Maryland Lawmakers Push Bill to Simplify Financial Aid for Independent Students

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Maryland lawmakers are proposing a bill to simplify the process of applying for federal aid for students who have no contact with their parents.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, and John Sarbanes, D-Towson, introduced the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2019 in the House, while Maryland Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin will introduce companion legislation in the Senate.

“We believe this is an important piece in making college more affordable for more students,” Van Hollen told Capital News Service in an interview. “This is a small but important measure to help students who, for all practical purposes, do not have parents who can help them participate in paying for college.”

The bill would apply to students who do not have contact with their parents because they escaped abusive homes, were abandoned or have incarcerated parents.

“Students that have faced difficult and abusive life circumstances that leave them unable to contact their parents should have the same chance as their peers to apply for federal student aid and make informed financial decisions,” Cardin said in a statement..

The current FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) does not allow for students to apply under independent status.

Students with special circumstances must contact each college or university to which they applied and request a ”dependency override” before their aid package is calculated. This process can be arduous and dissuade students from completing their applications, Van Hollen said.

The bill includes a key provision that would allow students to apply under a “provisionally independent” category. They would instantly receive a conditional calculation of their financial aid award and complete the dependency override only with the school at which they are enrolling.

“This bill will help prevent our financial aid process from continuing to be an unintended barrier to higher education,” Cummings said in a statement.

Van Hollen said simplifying the FAFSA application process became important to Maryland lawmakers because of concerns voiced by their constituents.

“We’ve been hearing about the need to do this…from students across the state,” he said.

Cummings, Cardin and Van Hollen first introduced the bill last year as the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2018, but it did not pass the Republican-controlled House. Democrats took control of the House in January.

This time, Van Hollen said he expects the bill to garner bipartisan support.

The FAFSA bill is expected to be part of the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965, which Van Hollen says the House will take up this year.

“The most likely route to success would be to include this provision as part of that larger bill,” Van Hollen said.

Several educational organizations have announced support of the bill, including the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators and the American Council on Education.

Lawmakers Press To Eliminate Job Discrimination Against Former Felons

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Former felons could have more success securing employment under bipartisan legislation introduced Thursday that would bar federal employers from asking requests for applicants’ criminal histories before conditional job offers.

Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, and Doug Collins, R-Georgia, joined with Sens. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, and Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, to propose the Fair Chance Act, an attempt to decrease rates of recidivism by helping ex-convicts secure jobs.

The bill would “ban the box,” directing employers to discontinue applications requiring candidates to check a box indicating their criminal records.

“This bill would give individuals who are reentering society from prison a fair chance at truly achieving the American dream and becoming contributing members of our communities,” said Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

“We have a criminal justice system where the collateral consequences for Americans with a criminal conviction are like getting a life sentence — affecting their ability to vote, to get housing and critically, to get back to work,” Booker, a presidential candidate, said in a statement.

Thirty-three states and more than 150 cities and counties have adopted laws or policies that “ban the box,” extending the jurisdiction of such policies to almost three-fourths of the U.S. population, according to the National Employment Law Project.

The Fair Chance Act specifically prohibits the federal government and federal contractors from making inquiries into the criminal histories of ex-offenders before the conditional offer stage.

This follows President Donald Trump’s Tuesday State of the Union address in which he spotlighted criminal justice reform, saying “America is a nation that believes in redemption.”

Trump invited a former inmate to the address who was directly affected by the First Step Act, a bill Trump signed in December that seeks to help nonviolent offenders readjust to society.

“This legislation reformed sentencing laws that have wrongly and disproportionately harmed the African-American community,” Trump said.

Similarly, Cummings’s panel noted that black men with a criminal record “have been 60 percent less likely to receive a callback or job offer than those without records.” That is nearly 10 percentage points higher than the callback rate for male felons in general.

