2021 End of Session Recap

Greetings,

It has been an honor and a pleasure serving the people of Cecil and Harford counties during this 441st session of the Maryland General Assembly.  Thank you for your support and encouragement throughout this past legislative session.

The 2021 session was certainly different due to the COVID restrictions put into place by Senate leadership.  Members we’re required to be tested bi-weekly, required to sit in glass pods on the Senate floor, and participate in committee hearings via zoom.

This past session I sponsored 15 pieces of legislation and co-sponsored an additional 13 pieces of legislation.  Most of these initiatives were geared toward helping our veterans, first responders, farmers, retirees, small businesses, improving our schools, protecting our constitutional rights, and reducing taxes.

What follows is a summary of key pieces of legislation that were introduced during the 2021 session.  Between the Senate and the House 2,771 pieces of legislation were introduced.  Of those, 93 passed and will be enacted throughout the year. 

If you have any questions, concerns or thoughts on future legislation for next year, please do not hesitate to contact our office by email at Jason.gallion@senate.state.md.us or by phone at 410 -841 -3603. 

Sincerely,

Senator Jason Gallion

District 35

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Main Pieces of Legislation I Sponsored

SB389 – Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Emergency Service Transporters and Emergency Medical Services Providers – Reimbursement

SB777 alters the minimum Medicaid reimbursement rate for certain services provided by emergency service transporters.  For over twenty years the Medicaid reimbursement rate for volunteer fire, rescue, or EMS has been fixed at $100 per transport.  An increase to this rate is long overdue, the current rate is no longer a sufficient reimbursement for transporters.  This bill would allow reimbursement for services to patients that are treated but not transported to a facility and increase the reimbursement rate starting in FY 2021 by $25 each year until the rate for services is at least $300.  I will be re-introducing this legislation next year and am hopeful it will receive a vote that will help our first responders

Status: No Action Taken by Finance Committee

SB 36– Election Integrity Act

SB 36 would have placed a limit on how many absentee ballots an individual can deliver.  Currently, an authorized agent for a voter can be anyone over the age of 18 as long as they are not a candidate and can deliver any number of ballots.  The bill would have also prevented a campaign volunteer from being able to serve as an agent to deliver or help fill out an absentee ballot.  Unfortunately, the committee did not vote to take action to limit ballot harvesting in Maryland.

Status: No Action Taken by Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee

SB294 – Cecil County – Sales and Use Tax Exemption – Federal Facilities Redevelopment Areas

This bill exempts from the State sales and use tax a sale of construction material or warehousing equipment, if the material or equipment is purchased by a person solely for use in a specified federal facilities redevelopment area in Cecil County. This legislation will help jumpstart the revitalization of the Bainbridge property in Cecil County, creating new jobs and a substantial economic gain for Cecil County.

Status: Passed

SB919 – Horse Racing – Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area This bill provides funding to the Fair Hill Improvement fund. Thankfully, Governor Hogan has provided funding from the supplemental budget for the next two years.  From that funding, $1.3 million each year must be used exclusively for the operation and maintenance of the physical facilities located within the special event area of the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area. For fiscal 2023, $500,000 must be used exclusively to support the five-star equestrian event at Fair Hill, including the provision of a grant to the event organizers to cover start-up costs, promotional expenses, event costs, prior-year event expenses, and other expenses. This legislation will help ensure the Fair Hill Facility stays a first class facility and will help support the five star equestrian event which is only one of two in the entire United States.  Ensuring the five star event remains in Cecil County for years to come will bring in tourism and economic gains to Cecil County.       

Status: Passed

SB797 – Cecil County – Video Lottery Terminals – Distribution of Proceeds

SB 797 brings fairness to the tax rate for Hollywood Casino in Cecil County.  Currently, Hollywood Casino pays the highest tax rate in the State for its video lottery proceeds.  This bill brings Hollywood Casino in line with other casinos in the State.  Although, no action was taken on this bill by the Budget & Taxation committee, similar provisions were amended onto a different bill.

Status: No Action Taken by Budget & Taxation Committee; Amended onto HB532

Recap of Priority Issues

COVID-19 Relief & Recovery

  • Helping individuals, working families and small businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic was a shared priority of Governor Hogan and both parties in the General Assembly.
  • Our members proudly supported Governor Hogan’s RELIEF Act that immediately provided $1.2 billion in targeted stimulus funds and tax credits.
  • Following the passage of the federal American Rescue Plan, Governor Hogan presented a $3.9 billion supplemental budget that provided additional funding for COVID-19 recovery priorities such as frontline workers, unemployment tax relief, education, broadband access and transportation.
  • Senate Republicans supported expansion of Telehealth access, protecting employers from hikes in unemployment insurance rates and advocated for a continuation of carry-out alcohol service for struggling restaurants.

Election Integrity

  • Senate Republicans were focused on a balanced approach that provided greater access to legal voters while also insisting on the associated and needed safeguards to ensure election integrity. Unfortunately, Democrats only pursued greater access without any additional safeguards.
  • Senate Republicans were focused on protecting the voting rights of every Marylander while putting in place safeguards to restore the public’s faith in our elections systems. Republican proposals included: Voter ID, a study on signature verification, protections against ballot harvesting, ballot tracking systems and establishing stricter penalties for voter fraud.
  • Unfortunately, Democrats were focused on expanding mail-in voting, early voting and access to those in the criminal justice system, and passed this legislation without placing the necessary guardrails in place to protect the integrity of our elections.

