Annapolis: Senate Democrats Push Bills in Time to Override Hogan Vetoes

Democrats in the Maryland Senate on Tuesday passed several pieces of legislation that are largely opposed by Gov. Larry Hogan, most notably a bill that would regulate the parameters for school evaluations and another that would require the state to fund Planned Parenthood should federal funding for that program be lost.

In addition to the Democrats’ package of legislation, both the House and Senate passed the state’s operating budget for the 2018 fiscal year on Tuesday.

The fiscal legislation passed after Hogan, a Republican, agreed to include $23 million for Baltimore City Public Schools in a supplemental budget. The funding for public schools had been a point of conflict in the budget negotiations.

This year’s budget process reportedly went significantly smoother than it did in the past two legislative sessions. The final budget checks in at $43.5 billion and leaves $144 million unappropriated to deposit into the state’s rainy day fund.

House Appropriations Committee Chair Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said, “I really felt this year for the first time that (Hogan’s) staff worked a lot (and) were more hands on in terms of working with the budget committees; that makes it a lot easier.”

The Senate on Tuesday also took up legislation that the governor has signalled he is likely to veto. With the end of the session approaching, Democrats, who hold a supermajority in both chambers of the Maryland Legislature, needed to pass the bills soon to ensure enough time to override any vetoes during this session.

On Tuesday, Democrats passed the school-evaluation bill; the Planned Parenthood contingency funding; and a bill to preserve sanctuary oyster beds until December 2018. All three pieces of legislation passed largely on party lines.

Another significant piece of legislation, a resolution that would authorize the state’s attorney general to pursue cases against the federal government on a wide range of issues, was delayed to Wednesday. The resolution is widely seen as an effort to challenge policies coming out of the Trump Administration.

With control of Congress and the White House, Republicans have their best chance in years of cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Maryland Democrats in the Senate passed a House bill Tuesday that would require the state make up the potential federal funding loss.

The Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2017 proposed in Congress, aims to remove to Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc.’s access to federal funds for one year.

Hogan’s current budget includes $9.9 million for the Title X Family Planning Program, according to a Department of Legislative Services fiscal analysis. The designated funds include $6 million in general funds, which satisfies the federal maintenance of effort requirement, and $3.9 million in anticipated federal funds, according to the analysis.

The bill would require the state to make up the $3.9 million lost from federal funding to its best ability, taking into consideration the limitations of the budget, according to the analysis.

The Title X Family Planning Program serves approximately 71,000 Maryland women at more than 75 clinical sites, according to the department’s analysis.

Sen. Gail Bates, R-Carroll and Howard, urged for transparency in the bill with an amendment to require the company to provide a report that breaks down the types of services that are provided. She argued that the report might even provide “comfort” if it confirms that abortions are a minimal percentage of the services Planned Parenthood provides. The proposed amendment failed.

Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery, said this information can be found in a Medicaid report. Madaleno also made a point to specify that this bill does not fund abortions, but gives funds to allow Planned Parenthood to continue providing other women’s health services.

Another measure, the Protect Our Schools Act of 2017, would set standards for the plan to improve student outcomes that the state submits to the U.S. Department of Education. The sticking point for lawmakers is that the bill may not sufficiently weigh academic achievement when assessing schools, in which case the state could lose nearly $250 million in federal funding. Furthermore, the bill restricts the state’s ability to intervene in failing schools, which opponents worry is intended to limit the creation of charter schools and voucher systems.

The bill specifies which measures could be considered when determining a school’s quality, prohibiting student testing from being one of them.

Republicans opposed the bill largely on the grounds that it undermines school choice and makes it more difficult for students in struggling schools to get an effective education.

Several Republicans expressed concern that the bill would prevent the state from improving struggling schools for several years. Sen. J.B. Jennings, R-Baltimore and Harford, attempted a filibuster, but the Democratic majority limited debate after about 15 minutes.

Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, defended the bill, saying emphatically that it “does not remove charter schools” and that it only prevents the state board of education from approving charter schools without local input. However, he also said that part of the motivation for the bill is a concern that some leaders in the state department of education want to privatize schools, introduce vouchers, and “destroy our public school system.”

The state’s Department of Education could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sen. Steven Hershey, R- Caroline, Cecil, Kent & Queen Anne’s, described the bill as part of a “battle between the school board and the teachers’ union” and said he was “not convinced that this entire body knows what it’s doing.” He proposed an amendment that would have delayed the effects of the bill until five other specific states with highly ranked education systems come forward with similar plans; the amendment was rejected.

Madaleno insisted “we are not rushing this bill,” that “this is not a partisan issue, this is not about who is president or who is governor,” and that “this is our one chance to in fact be a national leader to set up the most comprehensive set of standards to determine how schools succeed and how they don’t.”

