Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Good Bills Become Good Laws

By Marc Korman.

With the legislative session safely behind us a host of new laws are being signed by the Governor. Here are a few that caught my eye this session that may not have made the Washington Post or the Gazette.

HB 217/SB 292 – Registering 16 Year Olds and Changing Registration Deadlines

This is a bill I have written about before which would allow 16 year olds to register to vote, though not actually vote until they are old enough. Importantly from my perspective, the bill also ends a voter registration deadline discrepancy allowing individuals who are changing party registration to do so up until three weeks before an election instead of the current three months.

The House defeated a proposed amendment to provide parental consent for registration, but the bill was stalled in the Senate where the chair of the Ethics & Election Law Subcommittee seems, oddly enough, to have almost no interest in election law legislation. Thanks to the work of Senators Raskin and Lenett, as well as Common Cause, the bill got out of committee and is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

HB 525/SB 279 – Medical False Claims Act

These were O’Malley bills which set up a state False Claims Act for medical fraud. Essentially, it will give the state new tools to pursue fraudulent billing claims under state funded health programs, such as Medicaid. It includes a so-called “qui tam” provision, which allows a private individual to bring the claim essentially on behalf of the government. The Federal False Claims Act has led to billions in recovery for false claims. The legislature should consider expanding the state False Claims Act to all areas of government next session.

SB 229/HB 710 – Transportation Commission

I am no fan of commissions, but the legislature has shown itself to be pretty incapable of addressing transportation funding in a fundamental way. In fact, the problem is getting worse with the budget cutting Highway User Revenue (the localities’ share of the state gas tax) severely. Under the final budget deal, it looks like just $10.7 million of funds will be distributed to localities outside of Baltimore City. Adam has done an excellent job of chronicling the long term solvency problems for the Transportation Trust Fund.

Senator Garagiola’s commission bill does not solve anything. But perhaps this Commission can help generate the political will necessary to tackle the problem in a comprehensive way. The final report is due in November of 2011. The good news for our region is that every Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Senator cosponsored the bill, showing some unified commitment to the issue. It will be our job to hold their feet to the fire to follow-up on it.

SB 336/HB 395 – Combined Reporting Commission

During the 2007 Special Session, one of the ideas on the table was combined reporting, which is a different way to tax corporations to try and capture more of the taxable income they generate in the state and prevent them from essentially transferring the tax burden to a state with a low rate, or no rate, of corporate income tax. Instead of taking an affirmative or negative position on the issue, the legislature set up a Commission to study Combined Reporting. Passed into law in 2007, the Commission was not due to report until the end of 2011.

Whether you support or oppose combined reporting, I cannot imagine why it would take four years to study an issue that 21 states have already enacted. Just to put that time in perspective, the 9/11 Commission was authorized by Congress on November 27, 2002 and issued its report on July 22, 2004, just a year and a half later. There is no excuse for a Combined Reporting Commission to take longer.

This legislation cuts a year off the Commission and requires it to report at the end of 2010. Frankly, I would have liked to have seen legislation requiring them to report even sooner. Three years is an absurd amount of time to study this.

SB 213/HB 33 – Bisphenol-A Ban

My own Senator, Brian Frosh, introduced this legislation to ban the use of Bisphenol-A, also known as BPA, in bottles and cups for children under the age of 4 by 2012. BPA is used in plastics. The FDA has raised concerns about the potential health effects of BPA exposure, which include neurological damage and certain types of cancer. Many manufacturers have started to remove BPA from child products on their own and Maryland is one of several states enacting a ban. The legislation originally included banning BPA in toys, but was watered down.

All of these bills have either already been signed into law or will be shortly. Our legislature is not perfect, but they do important work for us. These new laws are just a small sample of good bills they passed this year that are on the road to becoming good laws.