The 90-Day Maryland General Assembly Session adjourned at midnight and Democratic Senators were able to celebrate successes on key priority policies for working families including holding down health insurance and prescription costs, creating jobs, raising Maryland’s minimum wage, reducing childcare costs, reducing college tuition costs, reducing taxes for seniors, cleaning up Maryland’s environment, and increasing voter access.
PROTECTING INSURANCE COVERAGE AND MAKING IT EASIER TO ENROLL
Senate Bill 868 from Senator Brian Feldman protects the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in Maryland by extending the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission for an additional three years through June 30, 2023. The commission must establish a specified workgroup to monitor actions relating to the ACA and determine the most effective manner of ensuring that Maryland consumers can obtain and retain quality health insurance, independent of any action or inaction on the part of the federal government or any changes to federal law or its interpretation. Another bill from Senator Feldman (Senate Bill 802) establishes the Maryland Health Insurance Option designed to facilitate insurance coverage through a check box on Maryland Tax Returns. The Option will be available for residents to use when filing a State income tax return beginning with tax year 2019.
HOLDING DOWN PRESCRIPTION COSTS
Senate Bill 759/House Bill 768 from President Pro Tempore Katherine Klausmeier (D- Baltimore County) creates a prescription drug affordability board to look at ways the state can reduce drug prices for seniors and all other Maryland residents. The agency will explore how other states around the country regulate drug prices and recommend specific steps within the next two years. In additional, the legislation allows – under certain conditions – for the Board to set upper payment limits for state government.
The Clean Energy Jobs Bill from Senator Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County) will create some 20,000 new quality jobs in the clean energy sector through 2028. Wages for these jobs (in the wind and solar energy sectors) are family-sustaining and offer Marylanders new opportunities in this growing and evolving field. Additionally, the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget includes $500M in school construction funding thus creating many good-paying construction jobs throughout the State.
RAISING MARYLAND’S MINIMUM WAGE
Senate Bill 280 from Senator Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) gradually increases the statewide minimum wage to $15 per hour by January 1, 2025. It includes mandated provider funding increases for DDA and other community health providers, creates a new ‘youth wage’ that allows (but does not require) businesses to pay minors 85% of the State’s minimum wage, and keeps the minimum cash wage for tipped employees the same, but requires that the cash wage plus tips must equal at least the statewide minimum wage.
REDUCING CHILDCARE COSTS
Senate Bill 870, from Senator Nancy King (D-Montgomery County) increases funding for the Maryland Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, modernizes the credit, and benefits approximately 110,000 Marylanders who are currently struggling to pay for adequate child care. Currently the credit can only be claimed by those who make less than $50,000 per year, this legislation expands the credit to those individuals who make more than $50,000 but less than $143,000. Additionally Senate Bill 1030 (the Kirwan Education Blueprint) provides $31.7M in funding to expand pre-kindergarten programs throughout Maryland thus eliminating childcare costs for families with children eligible to attend.
REDUCING COLLEGE TUITION COSTS
State support of Maryland’s public four-year college and universities grows by $110.7M in the 2019 General Assembly Budget. This allows in-state undergraduate tuition rate increases to be capped at 2%.
REDUCING PROPERTY TAXES FOR SENIORS
The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 654 from Senator Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard and Carroll Counties). This bill expands the number of seniors whose property taxes can be reduced by local governments.
CLEANING UP MARYLAND’S ENVIRONMENT
The Senate took a number of steps to protect Maryland’s environment for future generations. Senators passed Senate Bill 285 from Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery County) prohibiting the sale of polluting polystyrene food containers in both food service businesses and schools beginning on January 1, 2020. Senate Bill 516 from Senator Brian Feldman (D-Montgomery County) alters Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard to ensure that Maryland again becomes a leader in renewable energy usage and in the fight against climate change. The bill requires 50% of Maryland’s energy to come from renewable sources by the year 2030 and initiates a study to plan ways for Maryland to reach 100% renewable energy usage by 2040.
REDUCING CANCER RISKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
In an effort to reduce the risk of cancer to Maryland’s young people, the Senate passed two important pieces of legislation. Senate Bill 895 raises the minimum age to purchase tobacco in Maryland from 18 to 21. This bill from Senator Delores Kelley (D-Baltimore County) makes Maryland one of seven states including California, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Virginia to take this step to stop teen smoking. Senators also passed Senate Bill 299 from Senator Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s County) to prohibit minors (under the age of 18) from using tanning facilities. The use of tanning beds before the age of 35 is known to increase the risk of melanoma by nearly 60%.
INCREASING VOTER ACCESS
Maryland will join sixteen other states and the District of Columbia, with Election Day Voter Registration. The bill was sponsored by Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Chairman Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s County) and is expected to increase Maryland voter turnout between 3% and 7%.