Baltimore City schools were repeatedly cited as examples of places where students would benefit from being able to move out of struggling public schools and into charter schools or, through a voucher, pay down the cost of a private school.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, defended the Baltimore public school system, saying that “they may not have succeeded to the extent that some would like to see but our efforts are strong.”

In a statement, Hogan said he believes “very strongly that every child in Maryland deserves a great education, regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in” and that “this legislation would make that nearly impossible.” The governor has said he will veto the bill.

By Jacob Taylor and Cara Newcomer

–Capital News Service correspondent Jake Brodsky contributed to this report.

Annapolis: General Assembly Leaders push for Plan to Increase Diversity in Medical Marijuana Licenses

The president of the Maryland Senate is sponsoring a bill to increase diversity in medical marijuana grower licenses after a spate of other legislation addressing the issue has failed to gain traction in the Maryland General Assembly.

The bill, sponsored by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, would grant up to five more growing licenses and increase the likelihood they would go to minority-owned businesses. The Natalie M. LaPrade Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission would partner with historically black colleges and universities and conduct outreach targeted toward minorities and women, under Miller’s bill.

Maryland has had one of slowest rollouts of medical marijuana in the country. The commission, which grants licenses to growers, processors and dispensaries, has been hampered by legal battles and subsequent legislation since Maryland legalized medical cannabis in 2014.

To squash pending lawsuits, the five new licenses would include two businesses that are currently suing the commission.

After complaints surfaced that the commission didn’t fairly include representation in areas of southeastern Maryland, the commission revised their original unanimous decision on the 15 companies slated to receive growing licenses by bumping two higher-scoring applicants, GTI and Maryland Cultivation and Processing LLC, and replacing them with two lower-scoring applicants from the underrepresented areas.

Representatives from GTI confirmed that they would withdraw their suit against the commission if they can acquire a license under this new legislation.

Moreover, the Legislative Black Caucus earlier this year called for an overhaul of the commission after expressing outrage when none of the 15 pre-approved growing companies for licenses was owned by African Americans.

While the bill does not prohibit current members of the commission from being reappointed, it does shrink the commission from 16 to nine members, said Victoria Gruber, Miller’s chief of staff. The bill also includes language to create a more “diverse board” to better reflect the racial, gender and ethnic makeup of Maryland, she added.

While previous bills to increase the diversity have included a preference for minority-owned business, this may violate the U.S. Constitution, Cheryl A. Brown-Whitfield, principal counsel of the Maryland Department of Transportation, said earlier this session.

Maryland would need to conduct a study to evaluate whether discrimination does exist in the medical cannabis industry before it could take race-conscious measures in awarding licenses, Zenita Hurley, the Maryland attorney general’s director of legislative affairs and civil rights, told lawmakers earlier this session.

However, to speed the process the state may be able to hire an expert to review existing disparity studies, such as in the agriculture or pharmaceutical fields, to determine whether the state can move forward with a preference for minority-owned businesses in Maryland’s medical marijuana industry without a full-blown study, Gruber said.

The bill proposes to employ either a disparity study or an expert to determine whether there is a need for a minority-business preference before doling out the three remaining licenses, Gruber said.

It would also establish a fund to provide veterans and low-income patients with a way to pay for the drug. This would be provided through a 1 percent fee on growers and processors and 0.5 percent fee on dispensaries, Gruber said. The commission will be able to adjust these fees, she added.

The commission expected medical cannabis to be available to patients this summer, Vanessa Lyon, a spokeswoman for the group, said in late February.

– 30 –

Annapolis: School Scoring Bill sent to Hogan, who Promises Veto

Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly on Tuesday passed legislation establishing parameters for school evaluations that the state school board strongly opposes and Gov. Larry Hogan has promised to veto.

The House went along with Senate amendments, and sent the bill to Hogan, who called it “an utter disgrace.”

If the bill is delivered to Hogan’s office by Monday, he has six days to act on it, giving the legislature the chance to override a veto before it adjourns April 10. It is one of several bills Democratic leaders hope to send to Hogan in time to override promised vetoes.

The Protect Our Schools Act would set standards for a plan to improve student outcomes that the state must submit to the U.S. Department of Education under the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

The sticking point for Hogan and GOP lawmakers is that the bill does not sufficiently weigh academic achievement when assessing schools. In that case the state could lose nearly $250 million in federal funding, a legislative analyst suggested.

Advocates for the teachers union scoffed at the notion the Trump Department of Education would reject any state plan, since ESSA gives much wider latitude for the states to set policy than under No Child Left Behind, the federal law it replaced.

