Greetings from Annapolis,
It has been an honor and a pleasure serving the citizens of Harford and Cecil Counties during this 445th Session of the Maryland General Assembly. Thank you for your support and encouragement over the past 90 days.
The 2023 General Assembly Session has come to a close and we have been working hard for District 35 and all of Maryland. In this session, I sponsored 5 pieces of legislation and co-sponsored an additional 33 pieces of legislation. Most of these initiatives were geared toward increasing public safety, reducing taxes on individuals and small businesses, reducing regulations on our farmers, getting violent criminals off our streets, protecting the second amendment, and giving our parents more transparency when it comes to their child’s education.
The 2023 Maryland General Assembly Session was one of transition as we began a new term, worked through a new Senate committee structure, inaugurated a new Governor, and swore in a new Comptroller and Attorney General. For the first time in eight years, both the Legislative and Executive Branches are controlled by the same party.
A total of 3,064 pieces of legislation were introduced this Session. Governor Moore has until May 30th to sign bills into law, veto them, or allow them to go into law without his signature.
If you have any questions, concerns, or thoughts on future legislation, please do not hesitate to contact our office by email at email@example.com or by phone at 410-841-3603. Once again, thank you for allowing me to represent you here in Annapolis.
Senator Jason Gallion
Legislation I Sponsored
SB 261- Motor Fuel Tax Rates – Consumer Price Index Adjustment – Repeal
In 2013, the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act was signed into law to index the motor fuel tax rates to the annual change in inflation for all motor fuels except aviation and turbine fuel. SB 261 would remove the automatic motor fuel tax adjustment from being indexed to inflation. Currently, Maryland has the 4th highest gasoline tax rate in the United States and the second highest among our surrounding states. Our working families across the state are struggling in this economy due to rampant inflation, especially at the grocery store and the gas station. I believe if a change to the gas tax rate needs to be adjusted it should be done by the legislature annually with an up or down vote.
Status: Senate Budget & Tax Committee took no action
SB 287- State Board of Elections – Municipal Elections – Publication of Results on Website
This legislation is a simple fix that will allow municipalities to post and archive their election results on the State Board of Elections website.
SB262 – Environment – On Farm Composting Facilities – Permit Exemption
SB 262 requires the Department of the Environment to adopt regulations to exempt an on-farm composting facility from the requirement to obtain a permit if the on-farm composting facility uses 10,000 square feet of area of less for active food scrap composting. This bill is a win-win for the environmental and agricultural community as it allows farmers who compost to benefit from less regulation and reduces waste from being put into our landfills.
SB 917 / HB1253 – Vehicle Laws – Lighting – Privately Owned Vehicles of Volunteer Fire Company Members
This bill authorizes the fire police of a volunteer fire company to equip their privately owned vehicles with red and white lights rather than only red, which is current law. By allowing the fire police to use red and white lights it will help increase public safety by making it clear to oncoming traffic that they are approaching an accident scene.
Status: Passed out of committee but ran out of time
New Senate Committee Structure
This year, there was a shake-up with two Senate Standing Committees. The Education, Health and the Environmental Affairs Committee was renamed the Education, Energy & The Environment Committee and assumed responsibility for all energy and utility legislation. Energy issues had previously been in the jurisdiction of the Senate Finance Committee, which took on the new responsibility of considering bills related to health, alcohol, and professional licenses. As the ranking Republican member on EEE, I look forward to continuing to tackle this new subject matter and look out for the ratepayers of our state.
Major Topics Recap
The United States Supreme Courts’ Decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. Bruen, invalidated state government requirements across the Country that required citizens to show a “good cause” to obtain a firearm carry permit. Now that carry permits are easier to obtain, Democrats are attempting to sterilize the impact of Bruen in Maryland by adding new restrictions on who can obtain a carry permit (HB 824) and where they can legally carry firearms (SB 1).
SB 1 – Gun Safety Act of 2023 is a de facto ban on the wearing and carrying of a firearm in Maryland. The bill prohibits wearing and carrying at a private dwelling unless you have express permission from the property owner. It also sets up numerous locations where the wearing and carrying of a firearm is prohibited. Some are traditional locations such as schools and government buildings, but the bill also creates “special purpose areas” that include areas such as amusement parks, stadiums, racetracks, video lottery facilities, museums, and anywhere that serves alcohol, including restaurants.
A court challenge to SB 1 is expected on the grounds that it violates the Second Amendment and the holding in the Bruen decision.
