This is “cross-over week” in the General Assembly – an insider’s term for the week before important bill deadlines. Under the rules, each chamber has until Monday, March 28th to send to the other chamber those bills it intends to pass. So, all the House Bills must be passed on to the Senate and vice versa. Bills passed after that date must go to the respective chamber’s Rules Committee – a hurdle to avoid with less than three weeks remaining. Cross-over week means multiple floor sessions and multiple committee voting sessions. The pace is fast and the tension is high.
House Passes $34 Billion Budget
Contrary to what you may read in the Baltimore Sun, the House of Delegates passed a $34 billion budget Thursday night.
General Fund spending in this budget increases by 10.6% over last year. This was largely because of the backfilling to replace Federal Stimulus dollars that are no longer available. Had the necessary reductions been made two years ago, these increases would not have been necessary. But, the Governor and Democratic leadership could not resist the temptation to use that temporary money to fund permanent programs. So, here we are.
The budget was balanced with a combination of tax and fee increases including:
- Doubling the Vehicle Titling Tax from $50 to $100
- Doubling the Vanity Plate Fee from $25 to $50
- Doubling the Land Recording Fees from $20 to $40
- Doubling the Birth Certificate Fees from $12 to $24
- Doubling the Parole Supervision Fee from $25 to $50
- Increasing Nursing Home Tax from 4% to 5.5%
- Increasing Hospital Assessments, adding 2.5% to rates
- Applying a 2% Tax to Insurance Premiums for the Injured Workers Insurance Fund
The unsustainable nature of these spending increases will make the taxes and fees included in this budget a mere preview of things to come.
What is important to remember is there was another option. The House Republican Caucus offered an alternative budget that would have decreased spending and put Maryland on a course to lower taxes and fiscal stability. The Democrats in the House of Delegates rejected this alternative at every turn. So when the time comes for another round of massive tax increases and they tell you there is no choice but more taxes – don’t believe them.
On track for passage today is HB 235 – Human Relations – Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity – Antidiscrimination. This bill would protect people who identify with a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, or people who wish to dress in a manner that is not congruent with the gender they were assigned at birth.
For example a male teacher who wishes to dress as a female must, without the benefit of a sex-change operation, be allowed to dress as a woman in the classroom and cannot be fired or punished for doing so. An amendment to the bill adds that the employee must dress consistently. A man may dress as a woman if he wishes, but he must consistently do so – he cannot switch back and forth.
The bill deals only with housing and employment. In previous years similar bills have been introduced and have included the use of bathrooms and locker rooms, which are not included in the bill this year. Further, the bill would protect transgendered and transsexuals from being discriminated against when renting property. An amendment to the bill allows individuals to refuse a renter based on any criteria, but not to include discriminatory language in an advertisement. For example, if Aunt Martha wants to rent out an apartment that she owns, and a transgender person wants to rent it, she’s free to refuse him if she wishes. She cannot, however, put an advertisement in the newspaper that reads “Apartment for rent. One bedroom, one bath. Furnished. No smoking, no pets, no transgenders.”
This bill has been flying under the media’s radar and may pass so the liberal Democrats in the General Assembly can appease their supporters in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender (GLBT) Community who are still upset with the failure of the Gay Marriage bill.