And other legislative updates in MSEA’s Up the Street
The House of Delegates is one vote away from following the actions of the State Senate and approving Senate Bill 1122, the Fix the Fund Constitutional Amendment to establish a lockbox on the Education Trust Fund. That vote is expected to take place as early as tonight. If passed, the issue will then go to the voters on the November ballot. If approved at the ballot box, the Fix the Fund initiative will guarantee that gaming revenue is supplemental funding to the current state aid for public education, and once fully phased in will add at least $500 million in new state funding for public schools. This new funding is the first step in addressing the unmet needs in our schools that will not be fully resolved until the state adopts a new funding formula. That formula must address the current unmet needs in our schools and provide new resources to increase educator pay, improve staffing ratios, address poverty, and implement other recommendations of the Kirwan Commission.
Last week, the General Assembly presented a number of bills to Gov. Hogan with enough time left in session that if the governor decided to veto the bill, the General Assembly could take action to override before adjourning. The presented bills included MSEA priorities related to access to new educators and all educators in our bargaining units (HB 811), teacher arbitration rights (SB 639), new funding for school construction and school safety (HB 1783), and legislation to expand voting rights (SB 1048). Gov. Hogan decided to let the access to new employees and the automatic voter registration bills become law without his signature. Unfortunately, he vetoed the school construction and school safety measure as well as the teacher arbitration bill.
In short order, however, both the House and Senate took up the bills and passed them again, notwithstanding the governor’s veto. The overrides allow the legislation to become law upon their designated effective dates. That is June 1, 2018 for the 21st Century School Facilities Act and October 1, 2018 for the Public School Personnel — Disciplinary Hearing Procedures legislation.
From six bills comes one — an omnibus bill titled the Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018 (SB 1265). A bipartisan and bicameral workgroup of legislators worked together to address issues related to the structure of the Center for School Safety, the development and training of school assessment teams, training and coordination with school safety coordinators (including school resource officers and local law enforcement), school safety emergency plans, and expansion of mental health and wraparound services. The bill also accounts for $40 million in operating and capital funds that are available based on the enactment of the FY19 budget and contingent on passage of some other legislation and action from the governor to release fenced-off funding. Of that, $10 million are school safety grants that can be distributed to support one-time expenses related to trainings, assessments of existing school safety staff and practices, mental health services, and delivery of school-based behavioral health.
The other bills related to mandatory school resource officers and hardening of schools will not be acted on this year. MSEA opposed efforts that would convert schools to what would feel more like prisons. And while school safety is of paramount concern, it is far more important to expand the presence of student support staff, including counselors, psychologists, and social workers, than it is to beef up the presence of law enforcement on every school campus in the state. The compromise bill is expected to be taken up in the House this weekend and resolution reached before midnight on Monday. The Department of Legislative Services created this summary and timeline document to explain the omnibus bill.
Racing to the Sine Die deadline on Monday at midnight, budget negotiators in the House and Senate reached a deal to provide $100 million more in tax cuts designed to reduce the impact of increased state taxes resulting from the federal tax bill passed in December. The package of tax cuts and credits is across 10 different bills, but the largest of the cuts is rooted in an increase of the Maryland standard deduction. This round of tax cuts are on top of changes earlier this year to return $200 million to taxpayers by increasing the standard deduction for the state income tax by $500 for individuals and $1,000 for married couples. This change indexes the state’s standard deduction rate to inflation, allowing it to grow over time.
Attorney General Brian Frosh moved Maryland to be the 18th state to sue the Trump Administration over a proposal by the U.S. Commerce Department to add a question to the 2020 census about a resident’s citizenship. The Constitution requires a decennial census to count everyone in the country regardless of their citizenship. The addition of a citizenship question is fanning fears that immigrants and their families will not participate in the census, leading to undercounts and underrepresentation for the next 10 years.
In a victory for free speech, four Marylanders who had been blocked and had their comments deleted by Gov. Hogan and his social media team were paid $65,000 to settle their case. With the support of the ACLU of Maryland, the four plaintiffs brought suit against the governor and his staff for blocking political comments that were contrary to the talking points of the governor and his administration. The settlement also required the governor to rewrite his social media policies. Accordingly, Hogan plans to create a separate Facebook page for constituents to raise issues and make comments.
The House and Senate passed emergency legislation to allow school districts to extend their academic calendar by five days without having to ask for a waiver from the State Board of Education. The bill allows for the extension if districts lose days of instruction because of severe weather. Gov. Hogan indicated he would sign the bill, and upon that notice, a few school districts made immediate changes in their schedules to restore spring break days thought to be lost. The legislation only gives districts flexibility at the end of the year. Districts are still required by Hogan’s Executive Order to delay the start of the student year until after Labor Day.
With less than three months until the June primary race for governor, Congress, and other local elections, voters are seeing their first political ads of the season thanks to self-funder David Trone. The wealthy businessman — who lost a congressional race in District 8 in 2016 despite spending $12 million of his own money — is back at it in District 6, launching his first television ads earlier this week.
Meanwhile, in the governor’s race, Krish Vignarajah is making a stand against Sinclair Broadcasting, making a pledge to not advertise on their four Maryland stations. It remains to be seen if her campaign can afford to spend widely on television ads.