Thursday, April 15, 2010

Senator Nancy King's End of Session Letter

Senator Nancy King (D-39) sent the following end of session letter to her constituents.

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The 2010 Legislative Session has come to a close and I would like to share with you news about the issues and initiatives in which I have been involved. I am sending this end of session letter electronically to all of you who have e-mailed me this year in an effort to keep the state's postage costs down. If any of you receiving this by regular mail would like to receive electronic updates, please email me at and I will be happy to add you to the list.

I would like to thank you for contacting my office with your thoughts and concerns about the budget and bills that were introduced. I am pleased that so many residents of District 39 contacted me, as it is your thoughts on legislative issues that guide my decisions. I have read all of your emails and letters, but given the volume of interest by our residents, I have not been able to reply to all correspondences. If you have a question about an issue that is not addressed in this letter, please contact my office and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

The Budget

As a member of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee, I can assure you that this year's budget process was the most bi-partisan and consensus driven in recent history. Democrats and Republicans alike recognized the gravity of our State's fiscal situation, and we worked together to cut State spending while protecting key investments in public education, healthcare and the environment. Working with the Governor, we cut $1 billion from the State's long term liabilities, and we reduced the State workforce by another 500 positions. The FY 2011 operating budget is smaller than the last budget of the previous administration - that's the first time in 40 years that any Governor and Legislature have reduced state spending over a four year period.

The budget includes serious cuts, but it also protects critical State investments in:

• Public education. We invested $5.7 billion in our public schools - an increase of $209.1 million, or 3.8%. With the exception of a $4.3 million reduction of the increase in school bus transportation grants, we fully funded the major education aid programs.

• Higher education. We invested $1.2 billion in higher education, which will enable our colleges and universities to hold tuition increases to 3% after four years of an in-state undergraduate tuition freeze. We protected funding for community colleges and private colleges and universities at their FY 2010 levels.

• Healthcare programs for low income families. Medicaid funding grows by $220 million, and we protected services and eligibility for services. In addition, provisions in the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act make it possible to increase Medicaid rates for nursing home patients by 2%.

In addition to these critical investments, we set aside $633 million in the State's Rainy Day Fund and left an additional $196 million general fund balance - for a total of $829 million in reserve.

Employment and Unemployment

Getting Marylanders back to work continues to be our top focus and we worked this session to create jobs and provide businesses with the resources they need to hire those who are unemployed. We passed a bill that will allow employers to apply for and receive a $5,000 tax credit for each Maryland resident hired off the unemployment rolls. Funding for this program is included in our balanced budget and will help us hire over 4,000 people. In addition, we worked with business and labor leaders to unanimously pass legislation to shore up our Unemployment Trust Fund to make certain that those who need to access these benefits are able to do so, and we made changes to state law that will help Marylanders access funds made available by the federal government.

Foreclosure Protection

In our continuing effort to help families in danger of foreclosure, the General Assembly passed legislation to add a step before a bank can foreclose on a house. This bill requires that 45 days before a lender files a foreclosure action they must provide the homeowner with information on loan modification and mitigation as well as how to reach housing counseling services. In addition, a homeowner undergoing foreclosure proceedings can now file a request for mediation when applicable to attempt to avoid foreclosure.

Protecting our children and families

A major hot button issue this session was keeping our families safe from sexual predators and gangs. We passed several bipartisan measures to strengthen our current laws including requiring lifetime supervision for some of the worst sex offenders, creating strong penalties to punish others, and providing courts with the tools they need to track and monitor sex offenders. Building off our work earlier this term, we passed the Maryland Gang Prosecution Act to crack down on gangs and ensure that prosecutors have the tools they need to investigate and prosecute these groups. We closed loopholes in current gang legislation to allow police and prosecutors to know who is in a gang and how to best pursue them. In addition, we passed legislation to create a "castle doctrine" in Maryland. This legislation makes sure that a person is not held criminally responsible for protecting themselves from an invader in their home.

The Environment

Several bills were passed to continue our commitment to protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. In addition, our budget contains strong funding for Chesapeake Bay cleanup and Project Open Space. We also passed legislation to create the Chesapeake Conservation Corps Program which will, among other things, provide opportunities for youth and young adults, especially disadvantaged youths, to be trained for careers that will be part of the emerging field of "green collar" jobs.