HB 824 – Public Safety – Regulated Firearms – Possession and Permits to Carry, Wear, and Transport a Handgun alters the requirements, training, and procedures for possessing a regulated firearm and a permit to carry, wear, and transport a handgun. The bill adds to the list of persons prohibited from owning a regulated firearm anyone on supervised probation after being convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or for violating a protective order.
With regard to wear and carry permits, the bill adds those prohibited from being issued wear and carry permits to include (1) individuals on supervised probation after being convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or for violating a protective order, (2) individuals convicted more than once of storing a loaded firearm where a minor could access (SB 858) or convicted of storing a loaded firearm where a minor gained accessed and caused death or serious bodily injury to themselves or someone else and; (3) individuals who met the requirements under the provisions of Maryland’s Red Flag Law. The bill also increases the fee for the initial application for a permit from $75 to $125 and from $50 to $75 for renewals and requires individuals to be at least 21 years old to be granted a permit. The bill also specifies what firearms training courses must include. Under the bill, the Secretary of the Maryland State Police must revoke a wear and carry permit if they find the holder does not meet the qualifications or becomes disqualified. The Secretary is also required to send email notifications to owners of regulated firearms when the General Assembly passes new laws regarding firearms. Emails must be sent within 45 days of the General Assembly’s adjournment and again 30 days before the new law goes into effect.
Finally, a small anti-crime measure was amended onto the bill that was championed by new Baltimore City States Attorney, Ivan Bates, to raise the maximum sentence for illegal possession of a gun from three to five years for people age 21 and over. The law already provided a five-year maximum for people ages 18 to 20. Despite this one bright spot in the bill, HB 824 passed with all Republicans voting against.
A court challenge is expected to HB 824 on the grounds that it violates the Second Amendment and the holding in the Bruen decision.
SB 858 – Firearm Safety – Storage Requirements and Youth Suicide Prevention (Jaelynn’s Law) requires gun owners to store firearms in a manner to which minors will not have access. Under the bill, a person may not store or leave a loaded firearm in a location where the person knew or should have known that an unsupervised minor would have access. The bill does not apply if the minor’s access to the firearm is supervised by an individual at least 18 years old, if the minor’s access was obtained because of unlawful entry, if the minor has a certificate of firearm and hunter safety, or if the firearm is in the possession of a law enforcement officer while the officer is engaged in official duties. A violation is a misdemeanor. However, violators become prohibited persons if convicted of a second or subsequent violation or if the violation resulted in the use of a loaded firearm by a minor causing death or serious bodily injury to the minor or another individual. The bill also requires the Deputy Secretary of Public Health Services to develop a youth suicide prevention and firearm safe storage guide. The Department of Health is responsible for the publication and distribution of the guidelines. The Department must also provide grants to local school systems, health departments, etc. to support educating families on the safe storage of firearms and the risks of youth suicide. An additional provision to give Marylanders a tax credit for the purchase of a firearm safety device was amended out of the bill.
SB 516/HB 556 – Cannabis Reform
SB 516/HB 556 establishes a recreational cannabis industry in the state, building on last year’s ballot referendum where Marylanders gave final approval to legalizing recreational cannabis. The 2022 legislation governed possession, smoking in public, driving while high, and the amount of homegrown plants allowed. Additionally, the referendum gave the General Assembly until July 1, 2023 to develop the guardrails and launch a recreational cannabis industry.
SB 516/HB 556 sets the required regulatory framework for the industry by granting the first licenses for recreational growers, processors, and dispensaries, while also imposing a 9% sales tax on cannabis products, with an exemption for medical cannabis cardholders. It is estimated that the recreational cannabis industry will generate nearly $94 million in tax revenue for the State by FY 27.
The framework includes provisions for the allocation of this tax revenue, in addition to zoning laws prohibiting dispensaries from being located within 500 feet of a school, library, playground, recreation center or public park. It also establishes buffer zones to prevent clustering of dispensaries.
I offered an amendment on the Senate floor to dedicate a portion of the revenue to the Maryland Emergency Medical System Operations fund but that amendment was defeated largely along party lines. Every state that has legalized cannabis has had an increase in fatal auto accidents. I could not in good conscience vote for this legislation with its lack of priority on public safety.
HB 1071 – Criminal Law and Procedure – Cannabis – Fines for Smoking in Public, Stops, and Searches
The legalization of recreational cannabis has presented criminal justice implications for the General Assembly to work through. HB 1071 prohibits a law enforcement officer from initiating a stop or a search of a person, motor vehicle, or vessel based solely on the smell of cannabis. It also places restrictions on what areas of a vehicle may be searched.
