Thank you for contacting my office during the 2013 Legislative Session of the Maryland Assembly. I appreciate the time you took to let me know your views on issues that concerned you. I have taken these opinions into consideration and used them while deliberating.
This year I again served on the Transportation and Environmental Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee. I continue to serve on the Oversight Committee on Personnel, Oversight Committee on Pensions, Joint Committee for Audits, Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics, Commission to Study Impact of Immigration on Maryland, Maryland Commission on Suicide Prevention, and Deputy Whip for the Republican Caucus.
Military Retirement Income
The Senate amended and passed SB 103, concerning taxing military retirement income. As amended, the bill expands the existing military retirement income tax subtraction modification for individuals over the age of 65 by increasing from $5,000 to $10,000 the maximum amount of retirement income that can be excluded from Maryland adjusted gross income. The bill takes effect July 1, 2014, and applies to tax years 2015 and beyond.
Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act
House Bill 735 would have required employers, including State and local governments, to implement a sick and safe leave policy under which an employee would earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers would have been required to allow employees to use leave for purposes including school closings, domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking committed against the employee or the employee’s family member. The bill failed in the House but the crossfiled measure, SB 698, remains in a Senate committee.
State Pension System
The pension system has been a hot topic over the past few years. State employees have had to contribute more to their pensions through an increase in their contribution rate from 5% to 7%. In 2012, the retirement age was raised for new hires from the age of 55 to 60 and the vesting period was increased from five to ten years. In addition to all those changes, the 2012 budget implemented the “Rule of 90”, which requires a retiree’s age plus years of service to add up to at least 90.
All these measures were needed because of the huge deficit that has accumulated in the pension fund. The pension unfunded liability is around $19 billion dollars. The Senate proposed taking $100 million dollars of the pension funding and transferring it to the General Fund in response to the effects of sequestration. This is so wrong. The State employees have sacrificed more to fund their pension so that the Senate can use the money for other purposes.
This Session we have been told that our economy is improving and the Governor has spent more on this and that. In fact he has funded over $212 million dollars on new projects. The Board of Revenue Estimates reported that expected revenues have declined by over $85 million dollars. Instead of postponing these new projects and reserving funds, the pension fund has been the pot for easy picking.
I called the Senate President and expressed my grave concerns for this action. It is wrong to take this money. After serving on the Joint Committee on Pensions and working hard to find solutions to fund our unfunded liabilities, it was a slap to our state employees and our efforts.
The matter is in the Conference Committee. I have been told that the $100 million will be placed in a dedicated purpose fund only to be used if the effects of sequestration are so dire that it is needed. This is still crazy. Stop spending on pet projects, stop taxing, and be disciplined in your management of taxpayers’ funds, leave the pensions of our state employees alone.
The House passed an amended HB 713 that establishes procedures for the seizure and forfeiture of property as a result of human trafficking violations. “Human trafficking” involves taking, tricking, or luring a person into prostitution or a sexually explicit performance. Amendments strike provisions relating the establishment of a Human Trafficking fund, and limit property subject to forfeiture to real property, motor vehicles, and money.
Housing Discrimination – Source of Income
After lengthy debate in the Senate, SB 487 was recommitted to the Judicial Proceeding Committee. This bill would have prohibited discriminatory practices in the sale or rental of a dwelling because of a person’s source of income. The crossfiled measure, HB 603, remains in the Environmental Matters House Committee.
Utilities – Smart Meters
House Bill 1038 and House Bill 1066 both dealing with Smart Meters were referred to interim study by a House Committee. A “Smart Meter” allows wireless two-way communication between the customer’s premises and the company. The legislation would have prohibited an electric company from disclosing usage data from a “Smart Meter” without written consent from the customer and established a penalty for violations.
Driver’s License – Lawful Status Requirement Repeal
Passed this week SB 715 expands the authority of the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) to issue or renew a driver’s license, identification card, or moped operator’s permit to an individual who does not have a Social Security number or proof of lawful status. The amended bill repeals the current requirement that an individual must have held one of the documents on April 28, 2009, as well as the termination date of July 1, 2015, as it applies to the authority of the MVA to issue or renew one of these documents to an applicant without lawful status or a Social Security number.
Personal Injury or Death Caused by a Dog
The Senate unanimously passed their “pit bull” bill (SB 160) this week. As amended, to escape liability for damages for personal injury or death caused by a dog, the dog owner must provide clear and convincing evidence that the owner’s dog did not have vicious or dangerous propensities. The bill is intended to reverse a recent court decision that declared that pit bulls were inherently dangerous.
The Senate passed SB 37, which requires a person convicted of abuse of or cruelty to an animal to pay the costs of removal, housing, treatment and/or euthanasia of the animal as a condition of sentencing. “Baiting” means using a dog to train a fighting dog or to test the fighting or killing instinct of another dog. Violation is a felony of aggravated animal cruelty and subject to up to three years’ imprisonment, a $5,000 maximum fine, or both.
Baltimore City School Construction
The Baltimore City School Systems has gained support for a financing plan for 15 brand new schools and 35 to 40 renovation projects in the amount of $1.1 billion over the next 30 years. The program would be funded through the Maryland Stadium Authority which could issue school construction bonds backed by $60 million in combined annual revenues from the state, city, and the city school system. The Maryland State Lottery would fund $20 million dollars from the lottery proceeds.
In addition to this $1.1 billion infusion, Baltimore would not lose its eligibility to apply for state school construction under the normal procedure followed by every school district in the state. The other 23 jurisdictions would be competing for the remaining funds for their school construction and renovation projects. The Baltimore City school district is already paid a disproportionate share of the cost of Baltimore schools because their inventory is vast and older.
