April 7, 2020
Last night at midnight, the legislature was scheduled to adjourn after a 90-day session.
My talented friend and colleague Bill Ferguson was elected by acclamation to be our new Senate President. I was thrilled when he added me to his leadership team as Vice-Chair of the Education, Health, & Environmental Affairs Committee (EHEA). Senate President Mike Miller stepped down from his leadership post after 33 years but continued to serve as he courageously battles cancer.
In our abbreviated legislative session, hundreds of worthy proposals failed when we ran out of time. Still, I am very proud of our record of accomplishment– for Rockville, Gaithersburg, and the entire State of Maryland!
Flattening the Maryland Curve
Obviously, the Coronavirus has dramatically altered our lives. Sheltering at home while trying to stay connected to loved ones has proven to be a real challenge. Our essential workers in public safety, health care, product delivery, maintenance, and others have surely never been more appreciated as they put their lives on the line every day.
The State is combating the spread of the virus, collaborating with federal, county, and municipal leaders. Though Maryland’s infection rate continues to increase, I am hopeful that we will “flatten the curve” in the near future.
In the meantime, every level of government has enacted emergency legislation to support individuals, small businesses, and nonprofits. To do this, we passed SB1080, which will provide up to $50 million from our “Rainy Day Fund.” My staff and I have compiled the various resources and encourage you to visit my website’s COVID-19 page to learn more.
Increasing Access to Telehealth
Many Marylanders lack consistent, timely medical care. A relatively new component of health care known as “telehealth” can deliver many services virtually. SB402 authorizes the use of both synchronous technology– two-way “real-time” online communication like a phone call or video and asynchronous technology– like email. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor!)
Revitalizing our Education System
Maryland’s public schools, which were ranked the best in the nation for five straight years under Governor Martin O’Malley, have now slipped to 11th under the Hogan Administration. In his first budget, Governor Hogan tried to cut $275 million from Maryland’s public schools. In 2017, he proposed another $30 million reduction in after-school programs, college preparation, and teacher retention.
The Kirwan Commission worked for years to craft a “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.” It will elevate early childhood, primary, and secondary education to the levels of high-performing schools around the world. It will provide teachers with more resources, more collaborative time, and more compensation.
My Committee was responsible for the policy portion of this bill. I focused on pre-Kindergarten and English Language Learners; both are critically important for our community and the entire State. It was a great honor to work with my chair, Senator Paul Pinsky, on this historic legislation.
The General Assembly approved modest measures to raise revenue for this vital initiative, including:
- Enhancing taxes on tobacco products, including nicotine vaping and e-cigarettes that were previously exempted;
- Taxing digital advertising as the industry shifts to the Internet. We will be the first state in the country to charge large corporations like Facebook and Google for these ads; and
- Applying the State sales tax to digital download services.
[Note: Maryland casinos have already funded the bulk of the first two years of the Kirwan plan.]
In anticipation of the significant economic impact of the pandemic, we added a “Coronavirus Amendment.” It modifies the implementation timetable based on revenue projections.