“Getting people back to work improves the safety of our communities, strengthens families, and reduces government dependence – goals that all Americans share,” Johnson said in a statement. “If someone getting out of prison wants to work and be a productive member of society, we should do everything possible to facilitate that. The Fair Chance Act is an important step in that direction.”

By Ambriah Underwood

Legislation Would Update Justice Reinvestment Act

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After a comprehensive law overhauled the state’s criminal justice system, Maryland has seen a decline in the state’s prison and jail populations and more streamlined treatment for addicts who are charged with crimes, but advocates want to add to the law to keep inmates from returning behind bars.

Signed into law in 2016, the Justice Reinvestment Act is a thorough criminal justice system reform that focuses on increasing supervision and treatment and decreasing incarceration rates in Maryland prisons.

Described by Sen. Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, as the “most comprehensive reform” he’s seen while serving in the Senate, the law has significantly reformed many criminal justice policies since becoming fully effective on Oct. 1, 2017. But some of its provisions are up in the legislature again.

The law aims to keep spots in prison beds open for serious, repeat violent offenders while also enforcing mandatory minimum sentences for high-level drug dealers.

It also places caps on maximum sentences for nonviolent offenders who violate probation on a technicality.

About 700 inmates have been screened for administrative release since the legislation went into effect, with 21 percent, or 147 inmates, being found eligible. Of those, 60 percent have been released and the rest are fulfilling their minimum length of stay, according to a report from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The state’s prison population dropped 1.8 percent in fiscal year 2018, and the local detention population dropped 10.3 percent, according to the report.

The bill also emphasizes treatment over incarceration for individuals struggling with addiction and has sparked a drastic drop in wait times for psychiatric beds.

Between fiscal years 2012 and 2014, placement times averaged around 167 days, dropping to 91 days in fiscal year 2017. With the Justice Reinvestment Act’s new 21-day deadline adding pressure, average placement times dropped to just 10.6 days for the 788 individuals placed in treatment in fiscal year 2018, according to the report from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

For those returning to life outside the correctional system, the law states that the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services must issue a certificate of rehabilitation to specified individuals.

Professional licensing boards then can’t deny occupational licenses or certificates to former convicts solely based on the fact that the individual had previously been convicted of a crime.

But for some individuals, return to life outside is complicated by how the state categorizes and links related charges.

Under the Justice Reinvestment Act, expungement is permitted after 10 years of good behavior, including any parole, probation or supervision, for misdemeanor charges.

After 15 years of good behavior, expungement is permitted for second degree assault, felony theft, intent to distribute controlled, dangerous substances and burglary in the first, second and third degrees.

Before the law was enacted, only nuisance crimes such as public urination or other activities not normally done in public were eligible for expungement through the Justice Reinvestment Act.

Under current state law, a charge is not eligible for expungement if one conviction in a group of convictions is not eligible for expungement.

However, House Bill 13, sponsored by Delegate Erek Barron, D-Prince George’s, seeks to repeal that provision, and would authorize a person to file a petition for partial expungement of certain criminal records under certain circumstances.

The bill, previously introduced in the 2017 General Assembly, has been a topic in the legislature since 2012, and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate on Thursday.

Alphonso Smith of Baltimore wrote to lawmakers this year that he has been working at the Maryland Transit Administration as an operations instructor for 20 years. He submitted written testimony that he is an ex-offender, and described the 34 years following his conviction, which he did not detail, as “somewhat successful.”

“There are many limitations and road blocks in place due to prior, non-expungeable convictions preventing any further advancement in law enforcement, child care and many other career paths,” he said Jan. 22 in a written testimony supporting the bill. He added that the bill’s passage would clear a path for himself and others to begin the expungement process and to advance in his career without convictions weighing them down.

Along similar lines, House bill 19, sponsored by Delegate Cheryl Glenn, D-Baltimore, seeks to authorize individuals to file a petition for expungement if the person was convicted of a nonviolent crime.

