State Reps Discuss Legislative Session

State Reps Discuss Legislative Session

* Sen. Rob Garagiola (D-15)

Accomplishments: Garagiola sponsored seven bills that passed both houses of the legislature as well as three bond bills funding local projects. He said he was particularly proud of Senate Bill 696, which makes local departments of social services accountable to the juvenile courts in juvenile welfare matters.

“These are abused and neglected children. It’s really an acute problem,” Garagiola said. “We’ve got thousands of kids throughout the state of Maryland who are in our child welfare system because they come from abusive or neglectful families. …

“Typically what happens is when the kids get in the system [they] have really just gotten lost in it. …

“Some of them end up going from our social services into the juvenile justice system because they fall through the cracks and we end up dealing with them after they have committed crimes.”

The new law will “ensure that they’re getting proper evaluation, to ensure their safety, to ensure that they’re getting various screenings, to ensure that they’re actually attending school,” Garagiola said. “The courts are going to have the ability and requirement to better oversee the local departments of social services in each of the counties, and each of the jurisdictions. … It’s going to have a huge impact throughout the state.”

Another bill, which Garagiola co-sponsored with Del. Brian Feldman (D-15) will establish a task force to examine ways to help service-disabled veteran-owned businesses through procurement bonuses.

The bill, modeled after similar federal legislation and state law in California, originally established criteria for the bonuses, but was adapted to call for the task force, a common tactic for bills being introduced for the first time.

Disappointments: “There were two bills that I was really working hard on one made it through the senate but didn’t get through the house and one failed in both bodies … and I plan to work on them again next year,” Garagiola said.

The Driver Responsibility and First Responders Act would have established Motor Vehicle Administration-imposed fees for bad drivers, with the money funneling into a fund for first responders and the state’s transportation fund.

The other bill would have established a permanent fund for the solar energy grant program, which Garagiola successfully sponsored in 2004.

On tension between the governor and legislature: “It depends on the issue really.  On some of these bills, the Driver Responsibility and First Responders Act for example, the administration was really helpful in working with me on it. …

“On other issues there was conflict. That’s what you get with a two-party system and I don’t think its bad thing necessarily.”

On slots and medical malpractice: “I think the issue of slots died about two months ago to be honest. As much as it was covered in the newspapers. I don’t see the issue coming back next year with it being an election year.”

“On the issue of medical malpractice. … We really had a contentious start to the session with the special session. The bill we passed in the special session did include a lot of tort reform measures.

“A number of things were enacted and I think what some folks want to see — one the largest medical malpractice carrier, what premium increase are they going to ask for in July?

“We need to see what effect the legislation we passed will have on the system. I truly think the mandatory mediation … is going to go a long way to resolving the medical malpractice issues. If we can keep it out of a courtroom … I in think you’re going to save a lot of dollars on litigation defense lawyers.”

Plans for 2006: Garagiola said he might consider a run for the 8th Congressional district seat if U.S. Rep Chris Van Hollen runs for Senate. “I am seriously looking at that. A lot of people have called me. … I have gotten only positive feedback from folks throughout the congressional district. I am seriously weighing that. But we’ve got to see what Chris does first.”

* Del. Jean Cryor (R-15)

Accomplishments: Cryor cited her "Back-to-School Shopping" bill which will designate a five-day period in August, 2006 during which clothing purchases of $100 or less will be tax-free in Maryland. The bill is aimed at stimulating the economy and helping families during the weeks before children return to school. A second bill, penned in response to the serious accidents involving teens and alcohol late last year, would double to $1,000 the maximum allowable fine for an adult who knowingly provides alcohol to minors.

"I would say that certainly the back-to-school bill and also the penalty about alcohol being served to minors. ... It was certainly a bill whose time had come. That’s for sure. The bonds bill went through. I had I think eight bills went through. This was one of the best years I’ve ever had," Cryor said.