Bills that I sponsored in this 2010 Session which have been passed by the Legislature and are headed to Governor O'Malley for his signature:

SB313 - Health Insurance - Annual Preventive Care - Currently, health insurance companies who cover annual preventive care do not have to pay for visits or tests until a full 365 days have passed since the last annual visit or test. In other words, if a full 365 plus one day hasn't passed since the anniversary of your last visit, you can find yourself faced with a large out-of-pocket expense. Senate Bill 313 will change this and allow for an annual wellness visit or preventive care test that is covered under an insurance policy to be scheduled anytime as long as it is only once per plan year. This bill will give consumers the flexibility to schedule an appointment on their terms - not the insurance company's. The bill does not mandate new coverage - it simply allows consumers a choice when they go to access benefits they have already paid for and will encourage the scheduling of these important preventive care exams.

SB605 - Angel's Law - Foster Care and Child Care - Cordless Window Coverings - In 2009, a two year old foster child, Angel Duenas died from strangulation on a window blind cord. Tragically, this two year old is not the only child in foster care or day care to die this way. The bill I introduced will require that in foster homes, day care homes and day care centers all new or replacement window coverings installed after October 1, 2010 must be cordless and all window coverings currently in place must be modified to meet minimum standards.While we cannot prevent all accidents that occur in foster homes or day care centers, this legislation will provide an increased level of safety in the places that we entrust the care of our children. It is also my hope that the media coverage surrounding this bill will raise awareness for all families about the dangers of corded window treatments.

SB 476 - Maintenance of Effort - Penalties - In 1984, the General Assembly established the Maintenance of Effort Requirement (MOE) for K-12 funding to ensure the cost of education is shared and to provide local Boards of Education with predictable and stable funding. As a result of the on-going budget crisis, the Montgomery County government failed to meet the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement for public school funding last year. I successfully introduced legislation which waives the Maintenance of Effort requirement for fiscal year 2010. Passage of this bill saved Montgomery County Public Schools from a $23.4 million penalty and also requires a study of policy issues related to MOE. This legislation ensures that Montgomery County Public Schools do not lose much-needed funds in this economic downturn, while continuing to encourage counties to strengthen funding for their school systems.

SB224 - Installation and Use of Clotheslines on Residential Property - While our parents and grandparents might laugh at the thought of legislating the use of the simple clothesline, reality is that many condominiums, homeowners associations and housing cooperatives have rules or covenants prohibiting the use of clotheslines and other outdoor drying devices. This bill strikes the prohibition of clotheslines or other outdoor laundry drying devices on the property of the homeowner, but allows the condominiums, homeowners associations or housing cooperatives to adopt reasonable rules regarding the timing, placement and manner of use of these devices. In these economically difficult times, our citizens are looking for ways to cut back on their expenses. This legislation is a simple way for Maryland residents to save money with the added benefit of protecting the environment.

SB336 - Business Tax Reform Commission - Reporting Requirements - During the Special Session in November 2007, I introduced legislation that created the Business Tax Reform Commission. The Commission was charged to study all of the various corporate tax reporting methods to determine the best way for Maryland to proceed. The law also allowed the Comptroller to ask for additional information from companies doing business in Maryland in order to get a clearer picture of the positive or negative impacts of reporting changes. The Commission was required to submit a final report by December 15, 2011. Senate Bill 336 moves the deadline for the final report and requires it to be submitted by the end of this year. In the fifteen months that the Commission has been meeting, there has been enough data gathered for the Commission to make recommendations. As we work to create jobs in our state, it is important for our businesses to be able to plan for the future and recommendations from the Commission may be key in that planning. The sooner we receive and act on the data gathered by the Business Tax Reform Commission, the sooner the state can move forward towards equitable tax reporting methods for Maryland businesses both large and small.

SB758 - Early Learning Challenge Fund Grant - As Chair of the Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families, I have heard the accounts and seen the data on the positive impact of early education. Last year, the General Assembly passed my "Pre-School for All" bill that moved Maryland into position to take advantage of anticipated federal initiatives on early childhood education and in July of 2009, a federal bill was introduced to establish the Early Learning Challenge Fund. SB 758 will further strengthen Maryland's position and ensure that we submit a highly competitive bid for this federal grant.

Bond Bills

Along with passing state-wide legislation, I was successful in securing $225,000 of funding for four important District 39 projects.