Senate Republicans had specific concerns about holders of a Commercial Driver’s License who are held to a higher standard when it comes to alcohol and other drug use while driving because of the type of vehicles they drive and the passengers and materials they transport. Under this bill, all drivers and driver’s licenses are treated the same even though CDL holders could be driving a school bus or hauling toxic chemicals.
HB 0171 passed despite Republican opposition.
HB 119/SB 199 – County Boards of Education – Curriculum Guides and Courses of Study – Requirements was originally drafted to codify a highly controversial health education framework for public schools in Maryland, including sexual orientation, gender identity and human sexuality. Following an outpouring of opposition from concerned parents, the bill was completely re-written through amendment in the House Ways and Means Committee and was, fundamentally, turned into a weapon for the State Board of Education to use to intimidate and control local school systems. Incidentally it granted power that the State Board of Education did not ask for, nor want to be bestowed on them.
As the bill passed the House, it allows the State Superintendent of Schools to withhold funding from local school systems if they are not 100% lockstep with any part of the state curriculum. If the State Superintendent of Schools determines that a local board of education is not following every element of the policy and guidelines established by State Board of Education (SBE) or is authorizing a student to opt out of a course of instruction in a manner that is not approved by SBE, the State Superintendent must notify the local board of education. If the local board does not resolve the discrepancy within 30 days, as specified, 10% of the funds budgeted by the State for the current fiscal year must be withheld. If the discrepancy is not resolved within 90 days, an additional 10% must be withheld.
In its updated form, the bill was opposed by multiple local school systems across the state, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, Public School Association of Maryland, Maryland Retired school Personnel Association, and the Maryland State Board of Education.
The bill passed the House, but thankfully was not brought up for a vote in the EEE committee
BOOST (Broadening Options & Opportunities for Students Today) Funding
The BOOST Program provides scholarships to low-income students to attend non-public schools and supports nearly 3200 children across Maryland. BOOST can be a lifeline for low-income students who are trapped in a failing school or who benefit from a non-traditional learning environment.
In his initial budget proposal, Governor Moore cut $2 million of BOOST’s $10 million budget and also retained language that would phase-out the program in the coming years. Supporting BOOST was a priority for the Senate and House Republican Caucus who presented both legislative and budgetary solutions to restore funding and save the program for the long-term.
Funding for the BOOST (Broadening Options & Opportunities for Students Today) Scholarship presented the most controversy in the FY24 Budget process. After a stand-off between the Senate and the House, the Senate was able to secure $11.5 million for boost, with $9 million for scholarships and an additional $2.5 million for school nurses, school health programs and security improvements. In addition, the language phasing-out the program was removed, ensuring that current and future BOOST students will be able to thrive.
In 2022, The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the Dobbs decision, which returned the question of legality of abortion, back to each individual state to decide. Maryland codified abortion in state law in 1994.
Some states, such as Texas, have proposed laws (which many of these bills are in response to), that ban abortion at the detection of a heartbeat and impose criminal and civil penalties for those who get an abortion and abortion providers. The following bills comprised the “Reproductive Health Package” championed by Governor Moore and Democrat Leadership.
SB798/HB709 – Declaration of Rights – Right to Reproductive Freedom
Proposes an amendment to the Maryland Constitution guaranteeing the right to reproductive freedom, meaning that one has the right to prevent, end, or continue a pregnancy, and that the state may not prevent you from exercising that right. Senate Republicans attempted to amend the legislation to add the word “safely” to ensure that women receive the best-possible care, however that amendment was rejected.
SB 798/HB 709 passed on a party-line vote with Republicans voting against. This now becomes a ballot question that will go to the voters on the 2024 ballot.
SB341/HB477 – Public Senior Higher Education Institutions – Reproductive Health Services Plans – Requirements
SB 341/HB 477 requires all University System of Maryland schools, St. Mary’s College, and Morgan State University to develop a plan to either provide on-campus or refer students off-campus for reproductive health services. These services include obtaining prescription contraception, emergency contraception, STI prevention and treatment, and abortions. Emergency contraception must be available 24 hours a day on campus and the school must provide wrap around services for students seeking these services.
Senate Republicans attempted to amend the bill to also provide support for pregnant and parenting students, but those amendments were rejected.
SB859/HB808 – Reproductive Health Protection Act
SB 859/HB808 provides protections to those who come to Maryland from a state where abortion is illegal. It shields them from legal, criminal, or administrative consequences in their home state. A judge may not order someone to provide testimony or evidence in a case being tried in criminal court in another state where one is on trial for receiving abortion services. Additionally, if a medical professional has their license revoked in another state for providing abortion services, the licensing board in Maryland may not deny them a license in this state based solely on the grounds for removal from their previous state.
