And other legislative updates in MSEA’s Up the Street
While egos and hurt feelings of some state elected officials dominated headlines around the debate and passage of the 21st Century School Facilities Act (HB 1783), the core of the bill is about streamlining some of the regulatory process related to school construction and adding new financial commitments to address the tremendous backlog of construction projects across the state. Just in approved projects in the capital improvement program alone, school construction needs add up to $4 billion. Currently, the state has set an annual capital budget floor of $250 million. Under the legislation that has now passed both chambers, that floor will rise to $400 million per year. Importantly, as the debate has continued about new investments for school safety measures, this bill also establishes and funds the School Safety Grant Program at $10 million per year, helping school districts make school security improvements like lockable classroom doors.
The current school construction process is politicized by the role of the Board of Public Works, which has used the annual “beg-a-thon” to shame local school superintendents on specific construction and maintenance projects. While oversight and transparency are important to a process that will always involve some politics, the current practice is more showmanship than stewardship. As a result, the bill seeks to empower a newly created nine-member Interagency Commission on School Construction to review and approve all school construction projects. The governor appoints four of the members of this commission, the State Senate appoints two, the House of Delegates appoints two, and the State Superintendent (who works for the governor’s appointees on the State Board of Education) serves as the ninth member.
Governor Hogan has threatened to veto the bill. Both chambers approved the legislation in time to present to the governor for his action while the General Assembly is still in session. If he chooses to veto the new $400 million commitment, $10 million in new support for school safety, and the streamlining of regulations, then the House and Senate could choose to override his veto before the session adjourns Sine Die on Monday, April 9.
This week, the House of Delegates and State Senate approved two priority pro-worker and pro-union bills:
Representative Access to New Educators (HB811): Sponsored by House Education Subcommittee Chair Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery-District 14), this legislation will require school districts to give exclusive bargaining units access to all new educators upon their hiring. Educator associations are legally required to provide representation and bargain on behalf of all employees, not just members, and therefore need the ability to communicate with all new educators to effectively comply with law. This will allow all educators to have a fair shot at being represented.
Teacher Arbitration Rights (SB639): Sponsored by Sen. Guy Guzzone (D-Howard-District 13), this bill provides fairness to the process for suspending or dismissing a certificated school employee. This bill accomplishes that fairness by allowing an employee to request a hearing before an arbitrator instead of a hearing officer selected and paid by the local board of education. ESP members already have the right to negotiate the use of arbitration.
MSEA has been part of a coalition led by Common Cause Maryland to expand voting rights, including allowing for Election Day registration and automatic voter registration. A change to allow new voters to register and vote on Election Day requires a change to the Maryland Constitution. So while HB 532 has passed both the House and Senate, it creates a Constitutional Amendment that will be on the November ballot for Maryland voters to decide. Maryland already allows registering and voting on the same day during early voting, but if this amendment passes, Maryland will join more than a dozen other states that allow for same day Election Day registration and voting.
Senate Bill 1048 is the Secure and Accessible Registration Act that will be presented to the governor by this weekend for his action. This bill will allow Maryland residents to register to vote when they deal with certain state agencies, including the Motor Vehicle Administration, the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, local social service agencies, and the Maryland Transit Administration’s mobility office. If this bill becomes law, it will change the current “opt-in” process of registering to vote to an “opt-out” system and is designed to help make it easier to have more Marylanders registered and able to vote in future elections. Neither this bill nor HB 532 will impact who can register and vote in the 2018 election.
In short order this week, the budget conferees reached agreement and the full House and Senate voted to adopt the FY19 Budget Bill and the Budget Reconciliation Act. Here are a few key points of the final budget actions:
· Achieves the Spending Affordability Committee’s goals of eliminating the structural deficit and leaving a fund balance of more than $200 million.
· State aid for public education grows $161.3 million over the previous year and dedicates $200 million to support the future cost of implementing the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission starting next year.
· Includes $26 million in the operating budget for school safety.
· Restores legislative priorities that Gov. Hogan cut or eliminated, including the restoration of funds for the teacher induction and retention program, teacher quality incentives, and next generation scholarship funds.
· $7 million for the BOOST voucher program with some stronger language to hold nonpublic schools accountable against discrimination against students and employees and reporting on testing and student performance.
A U.S. District Court judge ruled this week that the emoluments lawsuit filed by Attorney General Brian Frosh alleging that President Trump violated a constitutional prohibition on accepting foreign gifts may proceed. This marks the first time that a lawsuit of this kind has cleared the initial legal hurdle that the plaintiffs have legal standing to sue the president. The judge validated the arguments that Trump holds a financial interest and unfairly profits from business at his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Under indictment on federal bribery and political corruption charges, now former State Senator Nathaniel Oaks resigned from the Maryland Senate Wednesday night, effective Thursday morning, just in advance of his federal court appearance where he entered a guilty plea on two of the bribery charges against him (the other eight charges were simultaneously dropped). Oaks had been stripped of his commitment assignment on the Senate Finance Committee earlier this session.
House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer endorsed Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in his bid for the Democratic nomination for Maryland governor. In recent months, Baker has also earned the support of U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett.
This week, the Maryland Democratic Party announced that all nine of the Democratic candidates for governor have agreed that no campaigns will participate in a television or radio debate without the invitation of all nine candidates.