"I think it was a session with a lot of disappointments for people but I certainly cannot list myself. The big picture remains the same. "

Disappointments: "That bill about taking care of our own [which would have given a tax break to individuals or companies who pay life insurance premiums for active-duty soldiers] was a true disappointment to me. But they stuck it into the veterans bill which was doomed due to partisan things … It was such a disappointment to see such a good veterans bill, mine, that veterans serving in the area would have life insurance stuck in the veterans bill that was slashed to almost nothing."

"One of the reasons that I think it's important is not just the sense of fairness … but if we’re going to keep this edge in this high tech are that we’re living in, military personnel are a big part of that [because they have needed security clearances]"

"It was just so shortsighted of the president of the senate to let that bill just languish."

On tension between the governor and legislature: Cryor said that such tension and partisanship is a problem, but said it was equally problematic between, for example, House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller.

"It is there. It is a problem. A real problem. People have yet to adjust to the fact that it is a two-party state. And people think it will go back and it will never go back. I’m not talking about Montgomery County per se but in the rural areas."

"As the session started, this struggle between the president of the senate and the speaker of the house started and then they went after each other hammer and tong.

“No rift at all, just another power struggle.

"I’ve been through every kind of different standoff. I’ve been through the governor vs. the legislature. Now I've been through the senate and the house.

On slots and medical malpractice: "Slots are more important in the world of newspapers than in the general assembly frankly. Every reporter knows how to write about them so they fill columns of space. But in the legislature it's not talked about at all. … It's always there but you’re working on other things.

"I was concerned for Montgomery County when I heard how Montgomery County schools would get such less amounts of money than other places," due to a revenue distributing system based on the number of lottery tickets bought in each area.

"The senate bill was far more generous to the schools, [and] I got the geographic index back into it and that favors Montgomery County. Never was I able to change the lottery so I was stuck with those parts of it. Very odd bill.

"The house bill, the one that I had to work on, it divided [the money] so that very little went to the schools and it did not have the geographic index in it that is very important to Montgomery County.

"The question will always be, what if Miller accepted that bill.

"It’s dead now and it will be dead for this year. I think it's over. I say with real happiness at this point — it's over."

On medical malpractice reform, Cryor said, "That is something [that] had to happen. There was no question we could not have hospitals without people in the emergency room and not having obstetricians to deliver babies as of Jan. 1."

"You could feel the clock going. Then the governor said I have a bill and brought us back. Within hours of us coming back, the legislature took his bill, tore it in half and started their own bill. He was so surprised that this happened to him, that he would bring people in, show his bill, and then they wouldn’t work on it.

"The main thing that threw Miller and Busch at that time is that they did not want realistic, true tort reform and the governor did."

"They may think that was a bad time and it was a bad time but certainly the governor didn’t make it a bad time."

Plans for interim and 2006: Cryor said that this interim she will particularly focus on getting involved in Maryland's sometimes-criticized foster care system and begin considering her options for the 2006 elections.

"I’m looking at everything. I haven’t had a chance to weigh everything. You just don’t know," she said.

* Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-15)

Accomplishments: “I had three pieces of legislation pass both houses. The one that I think is most important is House Bill 802 on juvenile competency and I think it rectifies a serious omission in Maryland law. It establishes a procedure for determining if a child is competent to stand trial in a juvenile court. … There are no procedures for determining what to do with the child if the child is incompetent. So what the court ends up doing is sort of making things up as they go along. This bill sets up a standard and a procedure and a protocol for evaluations.

“It turned out to be quite a fight. This is a bill that [Sen.] Sharon Grosfeld and I have been working on for two years.

“In spite of the fact that Sen. Grosfeld and I tried to get the Department of Juvenile Services and the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene involved … they just elected not to participate. DHMH and DJS were simply obstructionist in spite of the fact that they acknowledge that it is a problem. … I’ve already heard rumors it’s going to be vetoed.”

“The second bill that actually passed was in the domestic violence are. What it does is add stalking to the list of acts for which you can obtain relief under the domestic violence statute.”

The third piece of legislation cracks down on scams run by immigration consultants taking advantage of legal residents working to resolve their immigration status. The legislation requires documentation to be posted at a consultant’s place of business and makes certain practices misdemeanor crimes. The legislation passed at 11:57 p.m. the last day of the session.

