Dear Friends and Neighbors:
It is with great pleasure that I share with you a summary of the 2016 Legislative Session. I am honored to have been able to advocate on your behalf and fight for issues that are most important to you. Thank you for being involved in our community.
This session, my office received an influx of letters and calls about some very serious and controversial issues have a direct impact on our community. These were the most talked about issues this year:
Your Hot Topics for the 2016 Legislative Session
- State Budget
- Tax Relief
- Over-Testing In Schools
- Regulation of Online Fantasy Sports
- Policing Policy/Justice Reform
- Drunk Driving Regulation
- Funding for Prince George’s Regional Medical Center
- Gas/Electric Surcharges
- Equal Pay For All
- Employer Paid Sick leave
- Overturn Citizens United
My Legislative Priorities
Property Tax Relief – I am pleased to say that I was able to move forward legislation establishing a framework to bring property tax relief to low-income senior homeowners in Prince Georges County. SB 256 enacted this year provides homeowners over the age of 70, who have lived in the home for five years and whose household income is under $45,000, to defer paying their County property taxes until their home is sold or ownership is transferred to another individual. The County tax office would keep track and notify homeowners every year of the amount of tax that may be deferred. Eventually, taxes would be paid when the home is sold or deed to a new owner.
The County Council supported my bill and now it will be up to them to implement the program. I sincerely hope that this program will help seniors living on a fixed income stay in their home for as long as they wish.
Prince George’s County Regional Medical Center– I have worked since 2007 to bring a top flight health care system to Prince George’s County. I am proud to say that Dimensions Health and the University of Maryland Medical System partnership continues to move forward on the new Hospital Center at Largo. Unfortunately this year, the Governor did not include all the funding for the hospital as previously agreed. I worked hard with the Prince George’s Delegation and the County Executive to make sure that additional funds were included in a supplemental budget to keep the hospital on track. While the County negotiated a new Memorandum of Understanding with the Hogan Administration, the Legislature passed SB324 which will mandate the funding required to complete the project with no further surprises from the current or future administrations.
Funding for Local Projects – Each year, the legislature sets aside funds in the Capital Budget to provide for local projects that stimulate the economy, provide jobs and help non-profit organizations serve our community better. In previous years, I secured funds to renovate the tracks at Largo and Forestville High Schools; construct an addition at the District Heights Municipal Center for seniors; renovate the Lake Arbor Community Center; and construct new facilities for the Capital Area Food Bank. This year’s projects include:
Bishop McNamara Multipurpose Room – $200,000 for the renovation of a multi-purpose room to be used in part by the City of District Heights for community events, a community food bank, free summer meals for children, and better access as a polling place.
Mt. Ephraim Adult Day Care Center– $100,000 for the renovation of the Joseph A. Gilmore Adult Day Care Center that offers care, programming, and classes for our seniors and other community organizations.
I serve on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, which makes crucial decisions concerning the State Operating and Capital budgets. As a committee, we were able to pass a structurally sound budget that provides cores services, and protects our Triple-A bond rating.
We have fully funded K-12 education, including the Geographical Cost of Education Index formula and a one-time allocation for the County’s unexpected teacher pension costs. Statewide, we are spending more than $300 million in school construction. College tuition growth has been capped at 2%.
Along with my colleagues, we were able to ensure that Prince George’s county will receive a total of $1.3 billion dollars in local government aid. In total, Prince George’s County received 6.8% more in funding this year than last year.
Over-testing in schools: Many constituents wrote in opposition of the amount of time students spend taking tests. Teachers and parents alike are concerned about the time taken away from classroom instruction by these tests. An exhaustive study is underway with results due by June 30, 2016. Once those reports are out, we will know what action to take to resolve this concern.
Pathways in Technology Early College High (P-TECH) Schools: This measure provides a course of study leading to a high school degree and an associate’s degree or approved certificate in six years. The first stage of grant funding will be available to schools that want to participate in this promising program.
Maryland’s 529 College Savings Plan – to encourage families to save for the children’s college tuition, the State will donate up to $250 to families who deposit money into the State’s 529 Plan.
Education Affordability Act – will provide tax credits to students who have a student-loan debt exceeding $20,000. The initial program will be limited to 1,000 people based on income and debt criteria.
