April 12, 2017
The 2017 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. It is my goal to keep you informed and engaged in what’s happening in Annapolis.
The State Budget
In the past three years, Governor Hogan has implemented common sense policies that have reduced the size of government and limited growth spending to less than the rate of inflation, while also responsibly funding essential programs like education, public safety, and road construction. Governor Hogan’s budget this year continues these practices. Over the previous fiscal year an unforeseen shortage of revenues created a $400 million budget shortfall. Through the implementation of several insightful policies, Governor Hogan’s FY2018 budget closes this shortfall without raising taxes and invests into a rainy day fund to prepare for the future.
The Governor also made an effort to either eliminate or decrease the spending increases that are mandated by law. That effort was somewhat successful, as we were able to eliminate 90% of new increases in mandated spending. I will continue to push with Governor Hogan next year to eliminate mandated increases and eliminate unnecessary and wasteful spending.
Despite the spending limitations, the Hogan budget includes an extra $1.6 million this year for Carroll County Public Schools to make up for declining enrollment and the capital budget included an identical amount to help the County Commissioners fund our new, local Public Safety Training Center. The Governor also increased funding to help combat opiate abuse crisis.
Good News from 2017 Session:
SB 835- MD Sanctuary State Bill – Defeated
This 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. SB 835 would have tied the hands of local enforcement to handle dangerous criminals appropriately. This bill passed the House, but after a lengthy debate in my committee, Judicial Proceedings, the sponsor withdrew the bill when it became apparent we had the votes to defeat it. This is a victory for the rule of law, commonsense, and public safety.
SB 307- Road Kill Repeal- Last year through a highly partisan attempt to take transportation funding away from rural areas, the majority party passed legislation that would require the use of a poorly defined, complicated scoring system for selecting and prioritizing transportation projects. This would have favored mass transit projects in metropolitan regions over roads and rural areas. I voted against it.
This year, Governor Hogan introduced legislation, which I co-sponsored, to repeal this scoring provision, which would have put 66 of the state’s most important road projects in jeopardy – including the Route 32 widening in Carroll County. Governor Hogan’s bill commissions studies to look at better, more transparent ways to evaluate transportation needs relying on input from traffic professionals and county and town elected officials. Investing in roads and bridges across the entire State is imperative to helping our families and businesses thrive. I’m happy that we were able to reach a compromise in the Senate to repeal this intrusive scoring system and it passed both houses.
HB-100 Income Tax Relief for Retired Law Enforcement and Emergency- This is legislation that I supported to help our retired law enforcement and emergency personnel. This bill adjusts the amount of pension income, from $5,000 to $15,000, that a retired service personnel can have excluded from State income tax. I support giving tax breaks to all retirees for their retirement income, but this is at least a step in right direction. This bill passed the House and Senate unanimously and will be signed by Governor Hogan.
Bad News from 2017 Sessions
SB-230 Mandatory Paid Leave
This was one of the highest profile issues in the 2017 Session. The idea of paid sick leave may sounds good in theory, but implementing this policy would be crippling to our small businesses. The legislation that was pushed by the Democrats in the legislature requires all companies with more than 14 employees to provide all employees that work more than 12 hours a week at least 5 sick days a year. I voted no on this bill. When you make it tougher for small businesses to employ people, you hurt the very people that need the most help. Governor Hogan has threatened to veto this bill.
HB- 978 Protect Our Schools Act 2017:
At many times throughout this Session in Annapolis, I felt like we were in Washington D.C. This is due to the relentless efforts by the Annapolis establishment to attack President Trump and Governor Hogan (often at the same time). HB-978 was legislation that would tie the hands of the State Board of Education to implement new policies to fix failing schools. Student achievement was de-emphasized and innovative solutions like expanded charter school ability were restricted. Governor Hogan vetoed this bill and I voted to sustain his veto, but the General Assembly overrode it on a party-line vote.
JR-001- Attorney General Powers:
In their never-ending attempt to undermine the authority of our President and Governor, Democrats in the legislature supported a bill that would give Attorney General Brian Frosh unquestioned authority to challenge the decisions of the federal government without the consent of Governor Hogan or the General Assembly. I voted no on this bill. I think it’s dangerous to give such unchecked legal authority to the Attorney General.
Ready Legislative Initiatives
SB 1024/HB684 – Funding Equalization
A bipartisan supported education bill that was signed into law by the Governor that I co-sponsored. This bill will help provide additional funding towards Carroll County Schools to help make up the funding that is expected to be lost from the projected declining enrollments in schools over the next 3 years.