Improving Our 9-1-1 Services
Formerly built around landline telephones, our emergency system will enable multimedia voice, text, video, and Internet Protocol more appropriate for modern times. My omnibus bill implements recommendations from the NG911 Commission that I Chair, including:
- Investing in enhanced software to locate cell phone callers;
- Coordinating funding for a statewide public education for NG911 implementation — including text-to-9-1-1;
- Ensuring compliance when dialing 9-1-1 without a prefix from any location, including hotels and office buildings;
- Increasing investment in our “First First Responders” or 9-1-1 Specialists by providing direct access to health and wellness services for the cumulative impact of chronic exposure to traumatic events; and
- Creating a statewide Telecommunicator Emergency Response Team specially trained to assist after disasters or crises. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Auditing 9-1-1 Fee Collection
I sponsored emergency legislation to authorize the Comptroller’s Office to conduct audits of 9-1-1 fee collection and remittance. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Extending the NG911 Commission
Maryland has earned national recognition for our legislative initiatives. We are renewing the Commission’s duration for two more years in order to oversee the implementation of NG911; address any unforeseen complications; and introduce needed legislation. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Protecting Privacy in a Crisis
The Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) is a crucial tool to allow citizens to see the workings of their government, including 9-1-1 centers. It is not, however, designed to allow us to see into our neighbors’ houses in their time of crisis. SB535 would have updated the MPIA to prepare for changes coming with NG911. These advanced capabilities will lead to new privacy violations that the State must address before people’s lives are irreparably damaged. (Failed. Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Cracking Down on False Reports to 9-1-1
Fraudulent requests for police, fire, or paramedics used to be viewed as harmless. The reality is that interfering with our emergency centers can be dangerous and result in lives lost. SB837 would have increased penalties for misusing the 9-1-1 system. (Failed. Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Identifying Drugged Drivers
After recreational marijuana was legalized in Colorado, marijuana-related traffic deaths increased from 55 in 2013 to a shocking 158 in 2017. Working with our drug recognition experts, I sponsored SB309. It would establish a two-year pilot program of an oral fluid screening test in any county that chooses to participate. We must develop a plan to get impaired drivers off our roads! I plan to introduce this bill again next year with my Republican colleague, Senator Chris West. (Passed the Senate! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Updating & Safeguarding Our Democracy
While most of us are focused on COVID-19’s impact on our health and our economy, we must not overlook its imp
lications for our democracy. My column in Maryland Matters laid out many of the pending election-related issues. There are just five states (CO, HI, OR, UT, & WA)
that conduct their elections as vote-by-mail. With Maryland shifting to this method for our rescheduled June 2nd Primary Election, we have much to learn and many details that (as of this writing) are still unaddressed. The Board of Elections has voted to allow a modest number of in-person voting sites for individuals who did not receive a ballot or voters with disabilities.
Here’s a glimpse of some of the election-related legislation I sponsored.
Requiring that Election Postage be Prepaid
As we prepare to “vote-by-mail” for the first time, I am delighted that my legislation to provide ballots with the return postage already paid passed this session. This is critical to ensure that voting is accessible for all– even those who may not be able to afford postage. SB33, my bill to implement prepaid ballot postage, was amended into Sen. Katie Fry Hester’s (and Del. Julie Palakovich Carr’s) election bill, SB145 and was approved just before our early adjournment. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Protecting Our Election Security
With neither debate nor a vote, the State Board of Elections (SBE) spent $1.9 million of taxpayer money on wireless devices that could have threatened the integrity of our elections. While every cybersecurity expert was advising against using unnecessary wireless technology, Maryland was headed in the other direction. After a trial run in February resulted in significant problems, both the Senate and the House approved my bill (SB362), which would have eliminated the need for these gadgets. Unfortunately, the two versions were not identical, and we narrowly ran out of time. The vote-by-mail method removes the need for these risky routers. (Passed the Senate! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Simplifying Ballot Language
In 2018, voters were asked a complex question about casino gambling. The ballot measure’s wording required 30 years of formal education to fully understand– more than it takes to earn a Ph.D.! SB56 would have required that ballot language be written at a sixth-grade level, because democracy is enhanced when citizens clearly understand the issues. (Passed the Senate! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Registering Pre-Released Inmates to Vote
Felons in state prisons lose the right to vote while incarcerated but regain it upon release. Most are unaware that they must re-register in order to vote. SB91 would have required prisons to provide voter registration information to these inmates. (Passed the Senate! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Balancing Budgetary Authority
You’ll be asked to approve an important ballot measure when you vote in November. Maryland is the only legislature in the country with limitations on crafting our budgets each year. We have what is called a “strong Executive budget,” which completely contradicts our nation’s belief in checks and balances. This proposed Constitutional Amendment would increase accountability and put the public’s needs ahead of politics.
Governor Hogan recently announced that he is very unlikely to sign any legislation that would increase spending. Fortunately, most of the bills I sponsored provide significant benefits to Marylanders with an insignificant cost to taxpayers.