SB786/HB812 – Health – Reproductive Health Services – Protected Information and Insurance Requirements
SB 786/HB812 restricts access to information on one’s medical record that involves abortion. In states where abortion is not legal, abortion related information including procedures, prescribed medication, and the name of the healthcare provider will not be provided with one’s medical record. A patient would have to affirmatively approve the release of this information if they wanted it shared.
Civil Actions – Child Sexual Abuse – Definition, Damages, and Statute of Limitations (The Child Victims Act of 2023)
SB 686/HB1, The Child Victim’s Act of 2023, was one of the most high-profile pieces of legislation this Session.
SB 686 opens a retroactive “look back” window and eliminates the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse survivors to bring civil lawsuits against their abusers. This means that abuse survivors who missed their chance to sue under existing statutes of limitations will have another chance to bring lawsuits against abusers and the institutions accused of protecting them, such as schools, camps, and religious entities. Going forward, there will no longer be a statute of limitations and survivors can sue their abusers or organizations that harbored them at any time.
There is a $890,000 liability cap for suits brought against public institutions such as school boards. There is also a $1.5 million cap for claims against private institutions for non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. There is no cap for economic damages like therapy or medical treatment for suits brought against private institutions.
However, it will almost certainly face an immediate constitutional challenge in the courts. Opponents of the bill have argued it is unconstitutional because it violates a 2017 provision that raised the age of the former statute of limitations from 25 to 38 for individuals to be able to bring suit. This “statute of repose” effectively eliminated liability for abuse for anyone older than 38 when the 2017 law passed. The constitutionality of taking away that protection after it had been granted will be at the center of the legal challenge.
FY24 Operating Budget
Passing a balanced budget is the only constitutionally mandated task of the General Assembly. The annual budget year begins on July 1st and there are two parts of the budget, the Operating Budget, and the Capital Budget.
The General Assembly passed a $63 Billion operating budget for the 2024 Fiscal Year. Again, Maryland benefits from the lingering influx of COVID-19 relief funds, however, mid-way through the Session, Budget Committees were thrown a curveball in the form of a $480 million budget write-down due to lower tax revenue projections. While not entirely unexpected, the write-down is a warning sign and call for fiscal responsibility as the State could face a structural deficit in the coming years.
This was the first year the General Assembly had new budgetary powers under voter approved “Question 1” where the House and the Senate can move funds around and increase and decrease funding in certain areas so long as that those changes don’t increase the overall budget and it remains balanced. This new budgetary authority also enables the General Assembly to move away from spending mandates now that the legislature is a larger part of the budget process, which will hopefully allow for more flexibility in state spending in the years to come.
FY24 Budget Highlights Include:
- $2.5 billion in the Rainy Day Fund, which is double the recommended amount of 5% of general fund revenues
- $8.78 billion for Maryland’s Public Schools
- $900 million down payment on future costs of implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future education plan
- $200 million in tax relief for low-income families and veterans
- $421 million for salary increases and bonuses for state employees
- $35 million for Maryland’s emergency medical systems
- No new tax increases
Minimum Wage – The Fair Wage Act
Accelerating the Maryland’s Minimum Wage was one of Governor Moore’s top priorities for the 2023 Legislative Session. SB 555 (The Fair Wage Act) increases the minimum wage to $15/hour on January 1, 2024, a year ahead of schedule.
The General Assembly removed Governor Moore’s proposal to tie future minimum wage increases to inflation, and it also slowed down implementation of the proposed increase from October 1, 2023, to January 1, 2024. While these adjustments were a positive for Maryland’s job creators, additional amendments sponsored by Republicans, including one that would have maintained a slower implementation timeline for small businesses with less than 15 employees were rejected.
I opposed SB 555 because of the negative impact on Maryland’s job creators who must raise wages earlier than expected, not just for minimum wage workers, but all workers to avoid wage compression or even wage inversion, where lower-skilled employees are earning close to or more than those with more experience. Job creators, especially small businesses, are already contending with the rising cost of doing business due to inflation, increased borrowing costs, impending new expenses related to Maryland’s new Paid Family Leave program and other factors. The General Assembly should not be adding to their struggles.
Raising the minimum wage also impacts taxpayers as wages for state employees will also increase. An additional $218 million in FY24 and $109 million in FY25 are budgeted to cover the cost of increased wages for state employees.
Unfortunately, SB 555 passed both chambers on mostly party-line votes.