April 7, 2020
Last night at midnight, the legislature was scheduled to adjourn after a 90-day session. Since we left 20 days early due to the Coronavirus, we instead scheduled a virtual Town Hall session. Thanks to those who were able to join us. (If you missed it, you can watch it here with password 0406D17.)
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!
(In fact, for the first time, we are sending a multi-part wrap-up letter! This is just Part One.)
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.
Keeping Marylanders Safe
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.)
Working for You Year-Round!
Each semester, I distribute scholarship funds to outstanding undergraduate and graduate students who live in my legislative district. The deadline for fall semester is Monday, April 20, at 5:00pm. More information and the application are available at www.CherylKagan.org/Scholarships.
If you are having difficulty with a State agency, my staff and I may be able to help. Please reach out via e-mail at Cheryl.Kagan@senate.state.md.us. Even during this Global Pandemic, my team and I are teleworking to serve you. It has been my honor to represent you in the State Senate, and I will see you in the community, in our schools, and at local events when it’s safe. In the meantime, stay healthy and up-to-date through my website at https://cherylkagan.org/covid-19-updates/.
Cheryl C. Kagan
State Senator, District 17
(Rockville & Gaithersburg)
P.S.: I was disappointed that Governor Hogan included gun shops in the list of “essential businesses” during this pandemic. I am shocked by this dangerous political decision in deference to the gun lobby. I hope you will share your concerns with the Governor’s Office.