Every year at the end of the Maryland General Assembly’s 90-day session, I send a letter to my constituents in District 14. I thought you might be interested to read about some of our accomplishments this year in Annapolis, please find a shortened version of that letter below.

This year, Speaker Michael Busch gave me a big promotion and appointed me to be Chair of the Ways and Means Committee.  There are only six committees in the Maryland House of Delegates, and in this new leadership role, I am proud to have an even greater influence on state policies and laws dealing with tax matters, education issues, financial resources and election law.

Together with your other state elected officials, Senator Craig Zucker, Delegate Eric Luedtke, and Delegate Pam Queen, I am standing up for our shared values, finding common ground and working to increase both the quality of life and the quality of government service in Maryland.

Maryland State Budget:  The Map of Our Priorities

To that end, I believe that the state’s budget is one of the most important things the legislature works on during session.  How the state allocates taxpayer money is the clearest indication of the priorities of state government.  Notably, the Maryland Constitution requires a balanced budget, and I believe we have a moral obligation to allocate and spend taxpayer dollars as efficiently as possible.

The legislature delivered a balanced budget that protects our state’s fundamental priorities:  public education, transportation, community safety, economic development and environmental stewardship.

This year’s budget is the third in a row that includes no new taxes; our Rainy Day Fund has $1.5 billion in it for unforeseen economic changes, and our state’s structural deficit — a complicated issue over the last several years — is now eliminated.  The budget fully funds K-12 education at $6.4 billion — the largest investment in public education in the state’s history.

Local Impact and Investments in District 14 and Montgomery County

Montgomery County is often considered the economic engine of the state.  In fact, our more than 1 million residents pay 22 percent of the total tax revenue in Maryland.  And, we actually get a significant portion of that investment back in the form of capital projects such as local public transportation, roads and schools.

  • Montgomery College and the Universities at Shady Grove

    Given how many residents attend college at these institutions, I am pleased about the $103 million for long overdue building renovations at Montgomery College that serves 60,000 students annually — including modern math/science classrooms at the Takoma Park/Silver Spring Campus, and a new student services center at the Rockville Campus.  We also approved expenditures to benefit the Universities at Shady Grove.

  • School Construction and Renovation

    Montgomery County received $55.7 million for school construction, including $10 million to renovate Farquhar Middle School, Briggs Chaney Middle School and Greenwood Elementary School.  Investing in our schools is investing in our future.  Our students need modern, safe schools

  • The Praisner Library, Friends House, Damascus Park and the Olney Boys and Girls Sports Association

    Our local community will receive $550,000 in upgrades and investments to serve children, youth, families and adults in a wide range of community facilities.

Ways and Means Committee:  Education Subcommittee

So Much More than Test Scores

Sometimes when you go grocery shopping when you’re hungry, and then you get home with way more food than you anticipated, it’s in that moment that we are reminded — there can be too much of a good thing.  Especially when you get home and have more boxes of Oreos than you should.

I view standardized tests — kind of — in that same way.  Let me explain.

Upwards of about 15 years ago, school systems started relying way too heavily on standardized test scores to measure student achievement.  School systems all across the country were essentially forced by the federal government to eat too many Oreos, whether we wanted them or not, because federal education funding formulas became way too dependent on standardized test scores.

What we know now is that not every amount of progress a student makes can be accurately measured by a standardized test and test scores.  It’s just not possible.

And we must leave it to well-trained teachers (in close collaboration with parents/guardians).  That’s why the Ways and Committee worked on a new law that reduces burdensome reliance on test scores and forbids the State Board of Education from making unilateral decisions regarding privatization, vouchers and charters.

Suspension/Expulsion Ought Not be an Option for Young Children.  Period.

The legislature sent Governor Larry Hogan a bill that bans a school from suspending or expelling a child from a public pre-kindergarten program, kindergarten, first or second grade, except under limited circumstances (such as bringing a firearm to school).

My Four Education Initiatives

Even though my role as Chair of the Ways and Means Committee means that I no longer serve as Chair of the Education Subcommittee (that’s now chaired by our own Delegate Eric Luedtke) public education will always be my passion.  This year, four bills I put forward will be sent to Governor Hogan and I hope he signs them into law.

