April 12, 2016
The 2016 Maryland General Assembly Session came to a close at midnight Monday. With so much going on in Annapolis, this letter attempts to summarize the major issues that we dealt with during the last 90 days. It is an honor to serve as your Senator. My goal is to keep you informed and be your voice in Annapolis.
The State Budget:
Governor Hogan has completely changed the conversation about spending and taxes in Annapolis. The FY 2017 budget, which I’m proud to support, reduces the size of government while allocating money to key priorities like education – including an extra $5.2 million for Carroll County Public Schools - combating heroin abuse, and making road and bridge improvements. We have largely eliminated long-term structural deficits, are fixing our state’s underfunded pension system, and setting the stage for real tax relief. This budget shows that we continue to make progress toward trimming mandates and living with our means.
The $42 billion budget is completely balanced and puts $2 Billion toward savings, fee reductions, and shoring up underfunded pension funds. It also pays off $300 million in old debt accrued by the previous governor’s administration. We would like to reduce overall spending further. Unfortunately, 83% of the budget is spending that is mandated by law – something that Governor Hogan and I support changing to give him more flexibility to make cuts. So far the General Assembly has refused to pass legislation changing these mandates.
Hogan Income Tax Cut Proposal:
Senate Bill 840 was a tax relief package I co-sponsored with Governor Hogan that would have saved Marylanders over $100 million a year when fully implemented. This is an earth-shattering change in philosophy in Annapolis – actually having people keep more of their money; to helping working families and small businesses.
Fundamental tax relief is something I’ve fought for since being elected. Unfortunately, the House and Senate passed separate versions of this tax cut bill trying to add other things into the language. Ultimately they could not agree and it did not pass. Tax relief continues to be a top priority for me as well as Governor Hogan.
Protecting Chesapeake Bay Fund from Raiding:
Fiscal Year 2017 will be the first time in over a decade where the Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund will not be raided. The O’Malley administration took roughly 65 percent of money originally collected from taxpayers for Bay restoration to pay for the State of Maryland’s ballooning budget. Governor Hogan ended that practice and will ensure that money collected from you to clean up the Bay actually goes to clean up the Bay.
Partisan Power Grab on Transportation:
Governor Hogan’s budget began to fix the eight years of neglect and siphoning of transportation funds away from rural counties. Just when some of our biggest road problems were starting be addressed, the same Annapolis establishment that caused these problems passed House Bill 1013 on a largely party-line vote. I voted no.
House Bill 1013 establishes a convoluted and poorly defined scoring system for selecting transportation projects that will heavily favor transit projects over roads and rural areas. I voted no. The General Assembly's attempt to interfere with the executive branch could halt road and bridge improvements throughout the state. Gov. Hogan then vetoed this bill, and then despite common sense, the liberal majority overrode his veto – by one vote in the Senate. Again, I stood with the governor, voting to uphold his veto.
The Democratic leadership’s interest on this issue was very clearly taking authority from Governor Hogan and funneling taxpayer funds to lightly used mass transit, which is not in the best interest of Marylanders.
Ready Legislative Initiatives:
SB 945 – Drunk Driving Reduction Act of 2016 (Noah’s Law) is legislation that I co-sponsored to crack down on drinking and driving. It would require mandatory participation in the Ignition Interlock System Program for a person convicted the first time of driving under the influence of alcohol or impaired by a drug. I believe we need to crack down on drunk driving. I'm pleased that Senate Bill 945 passed 45-0. The House version of the bill passed 136-0.
SB 380 – General Assembly and Congressional Legislative Redistricting. Governor Hogan identified redistricting reform as one of his top priorities. I co-sponsored SB 380, which takes the form of an amendment to the state constitution. Recent polls indicate that over 75% of voters want an end to gerrymandering. I agree, Maryland is one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation. I will continue to fight for fair and non-partisan drawing of district lines. Unfortunately, this bill was heard but never acted upon in the House or Senate.
SB 161 – Criminal Procedure – Seizure and Forfeiture this is legislation that I co-sponsored to ensure that you must be charged with a crime before your property is permanently taken by law enforcement, establishes a legal process to have property returned in a timely manner to innocent owners, and adds transparency to the process. The catalyst for this legislation comes from a case in Frederick County where a farm was seized from a family, and although they were never charged with any crime, it took years to have their property returned. SB 161 received bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.
SB 196 – 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 977 – Criminal Procedure – Domestic Violence – Active Electronic Monitoring is a bill I sponsored that would have allowed the court to monitor by electronic monitoring (GPS) a defendant who has violated a protective order in a domestic violence case. Many abusers who are convicted of domestic violence-related offenses are not sentenced to jail time, but are placed on probation and ordered to stay away from their victims. A significant number of abusers continue to contact their victims in person. Unfortunately, this bill was defeated in the House. I will continue to explore this issue moving forward.