For former convicts entering the workforce again, employers also don’t often understand the difference between conviction and non-conviction dispositions, said Delegate Darryl Barnes, D-Prince George’s, the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland.

Non-conviction dispositions are standard police records listing an individual’s involvement with courts or law enforcement, and conviction dispositions are criminal records with formal penalties.

Even if a charge receives a non-criminal disposition, under the Justice Reinvestment Act, if it’s in the same unit of charges as a criminal one, it can’t be expunged.

“Even when they understand these differences, employers often draw negative impressions about job applicants who have been involved with the criminal justice system, regardless of case outcome,” Barnes stated in his written testimony supporting House bill 13.

Another factor to consider is race, Barnes said. Black residents make up 28 percent of the state population, yet they comprise over 70 percent of the incarcerated population.

With higher conviction rates for persons of color, these individuals face exclusion from the job market, challenges finding stable housing, and other cyclical problems affecting communities of color, according to written testimony from the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Ex-offenders who are employed are much less likely to commit new offenses than those who are unemployed, according to a 2017 Greater Baltimore Committee report that described employment as the “single largest determinant of rearrest and reconviction.”

The expungement legislation faces opposition from the Maryland Judicial Conference, Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association.

Law enforcement officials generally oppose legislation that increases categories for expungement because it could interfere with access to prior criminal information and be a safety factor for law enforcement personnel, according to written testimony from co-chairs Chief David Morris of the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association and Sheriff Darren Popkin of the Maryland Sheriffs’ Association.

Technological roadblocks are also a reason for opposition, according to representatives of the Maryland court system.

Online access to case records in Maryland are available through the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website, which currently has no functionality to remove single records at the charge level from the website, according to written testimony from the Maryland Judicial Conference.

Each charge is also assigned an individual number for each case. If a partial expungement is granted for one charge of a two-charge case, the system can’t renumber the charges to appear as if only one charge exists, according to written testimony from a Maryland court system representative.

“A missing numbered charge could raise more questions and red flags, therefore, nullifying the purpose of the expungement,” the Legislative Committee of the Maryland Judicial Council, the main policy advisory body to the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, said in written testimony opposing the bill.

Maryland Could Be Banned From Dredging Man O’ War Shoal

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State legislation could ban the Maryland Department of Natural Resources from dredging the Chesapeake Bay’s Man O’ War Shoal for shells destined to become homes for new baby oysters elsewhere.

In recent years, the harvest of native oysters in the Chesapeake Bay has fallen to 1 percent of what it was during the 19th century, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Since 2004, the state’s Department of Natural Resources has established sanctuary areas of the bay where the harvest of wild oysters is prohibited in order to protect the remaining population.

The proposed legislation—one set that would take effect upon passage and another bill that would commence in June—would prevent the Department of Natural Resources from extracting oyster shells from the historic reef, located in Baltimore County near the mouth of the Patapsco River.

While the Department of Natural Resources and watermen wish to disperse the recovered shell to replenish oyster beds elsewhere in the bay, some lawmakers and opponents of the bill have argued that alternative substances may be a more viable option for restoring their habitat.

Proposed in 2009, the dredging project would use the estimated 5 million bushels of shell that would be recovered from the Man O’ War reef—about 5-5.5 percent of the reef—to create or restore oyster habitat in up to 10 Chesapeake Bay tributaries.

When water temperature reaches a certain level, usually between June and September, oysters will begin to spawn.

The oyster larvae drifting through the water need a solid foundation to attach to in order to grow.

While they usually cling to beds of old oyster shells like those at Man O’ War, in recent years, materials like granite have been tested as an alternative resource, according to Department of Natural Resources Assistant Secretary Bill Anderson.

Though the long-term effects of putting these substances in the bay have been researched, scientists hold conflicting opinions about their harmfulness, Anderson said.

The Department of Natural Resources is opposed to all of the proposed legislation and plans to proceed with their dredging proposal, according to Anderson.

