Friday, May 07, 2010

Senator Jennie Forehand's End of Session Letter

Senator Jennie Forehand (D-17) sent the following end of session letter to her constituents.

April 15, 2010

Dear Friends:

As I begin this summary of the 2010 legislative session of the General Assembly, I’d like to take a moment to thank you for your e-mails and phone calls. Your opinions were essential as I considered how to vote on thousands of issues that would impact our lives daily and what our budget priorities should be.

A key concern of mine is the ongoing financial downturn across the country and its impact on Maryland’s budget. So, the underlying theme of my legislation—and that of a number of my colleagues—was to create cost efficiencies, eliminate waste, improve existing revenue streams, and maintain services for those who need it most. (As one cost saving measure, I am e-mailing my session letter this year to save the State postage costs.)

The Budget

On the budget, we cut $1 billion from the State’s long term deficit and reduced the State workforce by 500 positions. The FY 2011 operating budget is smaller than the last budget of the previous administration – this is the first time in 40 years that a Governor and Legislature reduced state spending over a four year period.

We have cut over $5.5 billion from the budget and over 4,000 jobs in the last four years. These were not easy cuts to make, but they were necessary to avoid raising taxes and to ensure that we were fiscally responsible, and we left Annapolis with a balanced budget.

In addition, 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, allowing the State to continue to maintain our Triple A bond rating, one of only seven states to do so.

We invested a record $5.7 billion in K-12 education this year and we fully funded the major educational aid programs. We invested $1.2 billion in higher education, enabling our institutions to hold tuition increases to 3% following four years of an undergraduate tuition freeze. We also protected funding for community and private colleges and universities.

Judicial Proceedings Committee

Several of my own bills were heard in Judicial Proceedings Committee, on which I serve, and will be signed into law. These are:

SB 261, Human Trafficking - Prohibitions, expands on my original 2007 legislation making Human Trafficking a crime. This bill increases the penalty for trafficking adults to a felony and allow police to go after peripheral players, such as van drivers, doormen, and others who profit from sexual slavery.

SB 560, Traffic Citations - Option to Request Trial is a common-sense bill to save our local police departments millions in overtime costs while putting more officers on the street. The bill requires violators to respond before a court date is scheduled rather than getting an automatic court date so police spend less time awaiting "no show" defendants.

SB 815, Identity Fraud - Uniform Reporting Form will improve identity theft investigations by establishing a standardized reporting form to capture crime data from victims, enabling police to track criminals across the country more easily.

SB 820 Police Training Commission - Additional Minimum Training Requirements requires police to receive special training to recognize exploitation of children and to learn how to deal with victims of violent crime.

SB 990, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation protects our freedom of speech by strengthening the current anti-SLAPP law. A meritless civil suit filed against a person for speaking out on an issue, SLAPPS silence opponents with a costly court case.

SB 796 Criminal Procedure - Child Advocacy Centers establishes dedicated State support for Child Advocacy Centers throughout Maryland to investigate, diagnose and treat child victims of abuse or neglect, helping to convict perpetrators and minimize further traumatization.

We also heard and passed several other bills to help contain costs and preserve services. SB 48, a bill I co-sponsored, will raise court filing fees slightly fund for legal services for the poor through the nonprofit Maryland Legal Services Corporation.

Medicaid fraud drives up healthcare costs for everyone. The Maryland False Health Claims Act, which I sponsored, will protect whistleblowers and penalize those who file false Medicaid claims. This measure could save the State approximately $20 million in the first year.

Sex Offenders

Children are our most vulnerable population. We passed several bills to better protect them. I co-sponsored legislation to prevent early prison release for child sex offenders along with legislation requiring lifetime supervision of violent and dangerous sex offenders; as well as a bill that authorizes people to report to social services a child in regular contact with a known sex offender. In addition, we passed legislation to bring Maryland’s Sex Offender Registry into compliance with federal standards and allow sharing of information among state registries.

Gang Activity

Among the gang-related bills we heard this year, I supported HB 1160, The Safe Schools Act, which provides a comprehensive approach to dealing with at-risk youth in our schools. Under this Act, the Courts will alert local schools within 24 hours if a student has been arrested, and alleged perpetrators will be prohibited from attending school or riding the bus with their victims. This law also directs the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention to develop a pilot program for gang prevention and intervention services for at-risk schools. I also co-sponsored SB 517, The Maryland Gang Prosecution Act strengthening the State’s current criminal gang statute with increased penalties and prohibitions against gang kingpins.

Protecting families from foreclosures

We approved new regulations, which I co-sponsored, that allow homeowners to request a face-to-face meeting with their lenders during the foreclosure process. The bill also requires lenders to send borrowers an application for loan modification or mitigation and information about housing counseling services 45 days before filing a foreclosure action.

I was also a sponsor on SB 106, The Job Creation and Recovery Tax Credit. It is expected this law will help create 4,000 new jobs by providing a tax credit to employers who hire new employees off the unemployment rolls. We also passed legislation to shore up the Unemployment Trust Fund to ensure that those who need to access these benefits are able to do so.


The chemical Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been linked to developmental disabilities in children and reproductive problems in women. I co-sponsored legislation that will prohibit the manufacture, sale, or distribution of child-care articles that contain BPA. Also, we passed a bill to create the Chesapeake Conservation Corps to help train young people and recent college graduates in green jobs while they work to clean and protect the Chesapeake Bay.


I was a sponsor on three bills to better protect seniors:

SB 776 Assisted Living and Nursing Home Residents Protection Act of 2010 directs the Sexual Offender Advisory Board to review policies to protect residents in a nursing home where a convicted sexual offender resides.

SB 878, Reverse Mortgage Homeowners Protection Act requires lenders to provide the borrower with a written notice on the complexities and hazards of a reverse mortgage and to provide a list of approved counseling agencies for guidance. It also prohibits lenders from selling the borrower an annuity.

SB 774 Life and Health Insurance - Senior Investment Protection Act, which requires the state’s Insurance Commissioner determine the educational criteria in order to use a “senior” or “retirement advisor” designation and creates criminal penalties for violating the law.

Local Projects

Together with our District 17 team, Delegates Kumar Barve, Jim Gilchrist, and Luiz Simmons, I secured funding for local priority projects from Garrett Park (Garrett Park Nursery School - $100,000); City of Gaithersburg (Identity House - $130,000); the City of Rockville (Rockville Seniors Fitness Center - $120,000).

This has been a Session unlike any I have experienced. In spite of the continuing worldwide economic situation, the Legislature was able to come together to devise practical solutions to our State’s most pressing concerns. Looking ahead, the challenges will continue for Maryland in 2011 but I am more than ready to work with my legislative colleagues to keep our State on course.