Dear District 6,
As of midnight this past Monday, the 445th Session of the Maryland General Assembly has officially come to a close. I want to take a few moments to highlight the major legislative initiatives deliberated over the last 90 days by 47 Senators and 141 Delegates. There were over 2,200 bills introduced with more than 970 introduced by the Senate and nearly 1,300 bills introduced by the House. As you read through this letter, I hope you will understand that it is an honor to serve as your State Senator, and my goal is to keep you informed and represent our shared values in Annapolis.
As the election cycle of 2022 ended, we saw many new faces in the Maryland General Assembly; most notable was our new Governor, Wes Moore. While I was sad to see our previous governor leave our State House, I was excited at the prospect of working with our new administration and many new senators and delegates.
I have listed some of the legislation and matters we took up and worked on in the Senate.
Maryland BOOST Program
One big priority this session was to protect the Maryland BOOST Program, which gives scholarships to low-income students to attend a non-public school. The $10 million BOOST program amounts to just 0.11% of Maryland’s $8.8 billion public school’s budget. Two million dollars of the BOOST funding was cut in Governor Moore’s budget proposal.
While the Senate worked to restore funding through the budget process, the House introduced House Bill 737 – The Right to Learn Act, which codifies and fully funds the BOOST program and offers students in failing schools a way out by allowing parents to create an Education Savings Account to pay for private school tuition, homeschool curriculum, or tuition to attend an out-of-district public school. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 737 did not make it out of the House. However, the Budget Conference Committee’s vote to protect the BOOST Program was successful. At the conclusion of the Conference Committee, the BOOST Program will receive $11.5 million in FY24, with $9 million going to scholarships and $2.5 million available to participating schools for safety, textbooks, nurses, and other school health expenses. This reflects another $1.5 million in funding the program. Additionally, language that would have phased-out the BOOST Program has been removed. I am very proud of my colleagues for coming together in support of this program on which so many families rely.
Accountability And Implementation Board
The Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB) is responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future – the $32 billion, ten-year overhaul of the State’s public education system. In September of 2021, when the AIB members were approved, some members were deeply concerned that the board did not include representation from any of Maryland’s rural jurisdictions.
Since tax dollars being spent by the AIB are being provided by all Marylanders, every Marylander deserves to have a representative on the Board who is knowledgeable and has experienced the challenges and opportunities facing public education from all areas of the State. Senate Bill 522 ensures that the AIB has one representative from Western Maryland, one representative from Southern Maryland, one representative from the Eastern Shore, and one member from each of the counties with the largest student populations in the State. This bill did not make it out of committee this session.
AND BILL PACKAGE
The Fiscal Year 2024 budget provides $3.5 million for the Abortion Clinical Training Program. This expands access to abortion in Maryland by increasing the amount of trained and qualified providers of abortion care services.
Below is a package of abortion bills that were introduced. Each bill is meant to increase access to abortion in the state of Maryland.
SB798/HB705 — Declaration of Rights — Right to Reproductive Freedom:
This bill enables a ballot measure to constitutionally incorporate the rights of Marylanders to reproductive freedom. This bill is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
SB859/HB808 — Reproductive Health Protection Act
This bill protects patients, providers, and people supporting out-of-state patients seeking reproductive health care in Maryland from criminal, civil, and administrative actions from restrictive states. Senate Bill 859 is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
SB341/HB477 — Public Senior Higher Education Institutions — Reproductive Health Services Plans – Requirements
This bill requires Maryland’s public higher education institutions to develop reproductive health access plans to provide or refer for the full range of reproductive health and wrap-around support services. The legislation also requires campuses to provide 24-hour access to contraceptives. House Bill 477 is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
SB786/HB812 — Health — Reproductive Health Services — Protected Information and Insurance Requirements:
This bill provides additional privacy protections for medical records to reduce the risk of criminal prosecution or civil litigation for out-of-state patients seeking reproductive care in Maryland. House Bill 812 is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
I proposed an amendment to the budget to remove taxpayer dollars being used to fund these bills and it was rejected.
The Joint Republican Caucus in the Maryland General Assembly introduced priority legislation to combat Maryland’s violent crime crisis, including the continued rise in juvenile crime.
Senate Bill 744 – Violent Firearms Offender Act of 2023.
- Increases the penalty of using a firearm in a violent crime from a misdemeanor to a felony.
- Increases penalties for illegally possessing a firearm to 5 years or $10k fine on first offense, and then to 10 years or $10K fine thereafter.
- Makes knowingly selling a firearm to someone who plans to use it in the commission of a crime a felony.
Senate Bill 745 – Gun Violence Accountability Act
This bill increases the penalties for illegally possessing a firearm from 3 years to 5 years of prison time and increases the maximum fine from $2,500 to $10,000.
House Bill 750 – Gun Theft Felony Act of 2023
This bill makes the theft of any gun a felony, subject to up to 5 years in prison and/or a $1000 fine for the first offense and up to 10 years in prison and/or a $2,500 fine for subsequent offenses.
Senate Bill 564 – Criminal Law – Theft of a Handgun
This bill is a more focused measure making the theft of a handgun a felony with the same penalties as House Bill 750 and a mandatory minimum of time served.
House Bill 753 – Juvenile Gun Offenses Accountability Act of 2023.
Under current law, minors aged 10-12 cannot be charged with gun crimes. House Bill 753 would repeal that law, allowing minors aged 10-12 to be charged with gun crimes.
Unfortunately, none of these bills made it past their respective committees this year. I hold out hope that next year they will pass, if reintroduced.