Disappointments: “I actually introduced a total of 16 bills. I had a series of drunk driving legislation, four or five that I had introduced in conjunction with the Coalition Against Drunk Driving. They were good bills, [Judiciary Committee] Chairman [Joseph] Vallario (D-27A) just didn’t bring them out for a vote this year.”

Another issue Dumais worked on without passing legislation is adult competency. “It’s something that I’ll work on and Sen. Frosh and I have talked about working on it again,” she said. “There are times when individuals who are not violent … end up being put in an institution for years, where if they had even been convicted of these minor offenses they would have put in jail for at most a couple of months,” because of the lack of appropriate review procedures for competency to stand trial, Dumais said.

On tension between the governor and legislature: “Because this is my first term, I don’t necessarily have something to compare it to. Something that has been very frustrating to me in the three sessions that I have been here is [we] don’t seem to work cooperatively before the session,” Dumais said, citing problems working with state agencies on her juvenile competency bill. “My sense is the [Department of Juvenile Services] was sort of like, ‘were not going to work with you.’ … I think that the exec agencies need to work with the legislature prior to the session and not simply come and say, ‘We don’t like this.’”

On slots and medical malpractice: “On medical malpractice I think the House did the responsible thing. The speaker appointed a work group … I actually served on the work group this time and we worked in open meetings with the different stakeholders. … It included some significant tort reform I think, as well as some insurance reform.

“Being somewhat more of a practical person, if there is an issue or problem I want to see it solved and I hate it when politics gets in the ways and I think that is what has happened with medical malpractice in the last two or three years.

“I did not vote for the slots and don’t think it’s the correct direction for the state.

“If the governor and the president of the senate wanted it, why they didn’t take the deal is beyond me. … I am delighted that it died, particularly as the economic forecasts seem to be getting better and better.

Plans for interim and 2006: “I’m going to continue to work on the adult competency issue,” Dumais said, as well as assembling an informal focus group of family law lawyers to address issues related to divorce law and custody law.

Dumais said she is “definitely planning” to run for the House of Delegates again in 2006. “As crazy as all this is, I love it,” she said, noting “I am not one that has any aspirations to do anything but run for the House of Delegates in 2006.”

* Del. Brian Feldman (D-15)

Accomplishments: “The biotech bill, [which gives tax incentives to businesses and individuals that invest venture capital in biotechnology companies] that was without question my highest priority this session. We in Maryland have a lot of economic potential in that area and I think this was good first step forward to get for the first time a tax credit in the state of Maryland.

“On the one hand we have among the largest concentrations of biotech companies in the U.S. … on the other hand our state ranks poorly in terms of venture capital in that sector. That’s what this bill is designed to address — that venture capital gap.”

Another bill Feldman cited creates a special fund dedicated to the Maryland Real Estate Commission, which provides state oversight of the real estate industry.

“The number of Realtors in the state of Maryland has gone up about 60 percent in the last four years, the number of complaints have gone up about 50 percent, just because of the number of transactions,” Feldman said. “We’ve had this boom in [real estate] transactions and complaints but the staffing for this particular commission has gone down.”

The fund would rely on licensing fees currently going into the general fund.

Disappointments: “On a personal level I think that it was a pretty successful session. You have these bigger picture issues that dominated the session … that created a certain tone to the session that really started with the medical malpractice special session back in December.”

On tension between the governor and legislature: “I think it’s clearly there. Again, its on one level to be expected when you have divided government when one party controls the governor’s mansion and another the legislature.”

“We passed a [medical malpractice] bill only to have the governor come in and veto the bill so we had to override his veto. That created a certain atmosphere that existed and started before the normal legislative session even started.

“On the other side of the equation there were some accomplishments during the session: the legislature was able to get $250 million for school construction, which is $100 million more than was in the governor’s budget. I think that was a big positive.”

On slots and medical malpractice: “The legislature stepped up and responded with a pretty good [medical malpractice] bill. I think the same thing with slots. The governor didn’t really work the issue in a way that if he truly wanted a compromise bill to pass.