Lawmakers, however, have disagreed on the best course of action for oyster bed restoration.

“The science is getting better and better, and research is getting more clear,” that usage of alternative substrate—material other than oyster shells—could be the solution to restoring the oyster population of the bay, said Delegate Stephen Lafferty, D-Baltimore County, the primary sponsor of the emergency bill.

Delegate Robin L. Grammer Jr., R-Baltimore County, said he is optimistic that the legislation will pass despite the failure of a similar bill last session. The non-emergency version, which Grammer is sponsoring, would go into effect June 1; lawmakers heard testimony on that bill late last month.

Grammer said he doesn’t believe the shell-removal project would be beneficial to the long-term health of the bay. He said the proposed dredging would be “destroying a natural resource as a short-term solution.”

One emergency bill — part of a paired set of twinned legislation — was heard by the Maryland Senate Thursday.

The Department of Natural Resources received a provisional permit May 17 from the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The permit is pending for final approval from the Maryland Board of Public Works and the Maryland Department of the Environment Tidal Wetlands Division, Lafferty said.

But watermen are hopeful the state will scrape shell from the Man ‘O War Shoal and spread it elsewhere in order to eventually boost the state’s historically declining oyster population , according to Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association.

“We need shells now to enhance our oyster bars and our tributaries,” Brown said.

Brown noted that in Virginia, it takes about 90 days to receive a dredging permit, while this project has taken nearly 10 years to get underway.

Since its inception, the Department of Natural Resources’ Man O’ War Shoal Dredging Project has narrowed the portion of the reef intended to be dredged.

The eastern boundary of the proposed dredging region was tapered in April in order to remove the portion located within the Man O’ War/Gales Lump Sanctuary from the dredging area, Anderson said.

The western third of the reef has also been excluded from the dredging region to avoid disturbing the spat on shell, or freshly attached oyster larvae, that had been placed there in 1995, 2000, 2006 and 2013, according to the project proposal.

By Charlie Youngmann

Moms Group Rallies to Push Gun-Control Laws

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Led by chants of “moms demand action” and “gun sense is common sense,” dozens of red-shirted volunteers from the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America lobbied in Annapolis to support stricter gun laws Thursday.

The members of the gun-control advocacy group, along with several legislators and survivors of gun violence, expressed their desire for bills banning ghost guns and 3D printed guns and enforcing background checks for purchasing long guns and shotguns in Maryland.

The ban on “ghost guns” and 3D printed guns are among the top legislative priorities for Maryland Democrats this session.

Ghost guns are undetectable, untraceable and disguised firearms without serial numbers that can be built at home from parts and kits available online.

The online kits allow for the purchase of 80 percent of the lower parts of the gun, which needs the other 20 percent to be legally considered a firearm. The other 20 percent can be purchased from gun shops, said Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery.

“Bare minimum is no 3D guns in Maryland and no ghost guns,” Dumais said.

Obtaining 80 percent of a ghost gun doesn’t require a criminal background check, meaning that they can be obtained through a loophole by felons, domestic abusers and other individuals who are legally prohibited from owning or accessing firearms.

However, some opponents said the bills are unnecessary.

Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick and Carroll counties, told Capital News Service that he doesn’t know of a crime in Maryland that’s been committed with a ghost or 3D printed gun, but can think of plenty of crimes with illegal handguns that have killed children in Baltimore recently.

While there may have not been crimes involving 3D printed guns in Maryland yet, creating legislation on them is proactive, said Danielle Veith, the leader of the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action.

Hough added that 3D printed guns can cost thousands to manufacture, a prohibitive amount of money when normal guns can be assembled or purchased for less.

Estimated costs for the guns can be anywhere from two- to five-figure sums, varying depending on the gun’s material and type of printer used.

“Our time is better spent on other things,” he said.

Laws concerning long guns and shotguns are another topic in the General Assembly this session following several fatal local shootings.