The bill also restricts the state Department of Education’s ability to intervene in failing schools, which opponents worry is intended to limit the creation of charter schools and voucher systems.

Academic indicators raised

The bill specifies which measures could be considered when determining a school’s quality and prohibits student testing from being one of them. As introduced, the academic indicators amounted to 55% of the total score for a school, but the Senate raised that to 65% Tuesday and the House accepted the amendment.

“Members of the legislature just voted to trap thousands of our kids in failing schools and jeopardize over a billion dollars in education funding over the next five years – all to protect the teachers unions and preserve the unacceptable status quo,” Hogan said in a press release. “It’s an utter disgrace and one of the most irresponsible moves our legislature has ever made.”

Republicans opposed the bill largely on the grounds that it undermines school choice and makes it more difficult for students in struggling schools to get an effective education.

Several Republicans expressed concern that the bill would prevent the state from improving struggling schools for several years. Senate GOP leader J.B. Jennings attempted a filibuster, but the Democratic majority limited debate after about 15 minutes.

Concern about charter schools and privatizing
Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-Prince George’s, defended the bill, saying emphatically that it “does not remove charter schools” and that it only prevents the state board of education from approving charter schools without local input. However, he also said that part of the motivation for the bill is a concern that some leaders in the state department of education want to privatize schools, introduce vouchers, and “destroy our public school system.”

The State Board of Education, now dominated by Hogan appointees, held an emergency meeting last week to reinforce its earlier opposition to the legislation, which preempts its role in setting policies to implement ESSA that it has been working on for over a year.

Sen. Steven Hershey, R-Upper Shore, described the bill as part of a “battle between the school board and the teachers’ union” and said he was “not convinced that this entire body knows what it’s doing.”

He proposed an amendment that would have delayed the effects of the bill until five other specific states with highly ranked education systems come forward with similar plans; the amendment was rejected. This amendment was modeled on a Democratic redistricting reform measure that also required action by five states, which Republicans had derided as an excuse to do nothing about gerrymandering.

Sen. Rich Madaleno, D-Montgomery, insisted “this is not a partisan issue, this is not about who is president or who is governor.”

“This is our one chance to in fact be a national leader to set up the most comprehensive set of standards to determine how schools succeed and how they don’t,” Madaleno said.

Baltimore City schools were repeatedly cited as examples of places where students would benefit from being able to move out of struggling public schools and into charter schools or, through a voucher, pay down the cost of a private school.

Sen. Nathaniel McFadden, D-Baltimore, a former school administrator, defended the Baltimore public school system, saying that “they may not have succeeded to the extent that some would like to see but our efforts are strong.”

Reporting also done by the Capital News Service

Shore Progressives Prepare to Address Health Care, Other Issues At Harris Town Hall

Members of Eastern Shore progressive organizations, along with thousands of non-partisan progressive citizens groups formed to oppose the Trump agenda, are relieved that the Affordable Care Act has so far survived Republican attempts to repeal it.

“The persistent and strong national grassroots activism of these groups played a major role in the ultimate failure of the Republicans to bring a replacement bill up for a vote,” said Emily Jackson, co-leader of Together We Will – Delmarva.

Acknowledging that the ACA can be improved, many members of Talbot Rising are proponents of a single-payer system. “If 35 of the world’s developed nations can provide healthcare to all their citizens as a right, not a privilege based on income, we can do it here too,” said Denice Lombard, a member of Talbot Rising and the Talbot County Democratic Women’s Club. “A single-payer system fixes all the problems of healthcare we face. It’s high quality, affordable and accessible.”

Lombard dismissed the notion that individuals and states should pick and choose what kind of healthcare they need. “All of our bodies need healthcare at different times in our lives,” she said. “None of us has a crystal ball to see what our health care needs will be, and all of these arguments twist our society into a giant pretzel that ultimately protects the rights of for-profit insurance companies over people.”

Although many constituents had planned to press 1st District Rep. Andy Harris on the Republican healthcare bill at his town hall, scheduled for Friday, March 31, at 6 p.m. at Chesapeake College’s Todd Performing Arts Center, turnout is expected to be strong even though GOP leadership failed to muster enough votes to pass the bill last week.

“We have plenty of other issues to discuss with our congressman,” said Talbot Rising founder Michael Pullen. “We want Andy Harris to represent our interests, but when he co-sponsors a bill to undermine public education, one to withhold federal funds from communities that want to protect immigrants from deportation and provide sanctuary for them, and when he comes out in support of destroying the EPA, people can’t just stand by and let that happen without a fight,” said Pullen. “While Trump proposes to add $54 billion of our tax dollars to the defense budget while taking money away from the needs of the American people and the environment, we have no choice but to protest.”