The O’Malley Administration has promoted “One Maryland” over the last seven years. This initiative gives one jurisdiction a substantial infusion of funds to renovate their aging schools. Baltimore County surrounds Baltimore City and has an inventory of schools that are also over 50 years old. We have been working with the County Executive to air condition our schools. I do not see this as a “One Maryland” initiative. The bill has been amended and is better than when it was first introduced but I am concerned that our county will be left behind. This may have some impact on family’s decisions about whether to stay in Baltimore City or to move to the suburbs. There is no correlation set in the bill that would measure student achievement with the construction or renovations of these buildings. I did not support this bill because it allows one jurisdiction to receive a majority of funds from the State with a long term plan to the detriment of all other jurisdictions. This is not a “One Maryland” fairness bill.
Amendment 483626/1 was offered to ensure that the criteria that the Interagency Commission (IAC) uses for new school construction would also be applied to Baltimore City as well as the other 23 jurisdictions. The Amendment failed 41 to 92.
Possession of Marijuana
Receiving Senate preliminary approval, SB 297 changes the possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil offense, and changes the penalty to a fine of up to $100. Under current law, in general, a defendant in possession of marijuana is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to imprisonment for up to one year and/or a fine of up to $1,000. However, pursuant to a 2012 law, a person in possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana is subject to the reduced penalty of imprisonment for up to 90 days and/or a maximum fine of $500.
SB 394 (failed) was withdrawn by its sponsor. The bill would have made possession of marijuana a civil offense, punishable by a maximum fine of $100.
Marijuana – Regulation, Penalties, and Taxation
The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on HB 1453, which legalizes the use of marijuana for adults at least 21 years old. The bill removes criminal penalties for the use and possession of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia, legalizes the use, possession, sale, and cultivation of up to 1 ounce of marijuana under specified circumstances, and authorizes personal cultivation of up to three marijuana plants.
The bill also establishes a regulatory framework for wholesalers, retailers, and safety compliance facilities. Additionally, the Comptroller is required to register marijuana retailers, wholesalers, and safety compliance facilities, and the Maryland Department of Agriculture must regulate the growth, processing, and distribution of industrial hemp. The bill imposes an excise tax of $50 per ounce on wholesale sales of marijuana, and directs the revenues from excise tax collections to specified programs. Restrictions remain against driving under the influence. The bill still remains in Committee.
Update on the Gas Tax (House Bill 1515)
As you may be aware from the news and my weekly update our gas tax will be increasing. According to revised bill the Comptroller authorizes the increase on June 1st but the tax increase goes into effect on July 1st. The tax increase shall be in effect in 2014 by 1%, 2% in 2015, and 4% in 2016.
The tax increase will be combined with the growth in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The tax increase is troubling because if there is a decline in the CPI, the tax rate shall remain unchanged, but during inflationary periods the increase may not be greater than 8% of the motor fuel tax rate effective in the previous year.
The bill also increases the annual vehicle registration fee surcharge from $13.50 to $17.00. The fee is collected on a biennial basis.
I voted against this bill but it passed the House with a vote of 76-63. I still do not think we need to increase the gas tax. Maryland needs to truly protect the Transportation Trust Fund. Maryland needs to align its transportation spending with the needs of its citizens. Maryland needs to restore the $1 billion of TTF money that has not been repaid to the counties.
Update on Senate Bill 281-Fire Arm Safety Act
Attached is more information that deals with this bill. Click to download.
Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 – $132.8 million (Fiscal Year 2014)
Imposes a 1% tax collected by wholesalers on the RETAIL price of motor fuel effective July 1, 2013, increasing to 2% on January 1, 2015, and to 3% on July 1 2015.
IF the federal government authorizes online sales tax collection, the Governor’s plan dedicates those revenues to the Transportation Trust Fund. But, if federal legislation is not enacted by December 1, 2015, the 3% motor fuel tax increases to 4% on January 1, 2016 and to 5% on July 1, 2016.
The bill indexes the excise tax on gasoline (currently 23.5 cents/gallon) to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as of July 1 allowing it to increase automatically every year.
Increases Vehicle Registration Fee Surcharge 26% (from $13.50 to $17.00)
Indexes MTA base fares to CPI for increases every two years, and one-way zone fares and multiuse passes every five years – both starting in 2015.
By full implementation (FY 18) will cost the taxpayers $685.5 million, if not more.
House Bill 34 – German-American Heritage Month
After three years of sponsoring this bill it passed in the final hours of the 2013 legislative session! I worked with the German Society of Maryland and Senator Klausmeier on this legislation to honor the many contributions that Germans have made to life in our state.
County Issues and Information: Baltimore County State Mandated Stormwater Fee
Residents who own a single-family house would pay $36 per year. Those who own a townhouse would pay $18, and condominium owners would pay $29. There are also fees for apartment and commercial properties. By state law, the only nonprofit entities that are exempt are volunteer fire companies.
The county estimates it must spend $33 million a year to meet state requirements. Projects will include stream restoration and shoreline improvements. The county plans to use $10 million in funds already designated for water improvement projects, leaving about $23 million to make up through the fee.
Visits to Annapolis
During the 2013 Legislative Session Towson High School’s Law and Policy Class, Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and residents from District 42 visited the General Assembly. If you or a group would like to visit our state government in action please contact my office and my legislative assistant, Myra can setup a tour of the State House and government buildings.
Again, I want to thank you for the privilege of allowing me to represent you. The experience has been rewarding and humbling and I look forward to serving you in the interim. During the legislative session I send, via email, an update to keep you informed of pending legislation and highlights of the General Assembly’s agenda. If you would like to be included in next year’s legislative updates, please call my office at 410-841-3258 or send me an email at
Susan L.M. Aumann
District 42, Baltimore County