cabinet secretary at Maryland Department of the Environment, to allow the use of graywater, which is used and untreated water that is collected from sinks and showers, for watering of plants and flushing toilets. SB-496 passed both chambers unanimously and should be signed into law by the Governor in the next few weeks.
SB 767: Criminal Injuries Compensation Revision- Passed
SB-767 closes a loophole in the eligibility for certain crime victims to apply to the Maryland Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. This bill grants victims of crimes involving the operation of a vehicle eligibility to receive damages from the fund when there is no other resource to collect compensation from. This bill had broad bipartisan support and passed both chambers of the legislature unanimously.
SB-768/HB-1065: Tax and Title Service Agent Reform-Passed
This legislation provides equity in title fee collection laws in Maryland and helps small businesses succeed. SB-768 authorizes tag and title agents who collect and remit vehicle excise taxes for the MVA to a keep a percentage of funds that the agent collects on behalf of the state. Other industries – like car dealerships - that collect taxes on behalf of the state were already permitted to do this, and SB-768 expands this practice.
SB-363: Preventing Vehicle Miles Traveled Taxes (Did not receive a vote) In late 2012, I learned that Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) was recommending that, by 2020, the state require all motor vehicles to incorporate tracking devices to assess a fee on the owner of a vehicle monthly based on vehicle miles traveled. For the last three years I’ve introduced legislation to prohibit the state using mandatory vehicle tracking to implement taxes on motorists. This bill was held without a vote in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. Governor Hogan’s administration will obviously not be doing a VMT tax but I want to be on record that this tax should never happen.
SB-357: Voter Integrity Act of 2018 (Rejected in Committee)
I sponsored this bill to require jury commissioners to notify the State Board of Elections whenever someone is disqualified from jury duty because they are not a U.S. citizen and for the board to take action within 5 days. Boards of Elections are already legally required to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls, but there is not much assurance that this is happening in a timely fashion. It is imperative that Maryland conduct free and open elections, and that goes hand-in-hand with ensuring that our voter rolls are accurate.
Firearm Legislation Recap:
SB-27: Handgun Permit Preliminary Approval- Failed in the House
This is a bill that I cosponsored to authorize a person to apply for preliminary approval of a handgun permit before completing the training course. This legislation would allow individuals interested in applying for a handgun permit to receive a background check prior to going through the appropriate training. In response to the acts of violence in our country, it is imperative that law abiding citizens have the ability to protect themselves. The bill passed the Senate but unfortunately failed to get through the House.
SB1062: Criminalize Possession of 10 Round Capacity Magazines- Defeated
In Governor O’Malley’s unconstitutional firearm legislation in 2013, Maryland eliminated the ability to purchase a magazine of more than ten round capacity. Possession was permitted, but Marylanders would have to purchase the ammunition out of state. SB-1062 would have criminalized thousands of Marylanders overnight just for possession of these types of magazines. This was a clear assault on law-abiding gun owners and I was proud that we were able to stop this bill from coming out of committee.
SB-707: Bump Stock Ban
This bill was highly publicized as the federal government was already taking steps to outlaw “bump stocks” and other rapid trigger activators. While I can understand why something that can make a gun fire automatically causes a lot of concern, I voted against SB-707 because it would criminalize individuals who already had the device when it was legal, and penalize them with a potential three year prison sentence, simply for having one. The bill also had no mechanism to recoup what they spent or to even dispose of it properly. Several pro-2nd Amendment legislators and I attempted to amend the bill to address these concerns and they were all rejected. SB-707 passed both House and Senate.
HB-1302: Red Flag Gun Restraining Orders –Passed By the Legislature.
This is another highly publicized bill that was introduced in the wake of the Parkland Shooting. This bill allows a Petitioner to request the Court for an ex parte (Latin for on the side) order to seize the firearms of someone who is perceived to be dangerous. I agree that mentally ill individuals should not possess guns, but this bill creates a unique class in the law of individuals based on their gun ownership. The Court can issue a temporary restraining order with only evidence presented by the Petitioner, and nothing from the Respondent until after their guns have already been confiscated at the final order hearing, which could be weeks later. I did work tirelessly with Senators on my Committee to amend the House version of the bill. Our efforts led to the NRA removing opposition to the bill, however I still have concerns about the lack of due process in these cases and felt that current protective orders and law enforcement capabilities were sufficient. I voted no on HB-1302, but it did pass both chambers of the legislature.
It is an honor to serve you down in Annapolis. For the past four years that I have served you in the Senate I have fought for smaller government, lower taxes, principled conservative values, and greater common sense in government. Whether we see eye to eye on specific issues, I appreciate getting your opinions, questions, and input. Please feel free to contact me anytime. You can reach me at (410)-841-3682 or [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sen. Justin Ready