Dorotheann S. Sadusky, president of the Democratic Club of Queen Anne’s County also weighed in. “As a member of the Labor, Health & Human Services Committee, Congressman Harris must tell us if he intends to support Trump’s budget that calls for elimination of such agencies as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the Inter-American Foundation and the Chemical Safety Board to name a few.”

Harris set aside only one hour for the town hall in a venue that holds 1,000 people. Several regional progressive organizations have requested that Harris extend the length of the meeting and have vowed to continue the town hall outside with or without the congressman. “We will be heard one way or the other, rain or shine,” said Debbie Krueger, co-leader, of Together We Will – Delmarva.

Annapolis: Senate gives Final Approval to Fracking Ban

Maryland’s Senate gave final approval Monday night to a permanent ban on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, making the state the second in the nation with known gas reserves to ban the practice.

By a vote of 35 to 10, the Senate sent the bill banning “fracking,” as it’s commonly called, to Gov. Larry Hogan, who recently indicated he supports it. The House earlier had given its overwhelming approval to the same measure.

The bill’s passage makes Maryland the second state in the nation with proven natural gas reserves to ban fracking. New York banned it by executive order; Vermont has banned it by legislation, but lacks known gas reserves.

The vote all but ends a six-year debate about whether to permit fracking in western Maryland, which sits atop a gas-rich Marcellus Shale deposit that stretches from New York into North Carolina.

Though the gas industry has touted the process as safer than other extraction methods, fracking has led to drinking water contamination, hazardous spills, and forest fragmentation in nearby states that have allowed it, such as Pennsylvania and West Virginia. In Maryland, only the mountainous western counties of Allegany and Garrett contain the shale reserves; residents there were split over whether to allow the practice, though area politicians wanted it.

Environmentalists, purveyors of tourism, and many rural residents hailed the vote.
“All of Maryland has united to protect its residents and future residents from the harmful impacts of fracking,” anti-fracking activists Jackie and Dale Sams of Allegany County said in a statement.

Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, called it “a win for Marylanders and for citizens nationwide as we move away from violent fossil fuels and toward sustainable wind and solar power.”

But Drew Cobbs, executive director of the Maryland Petroleum Council, called the General Assembly’s action “misguided” and asserted that it hurts the state’s economy and its environment.

“Maryland depends year-round on natural gas that is safely produced in neighboring states,” Cobbs said, noting that the nation’s increased use of natural gas has helped reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions to a 25-year low.

Fracking involves drilling horizontally deep underground, then injecting liquid at high pressure into rocks to force fissures and extract oil or gas. There has been a moratorium in effect the past two years, which is scheduled to expire Oct. 1.

Proponents argued that extracting the gas in Marcellus Shale deposits could bring jobs and boost the economically depressed region. But critics have pointed to problems with fracking in neighboring states, including spills and contaminated wells, and to studies finding health risks associated with the practice. Others have warned a drilling boom could kill western Maryland’s growing tourism and outdoor recreation businesses, among them some of the best trout fishing in the region, the Wisp ski resort, and Deep Creek Lake.

The energy industry, which once leased rights to drill over much of Garrett County, had at one time been pressing to drill in Western Maryland. But a bonanza of wells drilled elsewhere in the country has yielded a glut in natural gas, driving down prices and profits, reducing incentives for the industry to prospect for new reserves. Most of the leases signed years ago have been allowed to lapse, which led proponents and opponents alike to acknowledge there likely wouldn’t be a rush to drill in Maryland even if permitted.

After several years of debate and study, Maryland lawmakers imposed a temporary moratorium in 2015 to give state regulators time to draw up regulatory safeguards for the practice. Last year, the Department of the Environment proposed what Hogan contended are the toughest fracking regulations of any state in the country, which he argued would have made it “virtually impossible” for any drilling to be permitted.

But a joint House-Senate committee found the rules not stringent enough, and put a hold on them. Though that hold was only temporary, and the administration could have pressed ahead with the regulations, Hogan made a surprise about-face in mid-March, announcing that he would endorse a permanent fracking ban. He cited the legislature’s failure to act on the administration’s rules as a factor in his decision.

While the debate focused on fracking’s impact on Western Maryland, it became a statewide issue, in part because of the spreading impact of the gas drilling boom in neighboring states. Dominion, the Richmond-based energy company, is in the process of developing a plant to liquefy natural gas at Cove Point and export it to Asia from a terminal off Calvert County in the Chesapeake Bay. That project also sparked fierce debate as well as lawsuits, though state and federal officials ultimately approved it.

Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets.