Protecting Our Environment
Last Fall, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters named me “Legislator of the Year” for my leadership on our statewide Styrofoam ban. With this new law, which will go into effect on July 1, Maryland will become the first State in the nation to go Foam-Free!
Banning Toxic Chemicals
The pesticide Chlorpyrifos has been proven to have harmful effects on humans, animals, and our environment. Despite this evidence and the recommendations of respected scientists, the Trump Administration has allowed the continued use of this harmful product. It took three years, but Maryland will finally join (unless Gov. Hogan vetoes it!) Hawaii, New York, and California in defending our environment and communities from this unsafe pesticide. (Passed! Sen. Kagan Co-sponsor.)
Another dangerous chemical compound, Perfluoroalkoxy Polymer (PFAs), has been linked to a variety of adverse health effects. SB420 restricts the use of PFAs in firefighting foam and requires our Department of the Environment to study its presence in our food products. (Passed unanimously in the Senate! Sen. Kagan co-sponsor.)
Conserving Submerged Aquatic Vegetation
Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) is essential to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. In the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, Maryland pledged to increase SAV beds to 130,000 acres by 2025. Clamming operations threaten this vegetation, which is why we are falling short. My bill, SB629, would modify protection areas to preserve these important grasses. (Failed. Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Climate Solutions Act of 2020
This January was the warmest on record, and scientists say that we have less than a decade to reverse course. SB926 would have set greenhouse gas emissions reductions rates that the State must achieve by 2030 with the ultimate goal of achieving net-zero statewide emissions by 2045. (Ran out of time in Committee. Sen. Kagan co-sponsor.)
Funding our HBCUs
In a momentous end to a 13-year battle for more funding, the General Assembly authorized $580 million for historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Maryland has a history of discriminatory programming and funding. This bill unanimously passed the Senate. (Passed!)
Strengthening Services for the Deaf
Deaf and hearing-impaired residents will be better served as a result of the bill I sponsored in partnership with the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) and the Department of Disabilities (MDOD). My legislation shifted the Maryland Relay telephone service to an agency with more expertise and required that its new director be a user of these programs. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Ensuring Equal Access to Restrooms
Many of us do not think twice about using a gender-neutral bathroom in a hotel, airplane, hospital, or friend’s home. However, in many public establishments, we face the unnecessary inconvenience of gender-divided restrooms– even when there’s only one toilet! Based on laws in Baltimore and around the country, SB401 would have made these facilities more accessible by requiring gender-neutral signage. (No committee vote. Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Outlawing “Hate Symbols”
We are living in increasingly divisive times. Minorities should be protected from ugly and hateful tactics. SB161 prohibits the use of a symbol, such as a swastika, with the intent to threaten or intimidate. (Passed! Sen. Kagan co-sponsor.)
Creating Paycheck Fairness Statewide
This year, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. According to the National Women’s Law Center, Maryland women earn 85.5 cents for every dollar earned by a man. When employers use salary history to decide pay, these gender wage gaps follow applicants from job to job.
Last year, Montgomery County unanimously passed Councilmember Evan Glass’s bill, which prohibits County government hiring managers from inquiring about an applicant’s salary history. While my bill SB400 would have expanded this law statewide, I was thrilled thatSB217/HB123, a broader bill, passed. (Passed. Sen. Kagan Co-sponsor)
Removing Barriers to Remarriage
Under Jewish law, women must receive a “Get” (a Jewish divorce) from their husbands before a marriage is considered terminated. Women without this document do not have the right to remarry within the faith. While most Jewish men are willing to grant a “Get,” some withhold it as a means of revenge or leverage related to alimony, visitation rights, or domestic abuse charges.