I co-sponsored several pro-gun bills that would have supported the right to keep and bear arms. Governor Hogan is also working to adjust some of the current regulations. I strongly supported “Shall Issue” legislation for concealed carry permits to allow law-abiding citizens to protect themselves. Unfortunately, the bill did not receive a vote. The current Maryland General Assembly liberal majority makes it difficult to get legislation passed but we will keep fighting.
Passed - SB 208 - Renewal of Handgun Permits – Fingerprinting says that for the renewal of a handgun permit, a fingerprinting will not be required unless there is a question of identity. This would reduce the logistics and cost of permit renewal for those issued a handgun permit. This bill, which I supported, passed the Senate and House, and will be signed by Governor Hogan, taking effect October 1, 2016.
Opposed – Defeated - SB 1040 – Firearms – Terrorist Watchlist would have prohibited the State Police from issuing a permit to carry, wear, or transport, a handgun to a person who is on the FBI’s Terrorist Watchlist. While this may sound like a good thing at first glance, there were major constitutional problems with the bill. First, the Terrorist Watchlist is not available to state authorities and even if the state could get the list, releasing it would allow a terrorist to find out if they are on this list simply by attempting to purchase a firearm. Second, there are also major problems with how names are added to the list and errors occur frequently. Once someone is erroneously on the list it is nearly impossible to get off. For this and many other reasons, the bill did not make it past committee.
Oppose – Defeated - SB 906 – Weapon-Free Higher Education Zones would prohibit carrying or possession of firearms on college campuses. Since the passage of the 1990 “Safe Schools Act of 2013,” shooters now know that they can victimize American school campuses with no fear that victims will be armed. Since the passage of the Federal bill, mass shootings at schools have increased five-fold. Maryland colleges already have regulations banning guns on campus. This proposal was defeated on the Senate floor after a lengthy fight.
Carroll County Legislation:
These are Carroll County-specific bills headed to Governor Hogan’s desk to be signed.
HB 1147 – Carroll County Board of Education – Term Limitation and Referendum will place a referendum on the November 2016 ballot allowing voters to decide if they would restrict the Carroll County Board of Education Board Members to two consecutive terms. Current law does not state term limits. I voted in favor of this legislation and it passed the full General Assembly. Carroll voters will have the opportunity to vote term limits for Board of Education members up or down this fall.
SB 195/HB 194 - Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office and Child Support Enforcement Administration – Transfer of Personnel:
This bill transfers child support enforcement personnel from the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office to the Department of Human Resources. Historically, child support enforcement was handled locally because criminal contempt was the charge associated with child support matters. Over the past several decades it’s transitioned into a civil process which is much better handled by child support professionals at DHR. Last year, Carroll County taxpayers paid approximately $275,000, undertaking a state responsibility to collect child support. State’s Attorney DeLeondardo requested this legislation and it will save our county commissioners funds to go towards our education budget instead.
SB 219- Carroll County – Turkey Hunting on Private Property – Sundays. This legislation was requested by the Carroll County Sportsman’s Association. It would add turkey hunting to six Sundays and a youth day all on private property.
Funding for Carroll County
Additional Help for Carroll County Public Schools
Carroll County will receive nearly 5.2 million more than we received last year for our public schools. Of that, 4.2 million came as grants from Governor Hogan, who answered our county’s call for assistance. This amount was necessary to offset losses our county has suffered due to low enrollment over these past years. Making sure our school system can respond to the needs of students and teachers is important to me. Working together, our Carroll Delegation was able to keep this funding safe in the state budget process.
ARC of Carroll County Autism Center
Our Delegation worked to secure $100,000 in bond funding for the ARC of Carroll County. These funds will help them complete their new expansion which will include an autism center.
Money for Carroll County Health and Mental Hygiene
Carroll County will receive a $367,585 grant for Access Carroll, Inc. to assist with the renovation of their facility at 10 Distillery Drive, Westminster. Access Carroll, Inc. provides medical, dental and mental health services in partnership with the Carroll County Health Department and Carroll County Hospital. The renovations will support the expansion of behavioral mental services.
Program Open Space Funds Approved for Westminster Veterans Memorial Park Project
Annapolis –the State Board of Public Works approved a $1,550,000 grant from Program Open Space for Westminster Veterans Memorial Park. This grant will be used to design and engineer this beautiful 32 acre park that honors Carroll County’s veterans and fallen heroes.
I know you are counting on me to work tirelessly to improve our state. I’m doing my best to stand up for lower taxes, spending restraint, and common sense in government. Whether we agree or disagree on specific issues, I do appreciate getting your input, questions, and advice.
Please feel free to contact me anytime you have a concern or question. You can reach me at (410) 841-3683 or [email protected]. I look forward to hearing from you.
Sen. Justin Ready