Policy Alert: Advocacy Results Review
By Henry Bogdan, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy, Maryland Nonprofits
Our first, quick snap shot of General Assembly results:
Sine Die came at midnight Monday and the 2015 legislative session went away. The State Operating Budget Bill (HB 70), the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act – “BRFA” – (HB 72), and the Capital Budget Bill (HB 71) all were enacted in the space of about three hours Monday evening. In broad terms, all three looked pretty similar to the slightly different versions that had passed the houses a few weeks before. While the final enrolled bills are not yet available, the Conference Committee Summary Document on HB 70 and HB 72 by the Department of Legislative Services is online, as is the Conference Committee Report on the Capital Budget, with a list of all bond- funded projects.
Our understanding of the mood surrounding the budget stand-off between the Governor and legislative leaders (that did not end on Sine Die) is fairly described in this Washington Post story, and this Round Up by the Maryland Reporter. The Budget bill became law effective on its passage, and as a practical matter the BRFA is essentially veto-proof.
On Maryland Nonprofits’ priorities:
Protecting state services – the legislature rejected almost all tax cutting, and killed provisions proposed in the original BRFA that would have “locked down” funding on a wide range of programs and services, including education. “Mandated” funding levels for FY 2016 were impacted, but in most cases not as severely as proposed by the Governor. In addition, the “legislative spending priorities”, to which the Governor has not yet agreed (and may not agree), remain at over $200 million for which they have impounded the necessary funds. (These are listed on page 6 of the Conference Committee Summary Document).
As described in the news accounts above, what happens to some or all of that $200+ million, and how the 2% across-the-board cut to state agencies is allocated, could be the field for political skirmishing and perhaps open warfare for the next six months.
*** It will be up to our nonprofit community to tell the story of how this impacts the quality of life and well-being of Marylanders, particularly those most in need of assistance.
Government transparency– Major reform of Maryland’s Public Information Act was enacted – (HB 755 and SB 695) largely thanks to the work of the Marylanders for Open Government Network, its supporters and legislative champions. While the bill was amended, and changes for disclosure of agricultural practices removed, a new Ombudsman process and State Compliance Board are being established, as well as better controls on fees and access to information. Two other sets of bills passed to make public information requests easier (HB 83/SB 444, and HB 674/SB852), and HB 353/SB 94 passed to reduce costs and facilitate access to GIS products and services.
Charity Registration/Regulation Reform – HB 150 passed to extend the stakeholder workgroup established to assist the Secretary of State and Attorney General in re-vamping current inefficiencies; an initial budget cut to staff in the Secretary of State’s office was restored.
Procurement Reform – a major reorganization of state procurement, including creating a position for a Chief Procurement Officer, and centralizing oversight of now fragmented procurement authority, was proposed in HB 698, based on a review and report by the Dept. of Legislative Services. This bill did not pass, but appears certain to receive serious attention during the interim and the 2016 General Assembly.
Other legislation enacted (to be expanded in an updated report)
The State’s Storm Water Management “fee” was repealed but not the requirement for local governments to provide equivalent support for these programs, and overall the program may have been strengthened in SB 863.
HB 514 and SB 258 establish a Maryland Commission on Climate Change.
HB 449 and SB 409 prohibit issuance of any permit for “fracking” in Maryland until at least Oct.1, 2017.
HB 74 authorizes an expansion of the Sondheim Internship Program – for placements in nonprofits and government agencies.
HB 495 provides new possible life for the effort to achieve public financing of political campaigns – by re-establishing a financing vehicle for public finance in gubernatorial races.
Failed – We supported the effort led by Get the Money Out – Maryland, to have Maryland join other states calling for an “amendments convention” to fashion a constitutional amendment to override the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. SJR2 passed in the Senate but was amended in the House (with HJR 2), becoming instead a call for the Congress to submit an appropriate amendment to the states for ratification. In that form the Joint resolutions died on Sine Die.
We supported the effort in House Bill 41 to clarify Maryland’s provisions on liability protection for officers, agents and volunteers of associations, and to prevent the IRS “automatic revocation” program from stripping protections from unwary groups. This passed the House but died in the senate committee.
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