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.
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