Annapolis: Legislature Braces for ACA Repeal despite Congress’s Failure

The Maryland House of Delegates on Friday adopted its version and a Senate version of the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Act to plan for the potential loss of $4 billion in annual Medicare and Medicaid dollars that flow to the state annually, should the Republican-controlled Congress succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act.

The loss of funding could result in 400,000 Marylanders losing their health coverage, according to analysis from the Maryland Department of Legislative Services released in January to assess the impact of repeal.

But during floor debate on Friday morning, Warren Miller, R-Howard, asked if the measure could be delayed pending the outcome of a scheduled 3:30 vote in Congress on the American Health Care Act, the GOP’s replacement to the ACA.

“There is a very good possibility there could be no repeal,” Miller.

Miller’s comments were correct and several hours later U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan announced there would be no vote and conceded that the AHCA failed to win the support of GOP majority.

“Obamacare is the law of the land and will remain the law of the land until it is replaced,” Ryan said at an afternoon press conference announcing his decision to cancel a vote on his plan. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future…I don’t know how long it’s going to take to replace this law.”

Congressman Andy Harris, Maryland’s only Republican in Congress, originally lauded the Ryan plan as a way to reduce costs for patients while increasing the quality of health care, but by Friday Harris pulled his support.

Democratic leaders in Annapolis and Washington fear the GOP Congress will continue attempts at repeal before the end of Trump’s first term.

“Today, tens of millions of Americans can breathe a small sigh of relief as President Trump, Speaker Ryan, and House Republicans failed to eliminate their healthcare coverage—at least for now,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland’s 7th District in a statement.

Being prepared

Del. Bonnie Cullison, chair of the health insurance subcommittee, said regardless of what happened Friday the state should be prepared for potential changes. She said the state needed to brace for repeal or drastic changes that could result in loss of coverage or a spike in premiums and other costs.

“We need to be prepared and we’re going to have to look at some other ways to deliver [health care] services,” She said.

She said options may be limited to bringing back high-risk pools like the Maryland Health Insurance Plan (MHIP), a public health plan established by the legislature in 2002, the Health Insurance Safety Net Act, to cover individuals who could not get coverage due to pre-existing conditions or who were deemed uninsurable. The program established 41 medical conditions that automatically qualified individuals for enrollment.

Coverage under MHIP was supported by premiums, a 1% assessment of hospital rates and federal grant funds. The plan was phased out in January 2014 when coverage became available under the ACA. Those who could still not afford coverage qualified under the Medicaid expansion if their incomes were 133% of the poverty level or less.

“But we’re not looking favorably on any of our options right now,” Cullison said. ‘We’re going to have to look at some other ways of delivering the service.”

“There may be very high premiums but it would cover the people who absolutely need health care and don’t have it,” she said. She said it could be a stopgap against medical bankruptcy and would hopefully include a prohibition against lifetime limits on coverage.

“These are out there as options but we are not looking favorably on any of our options right now,” Cullison said.

Minor amendments were adopted on Friday to make the bills identical and final passage is expected next week. The Senate passed its version March 18 in a party-line vote, 33-14.

by Dan Menefee

Maryland Commission would Monitor Health Care Coverage as Congress Replaces ACA

The Maryland Senate on Friday adopted the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Act to monitor congressional plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that could cost the state billions to maintain current coverage.

The intent of the bill, SB571, offered by Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton and 31 other Democratic co-sponsors, is to study ways to prevent 400,000 Marylanders from losing health insurance and plan for a potential loss of $4 billion in federal Medicaid and Medicare dollars that flow to the state each year.

Sen. Jim Brochin, D-Baltimore County, was the only Democrat not to sign on as a co-sponsor.

Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton

A plan released by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan March 6 cuts $880 billion from the Medicaid program and $673 billion in premium subsidies to those who purchased insurance through the exchanges, according to Congressional Budget Office report released last week, page 6.

Under Ryan’s plan, the American Health Care Act, the CBO estimated that 24 million Americans would become uninsured by 2026 from the loss of Medicaid funding and the eventual loss of federal subsidies available to those with incomes between 133% and 400% of the federal poverty rate.

Middleton’s bill is expected to pass in a final vote this week. A cross-filed bill in the House is co-sponsored by all 91 Democrats and six Republicans but there’s been no action on the bill since its hearing on March 10.

The Act would set up an 11-member commission, including the Maryland attorney general, to complete a study on the potential impact to Marylanders and devise plans to mitigate the loss of Medicaid and Medicare funding.

The commission would be authorized to convene workgroups over the next three years and report back to governor and legislature.