It was a shotgun that fired through the glass door of the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis in June when five staff members were fatally shot.

Criminal background checks are not required to purchase long guns or shotguns in Maryland. An individual only needs to fill out a form and pass an instant background check.

Senate Majority Whip Susan Lee, D-Montgomery, plans to introduce a bill that will require background checks for shotguns and rifles.

Delegate Vanessa Atterbeary, D-Howard, voiced her support for a bill requiring the background checks.

“I am a mom and I demand action,” she said. “We are going to close the loophole.”

Maryland Legislature’s Democrats Announce 2019 Priorities

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Banning 3D printed and “ghost” guns, preserving health care access, raising the minimum wage, increasing the purchasing age of tobacco and lowering child care costs for parents are priorities for the 2019 session, Democrats in Maryland’s Legislature announced on Tuesday.

Senate President Mike Miller, D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, said the agenda is a progressive package that will carry Maryland through 2019 into 2020.

“Maryland Democrats are taking common sense steps to protecting our middle class,” Miller said.

Miller said the supermajority-Democratic Legislature will work with Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, but that, “he (Hogan) will have to compromise.”

“We are going to stay strong and stand firm on what our Democratic principles are,” said House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery.

Dumais said gun safety is important in Maryland, and that allowing easy access to plastic weapons made with 3D printers would be a threat to security systems.

Ghost guns are untraceable as they are made by purchasing separate parts and assembling at home.

Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said $20 million would go toward making child care more affordable.

“Make it possible for people to work without having to worry about their children,” said Kelley.

Democrats said they are putting forward legislation that would mandate a right to health insurance, without regard to pre-existing conditions, if the Affordable Care Act is overturned.

Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s, said Maryland needs to continue its efforts against cigarette deaths by increasing the purchasing age to 21.

Davis said the time has come for minimum wage to be raised to $15 for struggling residents.

However, Hogan and some industry representatives are concerned an increase in wages would cause businesses to switch to automation and move to cheaper neighboring states.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, said often times, policies that sound good for the middle or working class actually hurt them.

“Republicans continue to advocate for more jobs, better jobs, lower taxes, limited government,” Szeliga told Capital News Service. “We know these are proven philosophies and principles of government that work for everyone.”

Republican state lawmakers on Friday proposed a public registry for violent offenders, lowering the income tax rate by a quarter percentage point, flexibility for schools to hire police officers and single-member state districts for better voter representation.

Hogan’s legislative priorities include reducing small-business taxes, raising sentences for firearm offenders and creating a nonpartisan Congressional redistricting process.

Kirwan Maryland Education Commission Chair gives Recommendations to Lawmakers

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Parents can expect to see advances in pre-K, tutoring and special education first, among all of the recommendations of a statewide education reform panel, according to its namesake chairman, William “Brit” Kirwan.

“What parents will see is just a steady drumbeat of improvement in the experiences that their children are having in the schools,” Kirwan told Capital News Service.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, or Kirwan Commission, finalized in December its recommendations and costs to fix large achievement gaps, boost school funding for poorer students, and improve teacher retention for Maryland public schools from 2020 to 2030.

Determining the geographic distribution of the funds is the next step for the commission, which presented an overview of its $3.8 billion plan to a joint legislative committee on Thursday.

“We will see a school system in Maryland that will be the envy of the country and perform at the level of the best performing systems around the world,” if all the recommendations are funded, Kirwan said.

Kirwan said the commission wants $325 million to jumpstart the program this year; Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, has allocated $235.8 million in his fiscal year 2020 budget proposal.

Kirwan said the commission is focusing on five major policy areas to be incorporated into the Maryland school system over the next 10 years: Investing in early childhood education; elevating teaching into a high-status profession; creating college and career-ready pathways; ensuring all students have equal access to education; and implementing an oversight board for accountability.

