Weekly Update February 23, 2011

It is the seventh week of session, and this coming Friday will mark the 45th day, the halfway point of the legislative session. As of today, just over 900 bills have been introduced in the Senate, and just over 1200 in the House.

 

Red Scarf Day

The Joint Republican Caucus was pleased to welcome today the ladies of the Maryland Federation of Republican Women for their annual “Red Scarf Day” in Annapolis. Despite the inclement weather, GOP women from across the state arrived in town to attend caucus meetings, watch the floor session, and participate in afternoon committee hearings. The MFRW has proved invaluable in advocating for Republican issues and we look forward to working with them to advance our agenda this session and in the future.

 

Health Care Reform

Last week the House Republican Caucus held a press conference responding to Governor O’Malley’s proposed implementation of the national health care reform bill. Members of the caucus have been hard at work studying this issue, and compiled some guiding principles and alternative pieces of legislation that more closely align with the free market philosophy of the Republican Party.

A hearing on the Administration’s ill-advised health care legislation (HB 166) was held in the Health and Government Operations Committee last Tuesday.  The Health Care Freedom Act of 2011 (HB 880), sponsored by the entire Republican caucus, was introduced on February 11, but has yet to be assigned a hearing date.

If the caucus sponsored Health Care Freedom Act is passed, it will amend the Maryland Constitution in such a manner as to prohibit any citizen from being required to purchase a particular health care plan, guarantee the ability of a patient to pay directly for care, and prohibit any penalties for choosing to acquire or reject health care coverage. Comparable legislation has been ratified in 7 other states, and has been presented in 19 states in this year’s legislative session.

Visit the caucus’ blog to read the press release, and please take a moment to watch highlights from the press conference.

 

O’Malley Administration: Invest Maryland

Governor Martin O’Malley and aides went in front of the Ways and Means House Committee last week to testify for their proposed $100 million venture capital fund. The Governor’s plan for the “Invest Maryland” program involves insurance companies making contributions to the program (totaling $100 million maximum for funding to be done in 2012 thru 2014) in exchange for a tax credit against the insurance premium tax they pay. The Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED) will administer the program, and plans to return the funds, plus a significant increase, in the form of tax credits beginning in 2014.

When questioned on the reasoning behind the funding scheme during the Senate hearing, the administration pointed out that this plan avoids the current budget woes. By shifting future tax revenue to fund a program in the current year, the administration is able to present the expenditure as something else – not debt, as no bonds are issued, and yet also not a pay-as-you-go program using cash reserves or current year revenue.

There are myriad factors and risks associated with venture capital funding and with the survival of private venture capital firms. Historically, only 1 out of 7 venture capital firms survive. Governor O’Malley’s proposal not only sets up a government competitor to private investment in Maryland, but assumes that the investment choices made by the program will be sound, and that the economic recovery will be sufficiently strong to cause returns on those investments, despite the ongoing budget concerns at both the state and federal levels.

In short, this program has the potential to become a $100 million political slush fund for the O’Malley administration to divvy up amongst their cronies. The program is funded on a tenuous scheme that uses a credit card to make speculative venture capital investments based not on the numbers, as is the standard in a successful private venture capital firm, but on political calculations and social engineering.

 

Follow Ups and Look Aheads

The same-sex marriage bill was voted out of the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee last Thursday and is moving this week on to the floor of the Senate, where it is expected to pass.  The hearing for the bill in the House Judiciary committee is scheduled for Friday, February 25.

“Gun day” is coming up in the House Judiciary committee as well.  Thirteen gun-related bills are scheduled to be heard in that committee on March 8.  The bills scheduled for this day include, among others, bills that would:

- Repeal the requirement that there be “good and substantial reason” given to the Secretary of State Police in the                  issuing of a permit to wear, carry, or transport a handgun.