Big federal subsidies

The federal government currently subsidize 95% for Marylanders who became insured under the Medicaid expansion when the state fully implemented the ACA. This brings about $2.8 billion in annual Medicaid support in 2017 and the state’s share is just $70 million.

The state also stands to lose its Medicare waiver, which is the only program of its kind in the country that allows hospitals to charge Medicaid and Medicare the same commercial rates charged to insurance companies, normally much higher than what Medicaid and Medicare reimburses in other states. The waiver also allows the state, not the federal government, to set the rates.

The waiver brings around $2.3 billion in additional funding to Maryland hospitals annually.

ACA decreased number of uninsured

When Maryland fully implemented the Affordable Care Act in 2013 the unprecedented expansion of Medicaid added 291,000 Marylanders to the Medicaid rolls by 2016, according to analysis by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.

This was accomplished by raising the income eligibility to 138% of the federal poverty rate for all individuals under 65 who were enrolled beginning January 1, 2014. Previously Medicaid eligibility had been restricted to low-income parents with children, the elderly and the disabled, and the reimbursement rate was a 50-50 cost sharing arrangement with the federal government.

Under the expansion, the federal government kicked in 100% of the cost of new Medicaid enrollees from 2014 through 2016. But that was scheduled to get a gradual trim to 90% by 2020 and remain in effect indefinitely. The state would pick up the other 10%.

Maryland’s share to cover the Medicaid expansion in 2017 is around $140 million and the federal government will kick in around $2.8 billion, 95% of the total costs.

The state costs were expected to grow to $350 million by 2021, with the federal match rising to $3.5 billion.

Ryan cuts

But the Ryan plan would reduce federal government participation for new Medicaid enrollees beginning 2020 and set the cost sharing at 50-50, the traditional cost sharing split that existed before the expansion.

If a 50-50 split were in effect the state’s Medicaid obligation this year would be $1.3 billion.

Middleton said in floor debate Friday that “there’s a reasonable certainty the feds will…hand back 50% of the costs.”

The Ryan plan would also affect the 143,000 Marylanders who qualified for subsidized premiums through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. The Ryan plan ends those subsidies, saving $673 billion in federal spending through 2026, according to the CBO report.

Maryland’s exchange has received $137 million in state funding and $425 million in federal funds since 2011. The exchange has 67 employees with annual salaries approaching $8 million.

by Dan Menefee

Oyster Sanctuary Bill finds Support in House of Delegates

The House of Delegates voted 102-39 on Thursday in favor of a bill that would keep intact existing oyster sanctuaries on the Chesapeake Bay, a blow to the commercial fishing industry’s efforts to expand the state’s oyster fisheries.

Supporters and opponents of the bill, named the Oyster Management Plan, are both saying that their solution is best for the long-term health of the bay and its oyster population, which helps clean the Chesapeake by filtering nutrients like excess algae out of the water column.

“(The Oyster Management Plan) protects the fragile progress that has been made to date in recovering oyster populations,” the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said in written testimony to the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Feb. 24. “This bill would in no way impact (the Department of Natural Resource’s) ability to manage the public oyster fishery, including the development of rotational harvest management for public oyster bottom.”

Bill opponents, such as the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, disagreed, saying that harvesting in the sanctuaries is vital to maintaining existing oyster stock in “idle” areas.

“There’s this idea that the sanctuaries would be generating all this oyster larvae,” coalition spokesman Chip MacLeod said to the committee on Feb. 24. “That larvae does no good unless it has a clean, hard bottom to strike. One of the things that doesn’t work with the oyster sanctuary theory is that we don’t have clean, hard bottom (around these sanctuaries).”

Opening parts of the sanctuaries to commercial use, MacLeod said, would remove aging oysters whose environmental usefulness had subsided, and free up space for oyster larvae to flourish.

The Department of Natural Resources, the agency that controls the sanctuaries, opposes the bill.

Opponents point to a 2010-2015 study conducted by the Oyster Advisory Commission, a Natural Resources department subsidiary, that concluded that there is “justification” to adjust current sanctuary boundaries.

“There are sanctuaries that are known to have poor habitat and/or very low densities of oysters,” the advisory commission’s study report said. “If the ultimate goal is to have more oysters in the water, then some areas that are currently sanctuaries could contribute to this goal and provide economic and cultural benefits to fishing communities.”

Conversely, a bill enacted in 2016, the Sustainable Oyster Population and Fishery Act, mandates that the Department of Natural Resources, in conjunction with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, conduct a study to adopt a science-based fishery management plan by 2018. Supporters want to see this study concluded before allowing the department to entertain any ideas of opening sanctuaries to harvest.

Opponents contend that doing so undermines the efforts of the department and its advisory commission.

