April 14, 2020
I hope you were able to find ways to celebrate Passover and Easter with loved ones this past week.
This is Part Two of my legislative session wrap-up letter; there was too much to share in just one email! (If you missed Part One last week, you can find it here.) There continues to be breaking news every day– both related and unrelated to the #Coronavirus. Look further in this email for information about a new Montgomery County grants program that will begin accepting applications TOMORROW!
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.
Launching New Grants Program TOMORROW!
One of my priorities these past few weeks during the Coronavirus has been sharing fiscal and health information with you. There is a new opportunity that may be of help to you or someone you know. Applications for Montgomery County’s Public Health Emergency Grant (PHEG) Program will be available TOMORROW! Grants will be awarded to businesses and nonprofits that have experienced a 50% (or more) loss of revenue in the month of March. Businesses and nonprofits should apply as soon as possible to avoid missing the opportunity, although grant winners will not be determined on a first-come, first-served basis.
Grants for Artists: Artists are among those most accurately affected by the Stay-at-Home orders. With no in-person opportunities to showcase their work, our creative neighbors are facing extreme challenges to share their talents and provide for their families. There is a national initiative– Artist Relief, which distributes $5,000 grants to artists facing financial hardships due to COVID-19. Eligibility requirements and applications can be found on their website. If you are not an artist but are interested in donating to this fund, contributions of any amount will help support their mission.
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 t
he 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.)
Many people are looking for ways to make a difference during this global pandemic. You can have a major impact on our community by completing the 2020 Census. It should take less than 10 minutes to respond online or by phone, and you will help determine program funding, representation, and policy decisions for the next ten years. Montgomery County currently has a response rate of 57%– an embarrassing FOURTH in the State! PLEASE respond to the Census today!
Working for You Year-Round!
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)
PS: Spread the word– the deadline to apply for my Senatorial Scholarships (undergraduate or graduate study) is Monday, April 20, at 5:00pm. You can find more information and the application on my website at www.CherylKagan.org/