“We have to think of this as a carefully quilted package of initiatives that fit together as a whole,” Kirwan said.

Steven Hershkowitz, policy director of the Maryland State Education Association, said under current funding formulas, free public pre-K is only available to 4-year-olds at income levels 185 percent of the poverty line or below.

Hershkowitz said with the Kirwan plan, free access for public programs would also include 3-year-olds, and expand to income levels at 300 percent of the poverty line or below.

An expanded pre-K program and revamping how college preparedness tests works by creating a 10th grade test that determines career readiness would create new pathways to success for students, Hershkowitz said.

Hershkowitz said the teachers union is more supportive than frustrated by the Kirwan recommendations, but said he is concerned about requiring National Board Certification for teachers.

He said there is no state that has come close to making all teachers reach the “gold-standard,” of certification.

“It’s not a route that every teacher wants to take,” Hershkowitz said. “We would like there to still be more options for teachers.”

Kirwan told lawmakers that Massachusetts, which launched education reform in 1993, was an example for the committee’s recommendations.

The changes increased state aid to schools, set higher goals for academic achievement, and required more accountability in the education system, three points the Maryland plan includes.

However, Sen. Arthur Ellis, D-Charles, said in Massachusetts, minority communities did not excel following the changes; a study released in September found black and Latino students trailed behind white students in reading, grade and income level.

“We have a lot of low income, minority, rural communities left out of the progress,” said Ellis.

Ellis said Kirwan’s recommendations of wrap-around services at community schools that provide mental health, nutrition and physical support in the school building would be a “tremendous solution.”

“A kid shows up and they’re hungry, they’re not going to learn,” said Ellis.

Hershkowitz said Kirwan’s planned investments into a community-school model would be prioritized for areas with high concentrations of poverty.

Sen. Jack Bailey, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, said a 2016 study showed recommendations for St. Mary’s County would cause a 5 percent increase in funding, but still put them on the same level playing field as other counties.

“Obviously we want a world-class education, but we want a funding formula that works for us, especially in rural counties,” said Bailey. “We want equality.”

Kirwan said Massachusetts’ shortcomings among minorities made the commission “place laser-like focus on equity.”

“We’ve learned from what Massachusetts didn’t do,” said Kirwan. “We can’t leave any kid behind, this has to be for all of our children.”

He said equality was one of the most important recommendations, and told lawmakers that in the plan, more resources would be portioned to schools with high concentrations of impoverished students.

Finding a revenue stream is the third stage of the Kirwan plan, and would be up to the Legislature, Hershkowitz said.

“Education, education, education,” would be the Legislature’s top priority for the 2019 session, Senate President Mike Miller, D-Prince George, Charles and Calvert said earlier this month.

Legislators have tossed around multiple ideas on how to raise the revenue required for the commission, from legalization of marijuana to sports betting.

Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, have both entertained the idea of legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana.

“I think that’s (recreational marijuana is) the future,” Busch said earlier this month. “It will be much like overturning prohibition.”

But Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said last week she is concerned about budgetary consequences with the state losing an estimated $1.3 million to $1.5 million a day due to the government shutdown.

“I think we have to be careful, and we will be,” said McIntosh.

Kirwan said he recognizes the General Assembly has to deal with the realities of spending affordability and said he hopes they will do all they can to fund the recommendations.

Kirwan said Maryland’s economic future is dependent on a well educated workforce, and that high quality education is the only path out of poverty.

“We can’t afford not to do this,” said Kirwan.

By David Jahng

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Releases FY 2020 Budget

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Gov. Larry Hogan, R, this week released a $44.6 billion state budget for the upcoming 2020 fiscal year, fortifying his objectives for the 2019 General Assembly session — education, economic growth, health, state employees, transportation and the environment — into writing.

The budget grew 4 percent over last year, and includes $19.6 billion for operating expenses.