- Increase the penalty for use of a firearm in commission of a crime

- Make the carry or transport of a loaded firearm a felony, and increase the penalty for possession of a regulated                   firearm by a person under 21

- Prohibit manufacture, sale, purchase, receipt or transfer of a detachable magazine capable of containing more                     than 10 rounds of ammunition

 

 

 

House Republicans Discuss Health Care Reform

The House Republican Caucus responded to the Governor’s proposed health care legislation, and presented caucus legislation and guiding principles of health care reform.

“The O’Malley administration is determined to be first out of the gate in implementing Obamacare” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell. “We’re being asked by Governor O’Malley to engage in what may very well be a massive waste of time and taxpayer funds to create a new unit of government, with new spending, in order to implement federal legislation that is currently under judicial review. Regardless of how the courts ultimately rule, there is ample time to examine all of the options and come up with a reasonable and comprehensive solution.”

The package of Administration health care legislation was heard in the Health and Government Operations committee on Tuesday. The Health Care Freedom Act of 2011 (HB 880), sponsored by the Minority Leader, Delegate Smigiel, and the entire Republican caucus, was introduced on February 11, and has not yet been assigned a hearing date.

“The Health Care Freedom Act ensures our citizens will have the right to make their own health care decisions, including decisions on how to purchase and obtain health care services” said Delegate Michael Smigiel (District 36), the lead co-sponsor of HB 880. “By introducing and advocating for this constitutional amendment, we are not implying that we are opposed to health care reform. We are quite simply saying that the cornerstone of any such reform should be the preservation and protection of patients’ rights.”

The Health Care Freedom Act, if passed, would amend the Maryland Constitution in such a manner as to prohibit any citizen from being required to purchase a particular health care plan, ensure the ability of a patient to pay directly for care, and block any penalties for choosing to obtain or decline health care coverage. Similar legislation has been enacted in 7 other states, and has been introduced in 19 states in the 2011 legislative session.

“As the legislature examines the issue and considers our options, we have established a set of essential principles that we hope will guide our efforts on this matter” said Delegate Nicholaus Kipke (District 31), ranking member on the Health and Government Operations Committee. “These principles focus on ensuring the provision of high quality, affordable health care services. As policy makers work on this issue, consideration must be given to all aspects of the health care delivery system in order to achieve this goal. Our efforts in this direction should guarantee a role for the private market, maintain the individual rights of our citizens, and be as transparent as possible to ensure efficiency and accountability.”

“This issue is important to all Maryland citizens, and so it is important to all Maryland legislators. It is absolutely critical that consideration be given to alternative options, and legislation isn’t simply hurried through the process in order to gain a political advantage by being the first” said Minority Whip Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio. “Wouldn’t it be better for Maryland to gain advantages by being the best?”

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Weekly Update – February 9, 2011

We are in the fifth week of the session and introduction deadlines are upon us.  House Bills introduced after Friday February 11 will be referred to the Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.  This is not necessarily a blockade to passage, but it is a hurdle that timely bills avoid.

 

To date, 658 bills have been introduced in the House and 822 in the Senate.

 

Reagan’s 100th Birthday

As many of you know, Sunday February 6th marked the 100th anniversary of the birth of our 40th President, Ronald Reagan.  The House of Delegates recognized this momentous occasion on February 7th with the presentation of a House Resolution commemorating the milestone.  The Resolution was presented to Katja Bullock, who served as Special Assistant to the President not only in the Reagan White House but also in the Bush 42, Clinton, and Bush 43 White Houses.  Mrs. Bullock is a resident of Montgomery County and we were proud to have her join us to celebrate such a momentous occasion.

 

Governor Eliminates Rate Payer Relief

 

Governor O’Malley has spent a great deal of time painting himself as a crusader against the high costs of utilities.  If this were really the case, then why would the Governor eliminate the rate payer relief that was a part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and instead use it to prop up the budget for the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA)? 

 

The Governor’s Budget Financing and Reconciliation Act (BRFA) contains the legislative contingencies for the budget plan he proposed.  Historically, this bill has been limited to the changes in statutory formulas.  However, over the course of the O’Malley Administration the BRFA has been used to make sweeping policy changes outside the scope of the policy committees in the General Assembly.  One of these rather onerous policy changes is division of RGGI monies.