“A legitimate question arises whether he looks at it as a bill he can use to campaign against the Democrats next year rather than working to get a compromise bill through.

“A theme that seems to me consistent is its unclear whether the governor has a clear agenda. On the key issues we worked on this session, the governor was sort of silent. We had a high profile bill dealing with stem cell research. We had a bill dealing with minimum wage increase. And the governor didn’t say anything on those bills.

“That’s a theme that I think has emerged. … Not a very ambitious agenda and it’s not entirely clear other than posturing for reelection what the governor really would like to get accomplished during his four year term.”

Plans for interim and 2006: “I think ‘06 is going to be an extremely interesting political year. With Sen. Sarbanes stepping down there is going to be a lot of activity, a lot of people analyzing what particular race they want to run.

“For myself, at this point, I’m anxious to spend some time during the interim getting back to my work as an attorney … and spend some time with my family. And quite honestly start thinking about next session. …

“I’ve enjoyed Annapolis a great deal. As we sit here right now I fully anticipate running next year.”

* Sen. Brian Frosh (D-16)

Accomplishments: “My Constitutional amendment giving the General Assembly veto power over sales of parkland was passed and goes to the voters. I think it’s particularly important especially given what we have seen happening over the past year where the Ehrlich administration was talking about taking pieces of parkland and giving them to developers.” The measure came in response to reports that Ehrlich’s administration was moving to sell parkland in St. Mary’s County to a developer. The proposed amendment will appear on the November, 2006 ballot.

Frosh was also the sponsor of successful legislation that protects homeowners from scams perpetrated during foreclosure proceedings. The legislation cracks down on those practices, Frosh said, by imposing penalties and clarifying the homeowner’s rights. “That was a good one.”

Frosh was also the lead sponsor of the medical malpractice legislation and secured bond money for Adventure Theater, Imagination Stage, and Strathmore Hall.

Disappointments: “I sponsored legislation again to restore some of the cuts to our higher education system and put the university system on a formula funding basis. It did not pass and it was disappointing. The university system did a little better this year than it had last year but it still needs a lot of help and I think we need to renew our investments.

“The Ehrlich administration has been cutting back on support for higher ed. The per capita expenditures, student expenditures, at UMD have fallen 17 percent since 2002.”

On tension between the governor and legislature: “It’s a problem. The most obvious manifestation of it and the thing that I think got us off on such a bad start this year was the governor’s malpractice antics. He declared it to be an emergency and called us back into a special session in between Christmas and New Year's … and by the time we got into session he announced that medical malpractice was dead. We then passed the bill that had the support of the hospitals, the doctors, the insurance industry and he vetoed it. We were forced to override his veto. I think it set a terrible tone for the session that followed immediately thereafter.

“It was obvious that the only thing the governor was doing was playing politics. He had no interest in passing anything. He just wanted to beat the drum and when we took responsible steps he fled.”

On slots and medical malpractice: “We took care of slots. I think that’s as it should. I’m not a slots supporter. As with medical malpractice what [the governor] wants is the headline not the solution.

“The minimum wage bill was important and divided pretty much along party lines. There were half a dozen others too. The stem cell research bill killed by the Republicans. The fair share bill, the healthcare bill that the Republicans dubbed the Wal-Mart bill was another one that split along party lines.

“I think [Montgomery County] did pretty well. As I mentioned we did well on bond bills. … We got 750,000 bucks for Strathmore hall so I think we did well.”

Plans for the interim and 2006: “Just trying to catch up on my law practice and figure out what I’m going to do in 2006.” Frosh said he would consider a run for congress if Chris Van Hollen runs for senate. “Yes. I certainly would look at it very hard if Chris decides to go for Sarbanes’ seat.”

* Del. Bill Bronrott (D-16)

Accomplishments: Bronrott’s biggest achievement in 2005 was the passage of three bills he sponsored concerning teenage driving, following a rash of fatal accidents involving teenagers late last year.