At a press conference on Thursday, Hogan said he made a record investment of $6.9 billion for Maryland’s K-12 education, and has set aside $438 million in a “Building Opportunity Fund,” a $3.5 billion five-year school construction program.

Maryland senators and delegates said based on the budget highlights, many of the priorities of the legislature were funded as they liked.

Senate President Mike Miller, D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert, said a proposed salary increase for state employees and correctional officers, money for retirement relief, and provisions for much-needed facilities in some areas of the state were all good things.

“Obviously there’s going to be changes (to the budget),” Miller said Friday. “But the initial reflections … is that it’s a very positive budget.”

Hogan said he ignored formulaic recommendations to decrease some school funding and instead raised money for all jurisdictions in Maryland.

“Every single penny that every single jurisdiction anticipates from the state for education (will) be funded at 100 percent,” Hogan said Thursday.

The budget sets aside $56.5 million for a tax credit to be given to businesses that expand in “Opportunity Zones,” or low-income areas.

“More businesses are open and more people are working than ever before,” Hogan said.

In addition, he said that Marylanders should be allowed to deduct 100 percent of interest paid on student loans for income tax returns.

Hogan said no new taxes were implemented for the fifth year in a row, and all state employees will receive at least a 3 percent raise, including members of the AFSCME trade union who Hogan said refused to negotiate.

He said these proposals were made with the goal of easing tax burdens on hardworking families and individuals.

Transportation expenditures rose 4 percent, with a total of $3.3 billion funding the state’s transportation network.

$1.7 billion of support went to state highways, $221 million to the Purple Line, and $167 million to improvements for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Hogan said Program Open Space, a initiative that works to restore the Chesapeake Bay, would return to full funding of $62.6 million.

However, total expenditures for natural resources and the environment fell 5 percent since last year, to about $1.03 billion.

Hogan said “fiscal discipline” and “belt-tightening” have been and will be the priority for his budgets, and warned against reckless spending.

$1.3 billion were put in reserves in the case that the state faces an economic downturn.

“We want to remain vigilant about maintaining savings,” said Hogan. “That is what our budget has once again accomplished.”

Funding for health remained the same at $14.6 billion, with $1.3 billion for the developmentally disabled and about $250 million for those with substance use disorders.

In the budget, revenues across the board are expected to rise an average of 2 percent, though lottery and other special funds are expected to bring in $172 million less.

However, Miller said there was not enough money set aside for the city of Baltimore.

He said the city has a major crime problem, with a lack of funding for police officers and an “embarrassing” response time of 15 minutes.

“People need respect, they need their properties to be protected,” said Miller. “They need their personal lives to be protected, and we’re not doing that in Baltimore City.”

House Majority Leader Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery, said she was happy to see the increase in salary for state employees, but said she hopes more correctional officers will be hired.

She said the budget funded many legislative priorities, but that “the devil would be in the details,” after she had read more than just the highlights.

Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, said the Kirwan Commission — a panel nicknamed for its chairman and charged with developing educational improvements — had asked for $325 million, but only received $200 million.

House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, R-Baltimore and Harford counties, had no criticisms of the proposal, and said Hogan presented a balanced budget that fully funds education and other priorities.

“It should diminish partisan rancor over the budget, that is our only constitutionally mandated duty,” said Szeliga.

Here is a look at some additional highlights:
–$1.45 billion was provided to the University System of Maryland, with a focus on S.T.E.M. programs.
–$11.5 billion for Maryland’s Medicaid program
–Correctional officers receive a 4 percent raise.
–Doubles funds available as tax credit for zero-emissions vehicles from $3 million to $6 million.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Inaugurated for Second Term

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Beating non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma into remission and being the first Maryland Republican governor elected for a second term since 1954 is no small feat.

But Gov. Larry Hogan will continue to work against the odds this legislative season, with Democrats maintaining a supermajority in the Maryland House and Senate.

Regardless, Hogan has previously touted his bipartisanship, and Wednesday’s inauguration was no different.