 

When RGGI was passed several years ago, one of the largest points of contention was how the monies from the auctions were to be allocated.  After intense rounds of negotiations within the Economic Matters Committee, a consensus was found and the monies were allocated to energy assistance, residential rate relief, energy efficiency and conservation, renewable and clean energy programs, and to administrative expenses at the MEA.  The BRFA reallocates the RGGI money, eliminating the ratepayer relief altogether and increasing MEA’s allocation by 185%.

 

 

Same Sex Marriage

 

One of the major issues this session is same-sex marriage.  Senate Bill 116, introduced last month, seeks to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.  The current law states that “Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State.”  Senate Bill 116 would alter that language to read “Only a marriage between two individuals who are not otherwise prohibited from marrying is valid in this state.”  This same bill has been introduced in previous years, but has failed to pass.    

 

There have been bills introduced before in Maryland seeking to recognize civil unions or domestic partnerships. Senate Bill 116 goes further, seeking to redefine marriage to include same-sex unions, not just to recognize them as civil unions.  Last year Attorney General Douglas Gansler announced that the state of Maryland will recognize same-sex marriages and civil unions that take place in other states.

 

On February 2, the House Republican Caucus voted to take a formal position on the issue of same sex marriage and released the following statement:


“The Maryland House Republican Caucus announced the caucus’ formal position supporting Maryland’s existing marriage law. Current law states that only a marriage between one man and one woman is valid in the state of Maryland.” 

 

Senate Bill 116 was heard in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee yesterday.  An identical bill, House Bill 175 has been introduced in the House of Delegates but has not yet been assigned a hearing date.

 

Proposed Septic Systems Ban

 

During Governor Martin O’Malley’s State of the State address on Wednesday there was an unexpected mention of legislation that would move to ban any new installation of septic systems in the state of Maryland.  This attack on septic systems comes from his administration declaring that septic systems are one of the top four sources of Bay pollution.  Governor O’Malley said in his speech that septic systems “by their very design are intend[ed] to leak sewage ultimately into our Bay and into our water tables.”  While malfunctioning septic tanks can leak sewage, septic systems are not designed to leak, as the Governor stated.  This illustrates the O’Malley Administration’s lack of factual information when it comes to these systems.

 

In response to the Governor’s announcement House Minority Whip Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio pointed out that Maryland already is requiring people who live within a certain distance of the bay to update their septic systems. The Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund was created in part to help homeowners pay for these septic upgrades.  It should be noted that the Governor has raided the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund repeatedly over the last two years. 

 

The Governor’s proposal has not yet been introduced but, the debate is already starting to heat up.   This proposal overall would hurt rural areas, commercial development, and the septic system service industry. The House Republican Caucus is committed to keeping you updated on this issue as the Session continues. 

State of the State Response

 House Minority Whip Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio will deliver the Republican response to the Governor’s State of the State Speech.  The response will air on MPT today following the Governor’s speech at Noon.    The Governor’s speech and Delegate Haddaway-Riccio’s response can be viewed here The text of her speech is below.

  

Good afternoon.  I’m Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio and I am a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from the 37th District on the Eastern Shore. 

I was recently elected Minority Whip in the House and have therefore been afforded the privilege to address you today.

I want to thank Maryland Public Television for providing us with this opportunity and I would like to thank you – the viewers – for taking the time to listen to an alternative point of view from the Republican Caucus. 

As you know, there is an important difference between hearing and listening.  As voters in Maryland – you sent us a strong message in the last election. 

The crux of your message was to slow government spending, improve our economy and ensure a stronger future for our State.  I believe that you were also saying put the politics aside and get the job done.  The Maryland Republican Party wholeheartedly agrees.

 

With that in mind, we expected a budget that was lean, that curbed spending and that addressed our structural deficit. 

But over the past few days, legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle have noted the fact that the Governor’s budget only reduces the deficit from $1.6 billion to $1.2 billion. 

While the Governor has made a start, it simply is not enough.

