2015 END OF SESSION LETTER
Dear Friend and Constituent,
The Maryland General Assembly’s 2015 Legislative Session has recently concluded and I truly appreciate your trust in me to represent District 44B in Annapolis. I was elected to serve the district and work towards a better Maryland which is what I will continue to do with your support. I want to thank each of you for your phone calls, emails and personal visits sharing with me what was important to you during this past session. It is only through our communications that will I know what is important to you.
This was an exciting year for me as I was appointed to the House Judiciary committee. I was also appointed to the Criminal Justice subcommittee, and the Civil Law and Procedure subcommittee of the Judiciary committee. In addition, I was appointed to the Baltimore County delegation’s Public Safety subcommittee and served on the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland’s Executive Board as an at-large member.
In terms of legislation, I was a lead sponsor on bills and worked across the aisle to co-sponsor 40 other bills. I sponsored a total of five bills this session that I believed would improve our district and the state of Maryland; one of those bills which did not move forward was HB 582, which was cross-filed with Senator Delores Kelley. I am happy to announce that two of those bills passed the General Assembly and now await the Governor’s signature to be signed into law. These include:
- HB 533: Public Safety - Law Enforcement Officers - Body-Worn Digital Recording Device and Electronic Control Device
This bill provides an exception, under certain explicit circumstances, to the state’s wiretap law for law enforcement officers to record oral communications with body cameras and Tasers.
Law Enforcement body-worn cameras have been in the forefront of a national debate this legislative session. The tragedies in New York, and more recently in Baltimore, South Carolina, and Oklahoma provided the backdrop for this legislation to be passed here in Maryland. I believe that if police officers are equipped with body cameras that capture sound, the unfortunate encounters that have occurred in some of our communities will be reduced. Studies show that both the police and those that they engage behave more in accordance with the law when they know their conversation and actions are being recorded.
- HB 926: Baltimore City and Baltimore County - Police Behavioral Health Units - Pilot Program
I cross-filed this bill with Senator Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, requires, on or before October 1, 2016, the Baltimore City and Baltimore County police departments establish behavioral health units consisting of at least six officers who are specially trained to understand the needs of individuals with mental health, substance use, or co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders, and in cultural sensitivity and cultural competency; establishing the purpose and goals of a behavioral health unit.
This law seeks to have specially trained law enforcement officers engage persons who are exhibiting signs of having behavioral health issues. It is based on a program that has had great success in San Antonio, Texas This is another tool that can be used by law enforcement to deescalate encounters between law enforcement and the general public.
The following is a brief summary of other significant legislation of which I supported and co-sponsored. Each bill was passed by the General Assembly, and sent to the governor.
HB 121: Repeal of Mandatory Minimum Sentences for Second-Time Drug-Related Offenses.
- This bill, sponsored by Delegate Curtis Anderson, provides judges with discretion when sentencing, while still allowing the offender to participate in drug treatment programs.
HB 130: African American Heritage Preservation Program – Reestablishment and Revisions.
- This bill, sponsored by Delegate Adrienne Jones, reestablishes the subject program and enables the Maryland Historical Trust to identify and preserve buildings, communities, and sites of historical and cultural importance to the African American experience in Maryland. It requires the Trust to develop and administer the Program in partnership with the Commission on African American History and Culture. It also requires the Governor to include $ 1,000,000 for the Program in the annual budget. I believe the preservation of a people’s history, particularly in Maryland is important. How else would we know the Maryland stops on the Underground Railroad, and be able to preserve them; the segregated schools that produced the likes of Thurgood Marshall; and Royal Theatre that has been demolished, but not forgotten.
HB 466: Dedication of Structures (Hero’s Highway Act)
- This bill, sponsored by Delegate Bill Folden, establishes a process by which nearly anyone can request that the Department of Transportation Dedicate a bridge or another appropriate structure under its jurisdiction to a specified deceased member of the armed forces or an emergency responder who died in the line of duty.
HB 236: Assault on First Responders.