SB- 252 Redistricting Reform
Maryland has the worst gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation; some districts have been compared to a “broken winged pterodactyl”. There is no plausible explanation of why Taneytown should be in the same district as Ocean City. I co-sponsored the Governor’s legislation to have a nonpartisan commission redraw the congressional district lines. The majority Democratic party in the legislature was not willing to surrender their 7-1 seat advantage in Congress and was reluctant to pass the legislation that would bring credibility and transparency towards Maryland’s districts. Instead the Democratic majority passed a largely do-nothing bill that would enact redistricting reform if, and only if, the states of Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and New York participated with Maryland. I voted no. I am disappointed that the majority party would not put party politics aside. I will keep fighting for real redistricting reform moving forward.
SB- 282 Fallen Heroes Property Tax Credit
I sponsored this legislation that will allow County Governments to issue a property tax credit to fallen or injured law enforcement officers and rescue workers, and their families. I’m pleased that SB 282 passed on a unanimous margins in both the House and the Senate.
SB-1040- Water & Sewer Approval
I sponsored this legislation requiring the Maryland Department of the Environment to provide a timely review of plans for local water & sewer master plans and plan amendments. This review process was taking well over 6 months, causing delays in business development economic uncertainty. This bill shortens the overall timeframe for approval but still gives MDE flexibility to request changes if there is a problem. It also requires that they give the locals timely feedback. I’m pleased that it passed both houses unanimously.
SB-284 – 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. Since that time I’ve introduced legislation the last three years 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 plan to reintroduce this legislation again next year to stop this tax from ever happening.
SB-842- Voter Integrity Act of 2017 (Did not receive a vote)
I sponsored this common sense measure 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. Jury selection uses the voter rolls to select members. The State Board of Elections would be legally required to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls. It is imperative that Maryland conduct free and open elections, and that goes hand-in-hand with ensuring that our voter rolls are accurate. SB842 was heard in committee but never received a vote.
SB-841- Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act of 2017 (Did not receive a vote)
Dismemberment abortion is an inhumane, disturbing procedure carried out to terminate the life of a live unborn child. The manner in which these abortions are carried out is barbaric and painful to the baby. SB 841 would have barred this type of abortion procedure. I am disappointed that this piece of legislation did not pass, but I will propose it again next year.
2nd Amendment Legislation
I co-sponsored several pro-2nd Amendment Bills. The first, SB 511 would have made self-defense a “good and substantial” reason to be granted a concealed carry permit. This proposal would have expanded firearm freedoms and safety for law-abiding citizens in Maryland. Unfortunately it never came up for a vote in committee. The current Maryland General Assembly makeup makes it difficult to get pro-firearm legislation passed but I will keep working.
I strongly opposed and worked to defeat anti-firearm legislation. The first bill, SB 948 that would have criminalized the private sale and transfer of long guns. The second, SB 946, would have made the possession of a legal firearm on a college campus a misdemeanor. I successfully used a Senate filibuster to keep this bill from passing in the Senate. This was a significant victory for law abiding gun owners across the state.
Funding for Carroll County
Additional Help for Carroll County Public Schools
As previously stated, Carroll County Schools received an additional $1.6 million in funding from Governor Hogan’s supplemental budget and we were able to pass HB684 which gives us similar levels of “hold harmless” funding for the following two years until a new funding formula for Maryland Public Schools is approved. This is to make up for losses that our county has suffered due to declining enrollment over the past several years. Governor Hogan is following through on his commitment to help every part of the state. I’m very pleased that our delegation was able to work together with him and our colleagues across the aisle to achieve this goal.
SB 521 Small Community College Funding
I introduced SB 521 to equalize small community college grant funding. The bill helps Carroll Community and three Eastern Shore community colleges. All seven small community colleges in Maryland have received set amounts of unrestricted grant funding to offset the costs of operating a full service community college in a small jurisdiction since 2003. By statute, 3 of those 7 (all in Western Maryland) were receiving double the amount of the others. This legislation provides the same amount to all seven schools moving forward. It took a lot of negotiation but thanks to a Delegation team effort and Governor Hogan’s support, SB 521 received bipartisan support, passing the Senate 44-0 and the House 135-1.
Help for Union Mills Homestead and Boys and Girls Club of Westminster
Our Delegation was able to secure $100,000 for the Union Mills Homestead foundation to be used for preservation needs of this important historical landmark. We were also able to obtain $80,000 to help the Boys and Girls Club of Westminster. Currently there is a large wait list of children who want to participate in their after school and summer programs. This funding will allow them to renovate and expand the gym and increase capacity from 225 to 600.
It is an honor to serve you down in Annapolis. Every year that I have been down in our State’s capital I have fought for smaller government, lower taxes, traditional values, and commonsense in government. Whether we see eye to eye on specific issues, I appreciate getting your opinions, questions, and advice. 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