The Washington Report from Annapolis: Vol 2, #2

Dear Friends,

Like many of you Ravens Fans, I am disappointed that we are not headed to the Super Bowl. The team has had one of the most impressive seasons in franchise history and played well on Sunday. The purple fever might be subsiding for a few months, but it’s bound to come back again in the fall!

I am pleased with the number of replies to my first update. Responses ran the gamut- from a simple “Hi!”’ to thoughts on the bag bill emailed from a dentist’s chair! It’s always encouraging to know that people are so engaged; so, please, keep the responses and questions coming at Mary.washington@house.state.md.us, via twitter @delmaryw or Facebook.

 

Let’s Hear It

Last Thursday, the 19th, marked my first-ever bill hearing as lead sponsor on a piece of legislation. HB 8- on electronic harassment, which I discussed in last week’s update, was heard before my colleagues in the House Judiciary committee. In preparation, I spent a great deal of time talking house members, drafting introductory remarks and looking for individuals and organizations to testify or write letters of support. In the week leading up to the hearing, 20 of my colleagues in the House requested to have their name added to the bill as cosponsors. In the end, oral and/or written testimony was provided by the Maryland States’ Attorney’s Office, the Maryland State Bar Association, the Women’s Law Center, the House of Ruth, the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Governor’s Family Violence Council and the Maryland State Police. (Check out the hearing here, our panel begins at 1:21:30) Senator Jamie Raskin cross filed the bill in the Senate last Friday; a hearing in that chamber has not been scheduled yet, but I will keep you updated on its progress.

 

The Bill Process: A Refresher

Given last Thursday’s momentous occasion, I thought that this update would be a great opportunity to refresh everyone’s memory on the legislative process. Every bill that is introduced during session is prepared by Bill Drafting in the Department of Legislative Services. During the interim and throughout the first few weeks of session, legislators can request that Bill Drafting prepare any piece of legislation that they would like to introduce that session. Once a bill request has been drafted, it is delivered to the sponsoring legislator for approval and to collect signatures for co-sponsorship. Afterward, the bill is “dropped in the hopper”, which means that it is ready for introduction to the respective chamber. Before any bill becomes law, it must pass through three “readings” in both the House and the Senate. All bills have a First Reading in the chamber where they were introduced; the First Reading simply means that the bill title is read across the chamber floor and that it is assigned to a committee for a hearing.

After a bill is heard before committee, as mine was last week, the committee may or may not take any further action on it. While all bills receive a committee hearing, not all of them receive a committee vote. It is up to the committee chair to decide whether a vote will take place. If the committee votes favorably on the bill, it is sent back to the chamber for Second Reading. During Second Reading, a voice vote is taken to accept the committee report and the full house can offer additional amendments on the bill. Finally, the bill is ordered to be printed for Third Reading. During the Third Reading, a bill can no longer be amended. The Third Reading includes all amendments to the bill, including those made in committee and by the full house. Bills that have received a Third Reading are voted on by the entire house; any bill that receives a majority has passed Third Reading and is sent to the opposite chamber to undergo the same process!

 

In the Works

In addition to the Judiciary committee hearing on the electronic harassment bill, last week was full of other meetings, briefings and events. On Tuesday, I met with representatives from Trash Free Maryland, the League of Conservation Voters, the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Anacostia Watershed Society to discuss the bag bill. In particular, we talked about the proposal to distribute 50% of revenue from the bag fee to Maryland’s jurisdictions to support community greening projects.

Last Tuesday marked the first Appropriations Full Committee briefing about the $33 million in unspent funds discovered by the Development Disabilities Administration in July, as they closed out the department’s fiscal 2011 books. Our Budget Committees requested a full accounting of what happened and a discussion of the agency’s plans for corrective action. The closeout revealed $25.7 million in unspent state funding and $8.8 million in unspent Medicaid reimbursement money from the federal government that had been rolled over from fiscal 2010. Because the state money was unspent, it reverted to the General Fund, however we were able to forward the $8.8 million in federal money to this year’s DDA budget. Additionally, in the current budget there are increases which will address this short-fall and provide much needed services. In an effort to keep this update manageable, I won’t go into much detail here. I will say, however, that I share my colleagues’ deep concerns about the lack of agency oversight and proper management of provider, state and federal funding. I am encouraged that the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Joshua Sharfstein is committed to fixing those problems and has the expertise to do it. Be assured that we will keep an eye on this one. (There’s lot’s of good coverage on this issue in the Gazette and Daily Record)

In anticipation of the bill that I am introducing to regulate Rent-to-Own businesses, I asked the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition to work with my legislative associate to deliver a presentation to the Baltimore City Delegation this past Friday. We are looking to receiving the “blue back” shortly and I will begin to collecting signatures from my fellow City Delegates and others who wish to be co-sponsors and advocates.

 

Last Word: Civil Marriage.

This morning at a press conference, Governor Martin O’Malley requested that the General Assembly take up Civil Marriage Equality. Due to requirements in the Maryland Constitution, the bill is likely to listed as “The Speaker (By Request of Administration)”, “The President (By Request of Administration)” and are not proposals of the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate. The good news is that we have been assured that the bill will pass the Senate. We have over 50 co-sponsors in the House and we are optimistic that we will be successful. I have received many letters and emails from 43rd District residents asking for passage of this Bill so that so that same gender loving, gay and lesbian couples and their families may finally be treated with the same rights and responsibilities of their fellow Marylanders under the law. If you would like to help or learn more check out http://marylandersformarriageequality.org/ or http://www.equalitymaryland.org/.

As always, I look forward to hearing from you about your thoughts and concerns.

In Partnership,

Delegate Mary Washington