• The first provides $100,000 for the addition and upgrading of lighting in the Cinnamon Woods community. Upgrading and adding equipment will improve the lighting levels in the community to increase the residents' nighttime safety, security and productivity, and provide for safer movement of vehicles and pedestrians.

• The second provides $30,000 for the construction of a 24x40 foot pavilion at Martin Roy Park and will include the purchase of picnic tables and appropriate landscaping. Martin Roy Park is enjoyed by many residents of Montgomery Village and surrounding towns, but the lack of a shelter limits the park's use for picnics or for residents who need a break from the sun. Hopefully this new pavilion will encourage more families to enjoy the outdoors for recreation and community gatherings.

• South Village has maintained two acres of land bordering Lake Whetstone for many years, but due to extensive use, damaging weather and other factors, the area is experiencing erosion and less than optimal environmental characteristics. The third bill will provide $20,000 to allow South Village to restore soil and replace lawns with appropriate ground cover to reduce runoff into Lake Whetstone. All of these changes will make a positive impact on the health of the lake and promote an environment suitable for local wildlife. These environmental and aesthetic improvements will expand community enjoyment of Lake Whetstone for years to come.

• The final bond bill will provide $75,000 to upgrade group homes dedicated to adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Funding will provide for the necessary repairs in these homes and allow their tenants to continue living independent lives.

Bills I sponsored that did not get passed this session:

SB407 - Maryland Open Government Act -21st century technology has opened the doors to access information in ways we never thought possible. The Maryland General Assembly has always been committed to opening our legislative process and the use of technology will make that even easier to accomplish. The General Assembly website has allowed our citizens to follow the legislative process to a point, but we are now poised to take the next step and open our process even further. SB 407 would have brought us to that next step. While this bill did not move forward this session, Senate and House leadership did implement a change that opens access to Committee votes. During the interim I will continue to work with Senate leadership to see if more of the tenets of the bill can be implemented administratively. And I will work again next Session to ensure that the Maryland General Assembly continues to strengthen its commitment to opening the legislative process for all Maryland citizens.

SB757 - Crimes - Child Neglect - Penalties - During 2009, Maryland agencies investigated approximately 17,000 cases of child neglect, but none of those responsible for the neglect could be charged, because in Maryland, child neglect is not a crime. We have in our state, laws to protect the elderly from neglect and laws to protect animals from neglect, but when it comes to the neglect of a child, there is no criminal prosecution until the neglect escalates to abuse. Unfortunately, my bill was amended to the point where it changed the original intent of the bill and was eventually held in committee. I plan to work with our state's prosecutors and State's Attorneys over the interim and will introduce this important legislation again in 2011.

SB890 - Correctional Services - Diminution Credits - Limitations - Under current law, a person serving time for a crime of violence or certain drug offenses can earn five days off their sentence each month for good conduct, where all other inmates can earn ten. But through the participation in work tasks, education programs and special projects, violent offenders can earn up to the maximum 20 days per month available to all inmates. Under this system, a violent offender is eligible for the same amount of credits as someone who is serving for petty theft. Senate Bill 890 would have reduced the number of diminution credits available to violent offenders and drug kingpins to 10 per month. These inmates will still be able to take advantage of education and job skills programs, they will just not accrue credits at the same rate as the rest of the population. The passage of this legislation would have sent a message to violent offenders that Maryland will not tolerate this type of crime and let them know that if convicted, they will serve a large portion of their sentence. I believe very strongly that this legislation will make Maryland a safer place to live and work, and I will be meeting over the interim with public safety officials, Maryland prison system officials and the Judicial Proceedings Committee members to see how we can move this legislation forward.

SB225 - Libraries - Collective Bargaining - Library workers in all of Maryland's counties except for Prince George's and Montgomery, do not have the same rights as other public sector employees to collective bargaining. Teachers, firefighters, police and public works employees all have the ability to collectively bargain for wages, benefits, working conditions, working hours and continuation of services. Senate Bill 225 would have given all library employees those same rights while also giving them the choice of whether or not they want to enter into a collective bargaining agreement. Our state's library workers are dedicated professionals who provide a great service to our communities. They deserve the same equal treatment and representation on the job that is afforded to other public sector employees, and I hope this bill will be looked upon more favorably in the next Session.

During the interim

I can be reached during the interim at my Annapolis office number - 301-858-3686 as well as by e-mail at As always, I am honored to serve you here in Annapolis, and I look forward to hearing from you on any issues or concerns you may have.

Senator Nancy J. King