Senate Bill 261: Motor Fuel Tax Rates — Consumer Price Index Adjustment — Repeal
Another big priority this session was to repeal the automatic, annual gas tax increase that is tied to inflation (CPI). Maryland has one of the highest gas tax rates in the country, and more increases to Maryland’s gas tax can be expected into the future. Maryland’s gas tax does not decrease if inflation decreases.
Every year, the gas tax increases without public input or a vote from the General Assembly. This bill would hold accountable the legislators who want to increase the gas tax and ensure they adhere to the legislative process. The same model was also considered for future minimum wage increases. This bill did not make it out of committee this year. I will keep fighting to keep our gas prices down for our citizens.
Senate Bill 555 – Fair Wage Act
This bill accelerates the scheduled increase of the state minimum wage to $15 per hour and makes future increases in minimum wage indexed to inflation. Indexing minimum wage to inflation means that Maryland would have an automatic wage increase, which has the potential to be detrimental to businesses across Maryland. As a result, small businesses may not be able to afford to pay such high wages. This bill is on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
Senate Bill 461 – Retirement Tax Elimination Act of 2023
Keeping retirees in the state of Maryland is one of the most important things we can do for our citizens. The retiree tax reduction passed last year was a first step. However, $1,000 is not enough to keep our retirees in their home state. Retirees play critical roles in our communities as volunteers and mentors. This bill did not make it out of committee this year.
Senate Bill 959 – Higher Education – Maryland 529 Program – Reform
As a result of the issues with the Maryland529 Program, Senate Bill 959 would abolish the Maryland529 Board and give the responsibility of running the program to the Office of the State Treasurer. Thousands of families have been affected by this egregious mismanagement of funds and I will do everything I can to make sure your money is accounted for. This bill did not make it out of committee.
COUNTY AND DISTRICT HIGHLIGHTS
Listed below is a compilation of state resources that were secured for our county and district.
- $9,000,000 to Sparrows Point Fire Academy
- $2,000,000 to Franklin Square Hospital Center Adolescent Psychiatric Services
- $124,800 to Heritage Society of Essex-Middle River
- $500,000 to Tradepoint Atlantic – Route 151 Improvements
- $100,000 to Middle River Volunteer Fire Company Improvements
- $150,000 to Osceola Smith Life – Sized Bronze Statue
- $500,000 to Soup for the Soul
- $150,000 to Glenn L. Martin Aviation Museum
Listed below are all the bills I introduced and how they fared this legislative session.
Senate Bill 20 – Sales and Use Tax — Tax-Free Period — Spring School Shopping
This bill would establish a week of shopping without sales tax in March, which will coincide with spring break in most school districts in the State and Baltimore City. This week-long tax-free period will be identical to the already established tax free week in August, removing sales tax any item of clothing or footwear, excluding accessory items, if the price of the item is $100 or less or the first $40 of the taxable price of any backpack or bookbag. This bill provides much needed financial relief for families across the state. This bill did not make it out of committee, however, I look forward to introducing it next year.
Senate Bill 149 – Education – Curriculum – Unit of Instruction on September 11, 2001, Terrorist Attacks
This bill was one of my priorities this session. The September 11, 2001, attacks were a turning point in our country’s history. Our young people need to be aware of the heroism and sacrifices as well as the consequences of that day. This bill ensures that our children are learning about it by mandating schools that receive state funds teach the events of September 11th. 2001. This bill did not make it past committee.
Senate Bill 226/House Bill 233 – Criminal Law – Child Pornography – Accessing with Intent to View
Cross-filing this bill with fellow 6th district legislator, Delegate Robin Grammer, it closes the legal loophole making the intentional streaming of child pornography illegal. Senate Bill 226 is currently on the Governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
Senate Bill 358 – Procurement – Construction Contracts – Contracts Modification Clause
This bill addresses the issue of rising costs of construction materials. Contractors who work with the state have been put in very tough financial situations over the last couple of years due to rising costs. This bill allows contractors to petition to be reimbursed for the increase in the cost of materials when prices dramatically rise. This bill was amended in the House to establish a Task Force to study the impact the proposed bill throughout the State. I look forward to being a part of this Task Force to better serve our state contractors.
Senate Bill 416 – Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Military Retirement Income
This bill phases in, over a period of 2 years, a complete elimination of the income tax to allow for all military retirees. This legislation would have a significant impact on the lives of our military retirees and would provide a great incentive for Maryland military retirees to stay in our state. This bill did not make it past committee.
Senate Bill 907 – Maryland Film Office – Entertainment and Film Fund Grant Program Establishment
This bill establishes the Entertainment and Film Funding Grant Program within the Maryland Film Office. This office provides grants to qualifying production entities to assist with the production costs of entertainment and film projects in the State. Unfortunately, this bill did not make it out of committee after it crossed over to the House.
Senate Bill 908 – State Procurement – Preferences – Historically Underutilized Business Zones
In a HUB zone, government departments would work to achieve a certain percentage of contracts for business that are in these zones to help underprivileged businesses in our state. The goal of this bill is to provide an opportunity for small businesses to thrive in this economic climate through implementing HUB zones. Unfortunately, this bill did not make it out of committee. However, I look forward to introducing it next Session.
This has been an interesting session and even though it has ended, the work continues. While we are out of Session, my office focuses on preparing legislative ideas for the next year, and I greatly appreciate hearing from you about your concerns, questions, and ideas. This communication helps me to better represent you and our district’s interests in Annapolis. As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or comments, please do not hesitate to contact my office at 410-841-3587, or via email at email@example.com.
Senator Johnny Ray Salling