I worked with Jewish communal leaders, a Constitutional scholar, and the Attorney General’s office to draft a bill that respects the separation of Church and State. SB536 would have created a legal tool for women to receive a “Get” before a divorce decree is granted. Although this bill did not pass, we must protect women from this type of abuse. (Failed. Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Supporting Death with Dignity
I was proud to once again co-sponsor the “End of Life Option Act.” SB701 would have created a process for a patient to request aid in dying from an attending physician. Terminal illnesses and degenerative diseases can make end-of-life care excruciating for both patients and their loved ones. Eight states and DC allow compassionate choice; I hope Maryland will take action next year. (Failed. Sen. Kagan co-sponsor)
Ending “Gas Price Gouging”
Some gas stations post only their lowest (cash) price while displaying credit card prices on smaller, unilluminated signs. This “bait & switch” practice should be prohibited! Gas stations should post either the highest or both prices equally. In endorsing the bill, Attorney General Brian Frosh said, “Price transparency will help inform consumers of the actual price before pulling into the station.” (Failed. Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Assisting the Bereaved
A constituent had trouble transferring ownership of utility accounts following her husband’s passing and contacted me. She was subjected to a credit check, a processing fee, and the general inconveniences that come with opening a new account. This was despite the fact that she and her husband had been responsible customers for decades! SB628 will allow consumers to send a copy of their marriage license, death certificate, or the preceding year’s jointly filed tax returns in order to change the name on the account. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Ending an Outdated Security Question
Using a mother’s maiden name as a security question dates back to 1882. Now, this personal information can be easily found online. Shockingly, banks continue to require it and offer no alternatives. SB160 required banks to provide at least two security questions for new account holders– neither of which can ask for a mother’s maiden name. (Passed in the House! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Standing up to Insurance Companies
We buy homeowner’s insurance to protect ourselves from circumstances we cannot predict or control. However, a constituent informed Del. Julie Palakovich Carr that current law allows an insurance company to cancel a policy if three weather-related claims are made within three years. I was delighted to sponsor legislation (HB333/SB345) in the Senate, which would have prohibited insurance carriers from canceling a homeowner’s insurance plan due to unpreventable, weather-related claims. (Failed. Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Safeguarding Your Identity
An increasing number of businesses require swiping of customers’ driver’s licenses during a transaction, which captures and stores our personal information. Swiping can make us more vulnerable to identity theft via hacking. SB34 passed the Senate unanimously in 2019; this year, some powerful business lobbyists fought the bill, demanding amendments and killing the bill in Committee. (Failed. Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Protecting the Personal Information of College Students
I sponsored SB588 for the University System of Maryland (USM) to protect personally identifiable information. This first-in-the-nation plan restricts third-party access to USM databases. Students would be allowed to opt-out of sharing their data. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Bolstering Government Accountability & Efficiency
Last year, I enacted legislation to require that our State Board of Elections live-stream its meetings and post agendas and minutes on its website. This session, I expanded that practice to the Emergency Number Systems Board (the 9-1-1 Board); Maryland Stadium Authority; Maryland Transportation Authority; and the Public Service Commission. I believe in government transparency, especially when agencies have significant fiscal responsibility. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Simplifying the Grant Process
The Urban Institute reported that 80% of Maryland’s nonprofit grantees work with more than one State agency. Many of the required forms are complex and duplicative, requiring nonprofits and State employees to spend an inordinate amount of time on paperwork. SB630 establishes the Maryland Efficient Grant Application (MEGA) Council to review current procedures with an eye toward simplification. It will develop a “Common App” grant process across State agencies, similar to those students use when applying to colleges. Modeled on the innovative program created in Illinois, this will save time and money for both nonprofits and the State. My bill attracted strong, bipartisan support among my colleagues– every Senator signed on as a co-sponsor! (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
Shutting the Revolving Door
The “revolving door” between public service and lucrative private-sector employment erodes trust in our democracy. The one-year “cooling off period” to prohibit lobbying that already applies to legislators and statewide elected officials will now cover appointees to the Executive Branch. The House amended the bill to strengthen penalties for public officials who accept bribes. (Passed! Sen. Kagan lead sponsor.)
The Senate President and House Speaker just canceled the special session in May that had been tentatively planned. Instead, we will continue to shelter at home and seek to support our constituents. For tips and links, visit my website at https://cherylkagan.org/covid-
19-updates/. It is my honor to represent you in the State Senate, and I will see you again when it’s safe.
Cheryl C. Kagan
State Senator, District 17
(Rockville & Gaithersburg)