Education

  • Early in the 2021 Session, the Senate overrode the veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, or “Kirwan” – a massive and expensive restructuring of Maryland’s public education system.
  • Acknowledging the serious issues with the bill (both before and after the impact of pandemic), the General Assembly passed legislation to address learning loss, challenges with virtual learning, and other issues presented during the pandemic. Senate Republicans successfully amended the bill to require that all summer school, beginning summer 2021, be conducted in person.

Expansion of Broadband Access

  • Senate Republicans have long championed the need for reliable and affordable broadband access across the State, especially in Maryland’s underserved rural areas.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic placed additional demands on existing broadband infrastructure and shined new light on the digital divide in the urban, suburban and rural areas of our state.
  • Funds from the Governor’s RELIEF Act ($2 million) and the influx of federal American Rescue Plan funds ($300 million) are directed to expanding and improving broadband access.
  • SB0066 – The Digital Connectivity Act of 2021 – establishes the Office of Statewide Broadband to develop a state-wide plan to deliver affordable and reliable broadband service to every Marylander by 2026.

Public Safety & Republican Crime Bill

  • For the second year, Senate Republicans took action to address the violent crime crisis that continued to plague the state, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Senate Republicans reintroduced Governor Hogan’s Repeat Violent Offender Act, which passed the Senate in the 2020 Session with a 43-4 vote but was not acted on by the House during the shortened session.
  • SB852 – the Violent Firearms Offender Act of 2021 – was a commonsense bill that would have gone after the “bad guy with guns.” SB 852 would have:
    • Enhanced penalties for using guns in violent crimes, closed the drug dealer loophole, increased penalties for knowingly selling a gun to someone who commits a crime and created tougher penalties for the use of assault weapons in a crime and illegally possessing and selling firearms. Measures to make the theft of a firearm a felony and several measures impacting bail for repeat violent offenders were amended out of the bill.
  • The Senate again passed the legislation, this year by a vote of 32-15. Unfortunately, despite pressure from Governor Hogan and Senate Republican Leadership, the House Rules Committee never took up SB852, so it was never even given the courtesy of a hearing by the House of Delegates.
  • In more bad news for public safety, the Senate also passed SB0420 that decriminalizes the possession of drug paraphernalia like syringes, needles, and other objects used with a controlled dangerous substance like heroin. SB0420 passed on a mostly party line vote with Senate Republicans in opposition.

Anti-Police Bills

  • Democrats in Annapolis were more concerned with appeasing far-left protestors than making good public policy.
  • Senate Republicans thoughtfully considered the need for more transparency and community involvement in policing, while respecting the unique work and sacrifices of law enforcement officers.
  • The majority of Senate Republicans were proud to support most of the Senate’s original police reform bills (six of the nine original bills passed unanimously), but were unable to vote for the amended versions of the bills from the House.
  • Unfortunately, Senate Leadership caved to left wing special interests and House leadership and passed legislation that will make our communities less safe and will make it challenging to recruit and retain high caliber law enforcement professionals.
  • Final policing bills:
    • HB0670 – Repeals and replaces the Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights with a complicated, multi-step system that will involve a number of different boards, and appellate processes. Raises the cap for civil liability suits against police departments and adds politically-appointed civilians to police disciplinary process.
    • SB0071 – Phases in body cameras across the state by 2025 and provides counseling and mental health support for police officers. Establishes a vague and confusing statewide use for force standard.
    • SB0178 – Restricts the use of no-knock warrants and makes police officers’ personnel files available for public inspection, these files will now include unwarranted, unsubstantiated and anonymous complaints that can never be expunged.
    • SB0600 – Restricts law enforcement agencies from procuring weaponized military equipment. Police incidents resulting in civilian fatalities will be investigated by a new department in the Attorney General’s office, which delays and politicizes the process. 
    • SB0626 –SB0786 – Establishes local control of the Baltimore City Police Department.
  • Fortunately, Senate Republicans were able to kill the legislation that would have severely weakened Maryland’s School Resource Officer (SRO) Program that has successfully protected our students, school personnel and the general public.

Taxes

Taxpayers did not escape the 2021 Legislative Session unscathed. Democrats raised over one quarter of a billion in new taxes during a pandemic!  The following tax increases which totaled over $250 million annually became law following the overrides of Governor Hogan’s 2020 vetoes:

  • HB0732 – Taxation – Tobacco Tax, Sales & Use Tax, and Digital Advertising Gross Revenues Tax. The Digital Advertising Tax is pending court action.
  • HB0932 – “21st Century Economic Fairness Act – “Digital Downloads Tax” – taxing Netflix, E-books, streaming services, etc.

In addition, the 2021 Legislative Session brought us the deceptively titled:

  • SB0133/HB0319 – Local Tax Relief for Working Families Act of 2021 that enables local governments to create their own income tax brackets and increase local income taxes on working families.
  • Mandated a doubling of the minimum tax rate a county must impose on working families.
  • Financially incentivized counties to increase their minimum tax rate on working families to the highest allowable tax rate.
  • Mandated counties must set their minimum tax rate even above what the state imposes.
  • Despite the “shiny title” of the bill, Democrats showed their true intention of raising taxes by rejecting all Republican attempts to help lower taxes on working families at the county level.

Senate Republicans were able to kill HB0127 – the “Paint Tax” which would have levied a new tax on every can of paint sold to fund a duplicative recycling program.