Bronrott’s bills restrict cell phone use by teens while driving, restrict teens from carrying other teens as passengers for the first five months of having a license, and increase required supervised driving time during the learner’s permit phase. The administration’s bills also lengthen the learner’s permit period and require that the 18-month provisional license period be reset in the case of a curfew or seatbelt law violation.

“When I went to Annapolis in January my goal was to the see that the 2005 session would be the year of the teen driver,” Bronrott said. “I think its fair to say that the General Assembly did indeed dedicate itself to the teen driver this year. We will have more families kept whole.

“I think the impetus this year was the rash of the teen deaths that occurred on our roads at the end of last year and beginning of this year. … That was the big wake up call to many of my colleagues. … I dedicate this success to the families that got involved, that chose to be brave and to step forward and to help us to get these bills enacted into law.”

Legislation passed that would allow limited use of cameras to stop speeding in Montgomery County.

“It is slowly but surely becoming a technology that’s gaining acceptance by the public. As we experience more and more aggressive and excessive speeding I think more and more members of the public are beginning to see the value of this technology. But you know not everybody agrees,” Bronrott said.

Bronrott said he was pleased with his successful bond bills: “One to bring $200,000 home for the Canal Boat, the C&O canal boat at the Great Falls Tavern. I sponsored that, and Jean Cryor worked with me on that. … Sen. Frosh and I worked together to get $275,000 in bond bills for Imagination Stage.”

Disappointments: “The only one that I would say, the one that I want to pursue next time around is the one that I worked on with Sen. Garagiola. It’s called the Driver Responsibility and First Responders Act. …

“To me it made total sense because of the enormous needs of the people on our front lines and … the need for a balanced transport infrastructure.”

Bronrott called it “A beautiful marriage of consequences and needs. … We both are very interested in pursing this next year.”

On tension between the governor and legislature: “I think it is there. … Party differences aside, even where there is a Democratic legislature and a Democratic governor, there are going to be differences and there’s going to be tension and its certainly been heightened over the last three years since the last state election.

“No one got everything that they wanted, including the governor. I think that we could probably spend all of our time pointing fingers at other people for the failures of any piece of legislation but it's not constructive.

“The governor has enormous power at his fingertips here in Maryland in a positive, constructive way. I don’t think he has yet harnessed that and I think as a result his priorities have had problems seeing the light of day. … The legislature and the public in general want to hear more than just slots. Passage of slots is not going to pay for or solve everything and in some ways it has been painted in that light.”

On slots and medical malpractice: “Both issues started out with a bang with the governor proclaiming those as his top priorities and then they faded and they were off the table.

“Property tax relief — we passed it in the house and the senate would not accept it and the governor did not weigh in on it. I think the people of this state need some property tax relief and it’s especially a problem in Montgomery County. We were looking to roll back the property tax increases the governor put into place. There was about a 50 percent state property tax rate increase a couple years ago and the house voted unanimously to eliminate it. … But unfortunately it was amended out in the senate.

The state of Maryland should be the nation’s capital for biotech research, whether it’s the 270 corridor, NIH, Hopkins, UMD medical center. We lost the opportunity to invest some more seed money into stem cell research. The bill would have prohibited cloning … but it would have dedicated about $25 million to stem cell research in Maryland, a relatively small amount of money that could have been used as seed money to encourage more investment from the public and private sectors. That was another lost opportunity.”

Plans for interim and 2006: “It’s good to be back in District 16. I’ve already hiked the C&O Canal and walked through Kenwood. … I plan on going to a few Washington Nationals games. I’m going tonight. I’ve got nosebleed seats but I’m in the stadium. My father and I used to go to many games when I was a kid growing up in Montgomery County … My father’s now 89, but he’s alive and well and I’m taking him to the game tonight.”

“If Chris Van Hollen runs for senate, I will take a look at the 8th Congressional District seat. I worked for the last Democrat who in the congress for eight years.  … I was his press secretary and one of his top aides. I know the 8th District, I grew up in the 8th District. I was immersed in all of the issues that Mike Barnes worked on. … But I’ll look at all of my options. It depends on which and how many dominos fall and how they fall.”

