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2016 Legislative Session Summary

The 436th legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly ended on April 11 after 90 days’ consideration of more than 2,800 bills introduced in 2016. The legislature approved 834 measures. Gov. Larry Hogan signed over 100 bills into law yesterday at the first of four scheduled signing ceremonies.

The Maryland Catholic Conference advocates the Church's public policy positions for the 1.2 million Catholics living in the state. Please find below a brief summary of some of the major issues we addressed this session. 

Maryland Education Tax Credit

The Conference supported several versions of the Maryland Education Credit which were introduced this year, including bills by Sen. DeGrange, Gov. Hogan, and Del. Antonio Hayes. With the support of House leadership, a bill creating the BOOST tax credit was also introduced by Del. Keith Haynes. The Senate version of the tax credit passed the Senate but did not receive a vote in the House.  However, after 10 years of advocacy, a $5 million scholarship program was created in the budget which requires the Maryland State Department of Education, with the guidance of a seven-member BOOST advisory board, to administer a scholarship program for students who qualify for free-and-reduced-price lunch to attend nonpublic schools that participate in the textbook program. Scholarships will be available for the 2016-17 school year. The program’s continuation will depend on the Governor including an annual allocation in the budget that must then be approved by the legislature each legislative session.

“This is something that we have been pursuing for years and years,” said Mary Ellen Russell, executive director of the Maryland Catholic Conference. “We have a lot of champions to thank. From the very start, Sen. Ed DeGrange has been a real hero in advocating for this and never giving up and pushing very hard year after year. I don’t think we could have accomplished this without his leadership and that of the Senate president, Mike Miller, who has been a strong supporter of this effort. Given the unrest in Baltimore City, I think House leadership finally agreed that we had to pursue every possible avenue we can to give students more opportunities. The end result is exciting for poor families in the state of Maryland.”

Physician Assisted Suicide

The Conference opposed the “End of Life Options Act,” which would have legalized physician-assisted suicide. The measure was defeated for the second year after the Senate sponsor withdrew the bill once it became clear there were not enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.  The Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide coalition again led the fight against the bill, and included advocates from the disability, elder abuse, medical and suicide prevention communities as well as faith groups.  It is anticipated that the bill will be introduced again next year.

“People came together in a significant way to combine forces to make sure this bill doesn’t pass,” added Russell. “The success of the advocacy is owing to all of those partners, the disability advocates, people fighting elder abuse, people concerned about those who already don’t have adequate access to health care and assuring that those populations will not be endangered by the passage of this bill.”

Earned Sick Leave

For the first time in four years, the House passed the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which was supported by the Conference, with a veto-proof majority one week before the end of session. The Senate did not act on the bill before Sine Die, apparently due to the fact that a deal could not be worked out with the House on a separate tax relief package that combined an expanded earned income tax credit for lower-income individuals with tax breaks for higher earners. Neither the sick leave bill nor the tax relief package passed, but it is likely that there is sufficient support for both bills to pass next year.

“I certainly hope that is true. The issue is really important to the Church because it is one of fairness to working families,” Russell said. “It helps lower-income families keep food on the table. Thanks to the tremendous advocacy of Melissa Broome (Job Opportunities Task Force) and so many other partners, they can’t say no another year.” 

Justice Reinvestment Act

The Conference supported omnibus legislation which passed on the last day of session that will refocus the state's treatment of nonviolent offenders upon restoration, rather than punishment, with the goal of reinvesting the potential savings in drug treatment and other efforts to reintegrate ex-offenders into society. After much compromising between the House and Senate, the measure passed with provisions, among many others, such as eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for drug possession charges, shortening the waiting period for sending inmates to drug treatment from an average of 167 days to 21 days, reducing age limitations for parole of elderly inmates, and adjusting probation violation sanctions to reduce the number of offenders from being sent back to prison.

Erin’s Law

The Conference supported legislation passed by the legislature that will require public and certain nonpublic schools to incorporate a child sexual abuse protection curriculum into their health curriculum. The lead sponsor cited the Catholic Church and the boy scouts as two organizations that have led the way in setting an example for other child-serving organizations in implementing practices to assist children in recognizing and reporting suspect behavior in order to protect children from future or continued harm.

Baltimore City Relief

The Conference supported several measures passed by the legislature that will provide mandated funding for investment in Baltimore City, including measures to provide increased afterschool and summer activities for students and mentoring for low-income students throughout their middle and high school years who are eligible for college scholarships. Other measures will extend library hours to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and address abandoned and vacant properties.