With spending still outpacing revenues, it will now be up to the Maryland General Assembly to do the heavy lifting.

We understand that this is not an easy task and it’s one that requires us to weigh our decisions not as Democrats or Republicans, but as representatives of the people. 

The citizens of Maryland have the expectation that we restore the fiscal health of our State and get government back to its core functions and out of your everyday life.

As a Caucus, that is a responsibility that we take very seriously.

While it would be easier to sit on the sidelines and criticize, we have chosen to be leaders in this process. 

Again this year, our budget recommendations significantly reduce the state’s deficit without raising taxes, without reducing vital services and without harming vulnerable populations.

These accomplishments highlight key differences in our philosophy and approach.

We agree with the Governor’s decision to end state employee furloughs, but to provide every state employee with a $750 bonus and five more days of paid vacation in the midst of a $1.2 billion deficit is irresponsible – especially if it is being paid for with a tax on hospital patients and nursing home residents.

Similarly, we agree with the Governor on the urgent need for pension reform.   This is particularly important given the fact that our pension shortfall has grown to billions of dollars. 

But the savings achieved from that reform should be re-invested in the fund to ensure solvency in the system.  Employees who have worked hard for many years deserve the peace of mind that their retirement will be there when the time comes.

We also oppose the continued practice of raiding funds to fuel new spending.  In the Governor’s FY2012 budget, dedicated tax payer dollars in the Transportation Trust Fund and the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund will again be diverted for other purposes. 

At the same time, Democratic leaders are seeking to increase taxes and fees for these funds. How can we – in good conscience – expect taxpayers to entrust their money to these purposes when the funds are continually raided for new spending?

In examining the capital budget, we looked at its effect on our State’s long term debt.  Many legislative members, including myself, have important projects that we would like to have funded, but in light of the economic times we face, our Caucus has asked that these projects not be funded. 

We believe this to be a more measured approach that provides breathing room and security for the future.

The Governor also focused on the need to create and retain jobs in the State of Maryland.

Maryland is fortunate to have economic engines such as the Port of Baltimore and lucrative industries such as biotechnology and cyber security.  Our beautiful natural resources also allow us to benefit from tourism, film and the arts.

But addressing the regulatory entanglements and the tax climate in our state would allow us to grow exponentially.  In a time of global competition, we cannot afford to enact policies that cause Maryland to be at a disadvantage. 

All time high unemployment insurance rates and the prospect of more government intervention in wage setting and employment practices will be devastating to our small businesses. 

Also of concern is our rush to be first in enacting Federal health care reform.  It’s important for health care to be affordable and accessible, but creating a new state agency and a government-run health care exchange costs money, adds bureaucracy and risks Maryland jobs.

If we must be first, we believe that a privately run exchange would create robust competition among the private sector – to lower health care costs.  Medical liability reform and modernized reimbursement rates are other important policies that should be the focus of any health reform agenda.

Lastly, I would also like to take the time to offer our perspective on Maryland’s energy policy.  In our view, a diversified energy portfolio is essential to providing affordable, reliable and sustainable power to our State. 

Off Shore wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energies are important components.  But they are not mutually exclusive to other sources of energy. 

A new nuclear power plant at Calvert Cliffs will also bring jobs and clean power and a broader solution to Maryland’s energy needs.

 

All of these policy considerations highlight what we deem the most important to our State at this time.

As leaders, we must make sound decisions with an eye toward limited government, supporting private sector growth and reducing the tax burden on our citizens. 

Ingenuity, determination and the dignity of a strong workforce will lead us to better times – not government intervention, bureaucracy and the old, tired tax and spend mentality.

We see a bright light at the end of the tunnel.   As Marylanders and Americans, we have done it before and we can do it again – but not without participation and true leadership from all branches of government and from both sides of the aisle.

As your Republican Caucus, we gladly accept that responsibility and will strive to meet that responsibility to build a strong foundation for future generations.

Thank you again for hearing our viewpoint.

May God bless you, may he bless the State of Maryland and may he bless the United States of America.

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