Cold reporters huddled together on the State House steps for a press conference with Hogan in the morning.

An excited governor said then he was excited, humbled and ready for the challenges ahead.

Hogan said after his swearing in that in this term, he plans to continue the harder work of putting the people’s priorities before partisan interests.

“Do the right thing, and the politics will work itself out,” said Hogan.

Much of Hogan’s speech took jabs at the federal government’s inability to compromise.

“Heat, finger-pointing and rancor suffocates the light,” said Hogan. “That’s not politics, that’s political theater.”

Hogan said instead of putting on a show, over the next four years he will strive to be moderate, find compromise, and encourage a government that will work together to find bipartisan solutions.

“I still believe that what unites us is stronger than what divides us,” Hogan said.

Maryland Lt. Gov Boyd Rutherford addressed that divide after being sworn in.

He said four years ago, he and Hogan had pledged they would be different from past administrations; they would serve as one executive power with the same agenda.

Hogan signaled his willingness to reach across the aisle by having Isiah “Ike” Leggett, former Montgomery County executive, make the opening statement.

“This inauguration is not an ordinary event,” Leggett said. “It is the official recognition and acceptance of the people of Maryland.”

Leggett was the first black Montgomery County executive and served for 12 years, until 2018.
Jeb Bush, 2016 GOP candidate and former governor of Florida, said Hogan’s governance contrasted the gridlock and dysfunction in Washington.

“There’s not a lot of people I would leave paradise for,” said Bush, referencing warm weather in Florida, “but Larry Hogan is at the top of that list.”

In standing by one of President Donald Trump’s former Republican rivals, Hogan further distances himself from the conflict between parties on Capitol Hill.

During his last term, Hogan said he worked with Democrats to pass legislation on health care, transportation, the Chesapeake Bay and fracking.

Now for his second term, Hogan said he is focusing on four areas: Education, economic opportunity, crime and redistricting.

Hogan wants to relieve student debt, reduce taxes on small businesses, raise sentences for firearm offenders and drunken drivers as well as create a nonpartisan redistricting process, according to his 2019 legislative proposals.

But he may face significant opposition in the state House and Senate, especially after eight House Republicans were ousted for Democrats in the 2018 elections.

Maryland Delegate Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery, said Hogan often talks up his bipartisanship but does not always work with Democrats.

Kaiser told Capital News Service that over the last four years, Hogan “advanced our agenda or signed off on it at the end, and claimed it as his own.”

Kaiser said she is curious to see what Hogan’s vision for the next four years will be, but said the House will provide for the working class no matter his plans.

Even with a House and Senate with the power to veto his decisions, Hogan still holds a 67.3 percent favorable opinion among Marylanders, according to an October 2018 Gonzales poll (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/docs/Gonzales_Maryland_Poll_-_October_2018.pdf).

Queenstown, Maryland, resident Michael Parsons, 49, a Republican, said Hogan is “one of the most likable politicians you’ll ever meet.”

Parsons said Hogan found ways to pass good economic policy and improve business, even with a Republican minority in the House and Senate.

Jay Walton, 37, a Republican from Dundalk, Maryland, said he was particularly impressed by Hogan’s steps toward improving education.

“He’s trying to hold education officials more accountable,” said Walton.

Walton was just appointed to Hogan’s P-20 Leadership Council of Maryland, a schools-business partnership that aims to prepare students entering the workforce.

Melinda Craig, 68, a Republican from Havre de Grace, Maryland, said Hogan is well-liked and well-loved in all counties, and that he truly cares about the people and the state.

“You can’t get anything done if you’re not for everyone,” said Craig.

Michele Cordle, 58, a Republican from Annapolis, Maryland, said it is Hogan’s ability to put aside partisanism that makes both Republicans and Democrats love him.

“He has some challenges, but like anything that Larry faces, he’s going to take on the challenge,” said Cordle.

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