“The (Oyster Advisory Commission) is doing all of this good work, because the prior administration wouldn’t adopt a management plan,” Delmarva Fisheries Association chairman and waterman Rob Newberry told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service.

Newberry told the Environment and Transportation Committee that the bill would “kill” the management plan adopted by the commission.

Supporters of the bill contend that oyster populations have not recovered enough to sustain themselves without protection.

Citing a self-commissioned poll that found 88 percent of Marylanders support sanctuaries and a 2016 Department of Natural Resources report that found oysters are thriving inside designated sanctuaries but not outside them, the bay foundation said in a press release, “Sanctuaries are Maryland’s insurance policy for the future oyster population. By protecting a small portion of the state’s oyster bottom from harvesting, oysters on the sanctuaries can grow and reproduce.”

The bill was voted on favorably with a couple amendments by the House Environment and Transportation Committee on Tuesday before it moved to the House floor. The amendments would prevent anyone from using the bill to block any sanctuary projects.

The bill is expected to be heard by the Senate in the coming weeks.

By Jack Chavez

Trump Budget Plan draws Mostly Negative Reviews among Maryland Lawmakers

Maryland Democrats on Thursday voiced their displeasure with the Trump administration’s budget proposals, citing federal cuts to Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the National Institutes of Health.

“The Trump budget is great if you can get on a plane every weekend and fly to Mar-a-Lago, but it stinks for everybody else,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said at a Capitol Hill press conference. “If you look at the cost to the taxpayer to fly to Mar-a-Lago each weekend, it’s about $3 million, estimated.”

To put that number into perspective, Van Hollen said that the federal budget for Meals on Wheels, a program that helps feed 2.4 million seniors in the United States, is also $3 million, but the proposed “budget wipes out” the money for this program.

Programs for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup also would be eliminated if the budget were approved.

This cleanup is the largest effort to restore a body of water in U.S. history.

“The Chesapeake Bay is essential to our livelihood, our economy … the idea that this can be stopped is hard to believe,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C. Baker in a press call.

When Baker and fellow CBF members heard of the initial budget cut from $73 million to $5 million last week, Baker said it “was very hard to ascertain how accurate that really was.”

However, the release of Trump’s budget shows that the cut will actually be total.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., Baker and Van Hollen each stressed that this spending cut could cause fish, oyster and crab populations in the bay to diminish quickly, as well as increased amounts of dirty water that could result in beaches closing and tourism dollars plummeting.

“Universally, Congress must quickly reject the president’s budget before the absurdity of his proposed cuts…causes ripples of uncertainty and fear across the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed economy,” Cardin said in a statement. “At a time when we have seen nitrogen levels dropping and dead zones shrinking, President Trump is intent on turning the clock back decades.”

Baker noted that the president’s desire to zero out funding for the Chesapeake Bay cleanup is “an insult to all who have worked to try and save the Chesapeake Bay.”

Maryland’s only Republican Congressman, Rep. Andy Harris, of Cockeysville, and a member of the Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that the Chesapeake Bay is a “treasure,” and that he will continue working with the Trump administration to “prioritize” Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts within the Environmental Protection Agency.

Another major area that would take a hit if the proposed federal budget were approved is the National Institutes of Health, located in Bethesda, Md. NIH would lose $5.8 billion, a 20 percent reduction in its overall budget of $30 billion.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Kensington, took to Twitter Thursday morning to fight back: “A message for Donald Trump: keep your petty little hands off the large indispensable mission of @NIH. #TrumpCuts.” Raskin further tweeted that the “#TrumpCuts to @NIH are outrageous,” saying that NIH is the leader of biomedical research in the world and supports 400,000 jobs.

Additionally, it “includes a major reorganization” of NIH’S 27 institutes and centers, although what the administration is planning for the reorganization remains unclear.

“President Trump’s hypocrisy on infrastructure is astounding,” said Rep. John Delaney, D-Potomac, in a statement. “Less than a month ago the president talked about building gleaming new infrastructure, but when it comes time to put up or shut up, we see cuts, not anything signaling new investment.”

Among the 19 independent agencies that Trump wants to defund is the Appalachian Regional Commission. The ARC is a federal-state partnership focused on economic development in western parts of Maryland and areas of several other states. The call to defund the ARC is noteworthy because the commission serves a region that not only largely supported Trump’s campaign but is also an area that Trump promised to rejuvenate economically.

The ARC provides grants to nonprofit organizations (schools and organizations that build low-cost housing), state and local agencies and governmental entities.

“President Trump said he would help America’s forgotten men and women, but his budget does just the opposite,” Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, said in a statement.
“His budget would devastate working families across this nation while at the same time lavishing extravagant favors on his rich friends.”