My own initiatives include legislation to begin needed special education reforms, as well as a separate effort to limit discrimination in child care centers.  A bill making our state’s data system more useful in the area of workforce development is also on its way to the Governor, as well as an initiative to safeguard local school system’s funding by shifting the dates of a test for Kindergarteners, made necessary by a shortsighted gubernatorial executive order about school start times.

Ways and Means Committee:  Revenues Subcommittee

Hometown Heroes Tax Credit

I am also very proud of the Ways and Means Committee and its Chair Emerita for proposing and earning enough votes to pass modest tax relief for fire, rescue, or emergency services personnel over the age of 55.

Governor’s Manufacturing Tax Credit

Working with Governor Hogan, the More Jobs for Marylanders Act, provides $10 million of credits per year to manufacturers who create new jobs in the counties that need them the most.  The tax credits are good for 10 years, meaning businesses can plan, grow, and become part of their local communities.

Independent Living Tax Credit

The cost of home improvements is also increasing significantly.  So, to offset the financial hardship some families endure while retrofitting houses to foster continued independence for seniors and people with disabilities, the legislature adopted a tax credit for those who have to make such expenditures.

Biotechnology and Research and Design Tax Credits

Montgomery County has a thriving, vibrant and nationally important biotech corridor.  The state has a responsibility to protect and promote our established industry while also fostering Maryland’s most promising new ventures as they get off the ground and go to market.  We adopted measures to do just that.

Other Major Issues Affecting the State

Health Matters:  Opioid Addition, Affordable Prescription Drugs and Paid Sick Leave

Our country — and our region — are experiencing a staggering increase in opioid-related deaths.  The number of people dying from fatal drug and alcohol use/abuse rose 60 percent from 2010 to 2014 (649 to 1,039 deaths in 2014).  In Maryland, opioid use causes more deaths than homicide and motor vehicle accidents.

This is both unacceptable and preventable.

That’s why — in collaboration with Governor Hogan — the legislature acted to pass a bill that has several components.  First, the state will assess the effectiveness of drug courts (addiction is not a crime — why do we treat it that way?) and determine how to expand their reach.  Second, the state will require certain drug manufacturers to seek registration for specific drugs that have been deemed dangerous.  Third, the state will fund community mental health crisis centers at a higher level and will establish an opioid addiction hotline.

While Governor Hogan and I are from different political parties — and we hold different political values on a range of issues — this is a matter that so many of us can find common ground.  Drug addiction is a serious and growing problem both in our cities and our suburbs.  We must act together and quickly on this matter.

At the same time, we must recognize that the cost of many legal prescription drugs is climbing sharply.  According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly 70 percent of Americans rely on at least one prescription drug to maintain their quality of life.  So, the General Assembly passed a bill that will require certain pharmaceutical companies to file annual reports with the state disclosing increases in cost and making that information publicly available.

The legislature also required employers with more than 14 employees to offer at least five days of paid sick leave in a 12-month period.  No one got exactly what they wanted in this legislation as compromise is the cornerstone of effective legislating and governing.  However, we now can ensure that sick employees can periodically stay home to rest and heal without economically disadvantaging their own families.

Environmental Stewardship

Fracking is a process that injects highly-pressurized liquid deep into the ground to extract oil or gas.  States that allow this activity (including nearby Pennsylvania) have reported a significant increase in health problems and negative impacts to the environment.  That’s why Governor Hogan joined the General Assembly in advocating to ban fracking in Maryland.

Pushing Back on the Erratic and Frenetic Trump Agenda

I believe that most Marylanders want an effective government that protects the little guy and gives everyone a fair shot to succeed personally, educationally and economically.  But President Trump does not seem to share that view.

And that’s why the legislature put protections in place that give our Attorney General more authority to sue the federal government over specific issues; ensured that the promise of affordable healthcare would stay intact in Maryland (in the event of Obamacare being repealed/replaced); and provided for state funding for the services provided by Planned Parenthood should the federal government renege on its commitment to women’s health.

Joys of Our Pets

My wife and I rescued a cocker spaniel and 3 cats; they bring us joy everyday and remind us everyday to be and do better.  As a pet owner, when it comes to animal issues, the personal is political.  This year, we passed many bills on behalf of our 4-legged family members.  Among other actions, we strengthened the role veterinarians have in reporting suspected animal abuse and adopted reasonable regulations for kennels/shelters.