Keeping Our Communities Safe
Unfortunately, the past 90-day Session was not without violence in our community. We saw the tragic deaths of Nashante and Chole Davis and Officer Jacai Colson. We also witnessed many other senseless acts of crime and violence. We must continue to rise together and combat these preventable tragedies in our community. Controversial conversations about gun control and mental health shouldn’t just happen in Annapolis. We need to address these issues at home and in the streets and erase the stigmas that come along with them. Education and awareness will save lives and keep us all safer.
SB1143- Violence Prevention Task Force – to develop domestic violence prevention strategies and policies passed in the wake of the deaths in our community of Nashante and Chloe Davis. Additionally, we will explore new interventions that might strengthen efforts to prevent domestic violence.
Justice Reinvestment Act– is a new approach to sentencing policies for non-violent and minor drug crimes by increasing our focus on drug treatment instead of incarceration. New sentencing guidelines will help reduce prison populations of non-violent offenders and provide opportunities for offenders to get a clean start. The reform also includes stiffer penalties for some violent crimes.
Police Training and Accountability – Among other things this law will require ongoing police training in antidiscrimination, use of force and de-escalation methods along with mandatory psychological evaluation of officers who have been involved in a traumatic incident or have served in a military combat deployment. Citizen police complaints will receive greater attention and be reviewed by an independent board.
Noah’s Law: Legislation passed both houses in honor of fallen Officer Noah Leotta, who was making a traffic stop when he was struck down by drunk driver. The bill will expand the use of ignition interlock devices, preventing drunk drivers from starting their cars, to all drivers who have been convicted of impaired driving at or above the State’s legal blood alcohol limit.
Purple Line- Measures were taken to move forward with the Purple Line Project. The proposed 16.2 miles of light rail will run between Bethesda and New Carrollton with 21 stops. Construction is expected to begin later this year and be completed by 2022.
Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016- While the Governor vetoed the bill in record fashion this year, the Maryland General Assembly quickly overrode the veto in both houses. The act will enact a scoring system that will rank transportation projects based on their benefit to users, their community, the environmental impact, and other relevant criteria. The bill’s goal is to take preferential politics out of transportation decisions.
Every Day Issues
Equal Pay: Senate Bill 481 strengthens and expands equal pay for equal work laws in Maryland to all employers, by ensuring that businesses cannot penalize employees for discussing salaries. The bill will also allow for greater transparency on existing pay disparities and broadens State standards used to determine whether unlawful compensation discrimination exists.
Mandatory Paid Sick Leave: At the last hour, small businesses raised concerns about provisions of a bill to require all employers of more than 9 people to provide paid sick leave at a rate based on the number of hours worked per week. Hopes are high that next year, the bill will receive enough support to pass and gain the Governor’s endorsement.
Fantasy Sports: The regulation of online gaming, specifically fantasy sports, did not pass. While many may be pleased with this outcome, the Attorney General will now be forced to move forward with efforts to end this type of gambling, given the current definition of gambling in the State’s statute.
Gas/Electric Surcharges: Many constituents lobbied against proposed legislation to raise the monthly surcharges from gas/electric surcharges by $2 to pay for infrastructure (pipelines) repair and replacement. The measure was not supported by the General Assembly.
Commuter Tax Credits – to encourage employers to offer commuter to its employees the credit will be raised from $50 to $100 per month. If you use MTA, MARC, or Metro commute to work check with your employer to see if you qualify.
Community Rising! District 25 Night in Annapolis
We hosted our District Night in Annapolis on February 29th with a packed house. Nearly 300 of our beloved supporters, residents, and elected officials helped us honor and celebrate our Community’s Rising Stars. Those honored included high school student Ayanna Holmes, college students DeRonte Craig and Travis Latchman, middle school principal Dr. William Blake, Pastor Bobby Manning, and businessman Andrew Gore. It is so exciting to see these young men and women succeeding in the lives and giving back to our community. Congratulations!
Prince George’s County continues to rise. Our housing markets are growing, business ownership is up, high school graduation rates are up, college graduation rates are up, community programs are constantly being developed, funded, and implemented. I look forward with great expectations to our future.
It is truly an honor to serve the citizens of the 25th Legislative District. If I can be of service to you in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.
2016-2017 Senatorial Scholarships Available Now!
If you are planning to attend a Maryland College or University, you are eligible to apply for a Senatorial Scholarship