Looking Ahead

To say I was frustrated to return to Annapolis for a special session this past week is an understatement.  Nevertheless, we negotiated what many thought was a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases rather than haphazard cuts to education, health, and public safety, among else.  Below, please read about the bill I introduced to narrow the Court of Appeals’ ruling that dogs with pit bull bloodlines are inherently dangerous.  That decision imposes broad presumptive liability for dog owners and property owners, rather than the traditional negligence standard which emphasizes a dog owner’s knowledge and responsibility for their dog’s behavior.

The budget package cuts spending by $109 million dollars and eliminates 100 more State positions.  The legislation also requires the wealthiest 13.7% of Marylanders (10.6% of Baltimore County residents) to pay a little more in order to continue our investments in K-12 education, higher education, and law enforcement.  Individuals earning more than $100,000 and joint filers earning more than $150,000 will see income tax increases ranging from 0.25% to 0.75%.  To summarize, I am not happy with the tax increase, but I feel the alternative and the threats to the most vulnerable outweigh the burden.  This was not an easy decision.  I continue to hear the concerns of thousands of Maryland taxpayers who are being stretched thin.  We must work to correct our course.

Some highlights: This budget package prevents 1,300 teaching jobs from being cut and ensures that tuition increases among our public universities are limited to a 3% increase next year, instead of a 13% increase.  This legislation also prevents at least 400 State employee layoffs and painful cuts to the developmentally disabled, foster care, and mental health communities.  Finally, the legislative scholarship program was reinstated and fully funded.

The legislature also approved a companion measure that shifts a portion of teacher pension costs to the counties.  Because county school boards set the salaries for teachers, the State has no input in the growing pension liability for teachers.  The county share will phase-in over 4 years beginning next fiscal year.  After those 4 years, the counties will pay one-third of the pension cost while the State will continue to pay two-thirds.

Throughout the past month I worked with the Humane Society to draft an appropriate legislative response to the recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision deeming pit bulls (and mixes) inherently dangerous, Tracey v. Solesky.  This overbroad court ruling imposes far-reaching presumptive liability for owners and non-owners (property owners).  This will create great expense and put dogs with no prior history of misbehavior in already overcrowded shelters.  The ruling applies to pit bull mixes – without any legal definition – resulting in great uncertainty and potential abuse of the vague, overbroad, new legal standard.

I have been assured by both the Speaker and the President that the bill will be taken up during the next session, either later this summer, or early next year.  I will keep working to make sure this occurs.  Thank you to those of you who have contacted my office with personal stories about how the ruling affects you and your family.  Please stay engaged in this effort.

The Governor intends to convene a second special session so that the legislature may debate the expansion of gaming in time for the issue to be placed on the ballot for referendum in November.  Gambling proponents want to add a new casino site in Prince George’s County and legalize table games.  The state constitution authorizes five casinos with only slot machines, and any gambling expansion would have to be approved by voters in a referendum.  Before the regular legislative session ended in April, the Senate approved these requests but the House failed to act on the issue before midnight on sine die.

I wish you all an enjoyable Preakness, meaningful Memorial Day, and joyful start to the summer.  Please look out for me at BikeJam in Patterson Park this Sunday!