* Del. Marilyn Goldwater (D-16)

Accomplishments: Goldwater pointed to a healthcare bill she worked on with Del. John Hurson’s (D-18), as a major accomplishment.

“I think we did a lot of good things. I think the teenage driving bills were good pieces of legislation. It’s going to make a difference in the lives of a lot of teenagers. I think it’s controversial and unfortunately a lot of them aren’t going to like it. …

“I’m glad we got through the life partnership thing. I hope the governor does not veto it.”

Disappointments: “I have multiple myeloma which is a incurable cancer … I’ve had it for five years and I’ve really been fortunate” to receive excellent treatment, Goldwater said. “Stem cells was one of the things that was an option for me … so I was interested in that bill. …

“I wish we had done more in healthcare for the uninsured. … We have a long way to go to ensure that everybody has access to the health care system without waiting forever and without going to the emergency room.

“I think we have to get a handle on the elderly, what services they need, what services are out there, what they’re costing us … and get a plan in place so that we are using our dollars to the maximum. … Having a lot of uninsured costs the taxpayers a lot of money, because people do get services and if they don’t have insurance they wait till the last minute. … and they go to the emergency room.”

On tension between the governor and legislature: “I think it’s an ongoing issue. We have to learn how to work together there’s no question about that. Both the executive and the legislative branches want what’s best for our constituents.

“I mean this sincerely even though it might sound Pollyanna and trite but we really have to make sure that people are not lost in the process, that the services and programs are out for what people need and not what we think they might need.”

Plans for interim and 2006: “To continue to look health and the health care system to continue to look at long term care … not just the programs and institutions but out in the community.” Goldwater said she will “absolutely” run for reelection in 2006.

“I think being in the legislature is a privilege I think it is a challenge. I think that the power that you have not for yourself but to do things for people … Making public policy is a very important part of what we do, but I think the human side of it is helping constituents.”

* Del. Susan Lee (D-16)

Accomplishments: House Bill 818 creates a task force to address identity theft made up of members of the General Assembly, law enforcement, consumer groups, banks, and retailers. “It’s a way to approach this problem in a comprehensive way rather than doing it piecemeal. … This is a way to bring everybody together,” Lee said. “This is one of the fastest growing crimes in the nation, particularly in Maryland,” she said, citing that identity theft affects 10 million people annually and victims sometimes need years to undo the damage to their reputation and credit rating.

A second identity theft bill would require the police to provide a police report for identity theft victims, as they do with thefts and other crimes.

“The reason that you need this is because there have been a number of laws passed by the congress that give identity theft victims some kind of protection … but you can’t afford those protections under different federal acts until you first get a police report indicating that you’ve been a victim of identity theft.”

Lee worked on another bill in support of rape victims that would give courts a limited time frame in which to require accused rapists and sex offenders to take an HIV test when requested by the victim.

“In one instance it was 14 months between the time [the victim] requested it and the time the defendant was actually compelled to take the test,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of mental anxiety not to mention the safety and health aspects of it. This hopefully will provide some sort of relief to victims of rape.”

Disappointments: Lee worked on legislation related to spyware, which she said she will pick up again next session. The legislation would make the installation of unwanted spyware a crime, but has been difficult to write due to legal issues and the concerns of the Internet service provider industry. “We just want to get something that works for consumers that goes after the bad guys,” Lee said.

On tension between the governor and legislature: “I think it’s been very contentious. I was hoping it wasn’t going to be like that. We all need to work together regardless of our party affiliation. … When you get into contentious debates over things other good bills are pushed aside … things fall through the cracks.”

On slots and medical malpractice: “Of course I voted against the slots bill. I’m against gambling as a way of raising revenue for the state. …

“On medical malpractice we passed something to give some relief to the doctors, but I think there has to be some support for the victims too. … We also need to look at insurance reform too.”

Plans for 2006: “I hope that this [identity theft] task force will yield some sort of ways we can come up with good legislation, proposed legislation to deal with this and also the federal government, how we can work with them too.

Lee said she will run for her seat again in 2006.