Delaney wrote in his statement that he felt Trump’s “economically illiterate budget” was an attack on Maryland and said that all elected officials in Maryland should “be marching to the White House to object this budget.”

He also called on Governor Larry Hogan to “forcefully reject this budget.”

The Trump administration’s proposed budget hopes to raise defense spending in 2018 by $52 billion to $639 billion, a 9 percent increase from last year’s budget.

“This budget will be a public safety and national security budget,” Trump said during a Feb. 27 White House press conference. Trump has touted his defense budget as one of the largest single-year increases in defense spending in history as he aims to strengthen the American military.

According to The Washington Post, the proposed budget will increase the sizes of the Army, the Marine Corps as well as the Navy’s fleet.

The budget proposal also aims to increase spending for the Department of Homeland Security by 7 percent, or $2.8 billion, with immigration reform as the lead motivator.

“As the worldwide terrorist threat and other international dangers grow,” Harris said, “President Trump’s proposed increases in defense and homeland security spending are vital for continuing to keep Americans safe, and I support his proposed increases.”

Increases in homeland security spending could generate the hiring of hundreds of Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, as well as provide funding for Trump’s Mexico border wall.

“I thought President Trump said that Mexico was going to pay for this wall,” Van Hollen said. “Look, I think all of us recognize we need more security….but the thing about the wall is that all the experts tell you that it is just a waste of money, that it will not achieve its goal.”

By Abby Mergenmeier, Jess Nocera And Nate Harold

Annapolis: Gov. Hogan Touts Legislative Agenda in Late-session Push

Gov. Larry Hogan is pleased with the passage of some items from his 2017 legislative agenda but, at a press conference Wednesday, offered scathing rebukes to some of his political opponents, whom he accused of playing politics at the expense of Marylanders.

Hogan commended the passage of several bills as examples of bipartisanship, including the Victims of Sex Trafficking Act, the Clean Water Commerce Act, and the More Jobs for Marylanders Act, which would provide a tax break to manufacturing companies in high-unemployment areas.

In contrast, he slammed Democrats in the legislature for pressing forward with a bill that expands paid sick leave after effectively defeating his bill on the same subject. Hogan said the Democrats’ sick leave bill would be “dead on arrival” if passed and sent to his desk. He said Democrats were trying to manipulate the issue to “put points on the board” that could be used against him in the 2018 election.

In a written statement, Bryan Lesswing, senior communications adviser for the Maryland Democratic Party, told the University of Maryland’s Capital News Service that “with Maryland working families in need of earned sick leave more than ever before, it’s disappointing that Governor Larry Hogan continues to point fingers and shift blame rather than put an honest effort into working with Democrats across the aisle.”

The Working Matters advocacy coalition, which consists of groups that support the Democrats’ paid sick leave bill, said via Twitter that they are “disappointed” by Hogan’s pledge to veto the legislation.

In January, Hogan said that repealing The Open Transportation and Investment Act — which he disparagingly refers to as the “Roadkill Bill” — was one of his primary goals during the 2017 legislative session.

He said he was pleased with a version of his repeal bill that arrived on the Senate floor Wednesday with amendments proposed by Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., D-Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s.

The revised bill keeps the project-ranking system of the original law, but delays the implementation of other aspects for two years. Hogan expressed confidence Wednesday that his administration would defeat the delayed parts of the law if they reemerge in the future. Hogan praised the amended bill as an effective compromise, saying that neither political party won, but that “the people of Maryland won.”

However, Hogan later accused Miller in stark terms of holding up his nomination of Dennis Schrader as health secretary for “political reasons.” Hogan said he would hold Miller personally responsible for any negative consequences that arise due to the absence of a confirmed secretary to lead the department of health.

Miller’s office declined to comment.

The Commonsense Spending Act would essentially cap automatic spending increases below state revenue increases. That bill is moving through the legislature, but House Republicans on Wednesday tried to attach its provisions as amendments to the House budget bill; Democrats defeated those amendments.

Hogan has pushed for an increase in charter schools and the accessibility of private schools through a variety of initiatives.

One such program, called BOOST, would provide scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools.

The program has received bipartisan praise in the past, but the House Appropriations Committee has moved to cut its 2018 funding from the $7 million proposed by Hogan to just over $2 million. Hogan called the reductions “unusual” and “hypocritical,” explaining that several Democrats who voted for the reductions did so despite supporting the program last year.

The governor has also pushed for redistricting reform that seeks to end the practice of gerrymandering, as well as ethics reforms that would make it more difficult for former public officials to become lobbyists and require the legislature to publish video and audio recordings of its floor proceedings.

By Jacob Taylor