Annapolis Report Week 7 – A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Today is the 45th day of our 90-day legislative session.  As usual, we are half way through the session but only 10% through the workload.  Unsurprisingly, we’re in for our typical long work days as we near the end of session, April 9th.  My long days, however, are now combined with spending sleepless and yet precious nights with my daughter.  The funny thing is, explaining my legislation to her in the early hours of the morning seems to be the only way to lull her to sleep.  I cherish every moment with her.

Maryland is a step closer to becoming the eighth state to recognize marriage equality for all.  Last Friday night the House passed the Civil Marriage Protection Act by a vote of 72 to 67.  Last night, the Senate passed the House version of the bill by a close but expected vote of 25 to 22, despite efforts by opponents to delay debate and kill the bill with amendments.  Governor O’Malley is expected to sign the bill into law right away; however, amendments adopted in the House delay implementation of the law until January 1, 2013, as the issue is likely to be petitioned for a referendum vote.

Under the Maryland Constitution, opponents of the legislation may put the measure up for statewide popular referendum vote if they are able to obtain 55,726 signatures of registered Maryland voters (3% of those who voted in the previous gubernatorial election) by June 30, 2012.  Should this effort be successful (which is likely), the question must be placed on the ballot for the next general election.  Thus, the issue’s fate will ultimately be determined by a simple majority statewide vote.  We are steps closer to ensuring all Marylanders enjoy equal protection, but nothing is certain until November.

This week, House Bill 532 had a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee.  This sensible bill would provide veterans with a 50% tax exemption on their military pension income when they commit to Maryland by living and working in an area experiencing a healthcare workforce shortage.  The hearing went well, but I am disappointed that many likely supporters did not testify in support of the bill.  The bill has a negligible fiscal impact, and may even pay for itself by drawing returning healthcare-providing veterans to live and spend in Maryland.  As our population grays and more Americans need healthcare services, we know our workforce must expand to meet this rising demand.  My bill limits this incentive to practitioners making less than $65,000 and working in areas of need.  Although disappointing, I am not surprised that the veteran organizations, led by high-salaried and retired veterans, failed to support this promising bill, as they have no personal interest in the offered benefit.  Despite this legislation coming directly from a recommendation of the Governor’s Commission on Workforce Shortage, the Administration also failed to demonstrate support for the bill at the hearing.  Although I am frustrated, I will keep appealing to my colleagues for their support of this creative proposal.

My electronic signatures bill, HB 173, was adopted in the House this week.  This bill would make it easier for individuals to register to vote electronically while saving the state money.  I anticipate the Senate will take the measure up promptly (and hopefully pass it!).

Tuesday was Maryland Developmental Disabilities Day.  It was inspiring to meet many of the recipients of critical state aid, but also incredibly frustrating to hear of the waitlist (in the thousands) for basic, essential services and the severe underfunding experienced by these important programs.  This event reminded me to continue to advocate for a balanced approach to our ongoing budget discussions – yes, cut where we can, but preserve and protect where we must.

The 15th Annual Maryland State Bicycle Symposium was held Wednesday here in Annapolis.  I appreciate the strong showing of support for our efforts in the legislature to promote safe, adequate roadways and “rules of the road” for drivers and cyclists.  I gave an opening statement regarding bicycle safety and my two bills related to this subject.  Many thanks to Bike Maryland, Alex Obrecht, Jim Hudnall, Carol Silldorff, and countless volunteers for hosting this event and for their ongoing efforts promoting bicycle safety.

Jon S. Cardin