- This bill, sponsored by Delegate Jay Jalisi, prohibits a person from intentionally causing physical injury to first responders, such as a fire-fighter, emergency medical technician, or police officer. It sets forth specified penalties.
HB 390: Protective Order and Peace Order Petitions
- This bill, sponsored by Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, authorizes the filing of a protective order and/or a peace or petition if the abuse is alleged to have occurred in the State or if the person eligible for relief is a resident of the State. I am hopeful that this legislation will be another piece of the puzzle in our effort to keep domestic abuse victims safe. Stopping domestic violence is one of the pressing challenges of our day.
Race-Based Traffic Stops, Reporting Requirements
- This bill was introduced by Delegate Jill Carter. It requires specific law enforcement officer and agencies to report specific information to the Maryland Statistical Analysis Center based on supplied guidelines. I recalled that a few years ago, the Maryland State Police were found to have engaged in a pattern and practice of stopping motorist of color. This legislation is to obtain data on traffic stop on a broader basis in order to determine whether there is a race, ethnic, or gender statistical bias.
Workgroup to Study Safe Harbor Policy for Youth Victims of Human Trafficking
- This bill was introduced by Delegate Marice Morales. The purpose of the workgroup is found in its title. It will report its findings to the Governor and General Assembly on or before December 1, 2015. This issue is under the radar of most Marylanders. However, we have a growing problem with homeless youth, and youth that age out of the foster care system at age 18 (it used to be at age 21). Some of these youth are pried upon and brought into prostitution. This legislation seeks to determine what legal protections and provision of services are available for youth victims of human trafficking.
Maryland False Claims Act
- This bill was sponsored by Speaker Michael Busch. It prohibits specified actions constituting false claims against a governmental entity. It authorizes specific penalties and for the governmental entity to file a civil action against a person that makes a false claim.
Rain Tax or Storm Water Remediation Fee
- The General Assembly voted to remove the requirement that the state’s largest jurisdictions collect storm water fees. Jurisdictions are now allowed to put in place their own plan for funding their federally required remediation of storm water runoff.
- This was one of the most contested issues of the 435th Legislative Session. Some parties wanted an indefinite moratorium, others five, three and two years moratorium. Others, particularly Western Marylanders, wanted to be able to frack immediately. To them it was about government restricting the use of their land. For the anti-fracking group it was about water and environmental safety in future years. The communications I received from 44B residents were overwhelmingly in favor of a moratorium. In the end, we voted for the compromise two year moratorium.
The budget passed this session with no new taxes while restoring the cuts Governor Hogan made to our schools, services for pregnant women, and behavioral health. This includes:
- Education: $68.1 million to the state’s 13 largest school systems, including Baltimore County, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, where the cost of educating children is more expensive. Democrats insisted on full funding of the geographic cost index that benefits urban jurisdictions, which in our case including Carroll County, because it is part of the Baltimore Metropolitan Area.
- State Employee Pay Raises: $68.7 million will be paid to state employees so they do not lose the 2 percent COLA increase they received in January.
- Restoring Medicaid Cuts: The remainder for several health-care initiatives, including restoring cuts to Medicaid, which includes health care for pregnant women, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled and others.
- Decreased the Structural Deficit: 69% of the structural deficit has been closed as it is $500 million smaller than the Governor’s budget over the next five years.
- Maintained AAA Bond Rating: The budget protects Maryland’s AAA bond rating, which is a sign of fiscal health and responsibility. Part of maintaining our AAA bond rating is modernizing how our state pension fund is funded. The state pension fund will achieve 80% funding on schedule by 2023 and full funding before 2040.
I will continue to keep you informed as significant developments occur over the coming months. You may also visit the Maryland General Assembly website for updated information.
I could not do any of this without your ongoing support and friendship. Thank you for honor and privilege of serving as your Delegate in the Maryland House of Delegates. If I can be of further service, please feel free to contact me or my legislative aid Gene Clark.
Delegate Charles E. Sydnor III