General Assembly Passes Budget

The final version of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget was passed by the Maryland General Assembly Saturday. The $13.2-billion operating budget does not have any new taxes or fees attached to it, but does feature a mix of cuts, transfers and federal stimulus money, as well as a compromise involving teacher pensions. The House and Senate compromise is similar to Governor Martin O’Malley’s original proposal, including a plan to move around almost one-billion dollars to different accounts for short term fixes. A total of 170 bills passed during this session of Maryland’s General Assembly and are now law after O’Malley put pen to paper.

Following are bills passed by the General Assembly.

•    BUDGET – Maryland’s $13.2-billion operating budget relies on a mix of cuts, one-time spending transfers from reserve accounts and federal stimulus money to close a $2-billion gap. The budget, which includes large cuts in funding to local governments for road repairs, will have a balance of $195-million as well as $633-million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
•    CELL PHONES-DRIVING – The General Assembly passed a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving, a bill Governor Martin O’Malley has indicated he will sign. Maryland drivers will have to use hands-free devices to talk on cell phones. Drivers could be fined $40 for first violations and $100 for subsequent ones. Drivers could only be pulled over if they are committing another offense.
•    CHILD SUPPORT-GUIDELINES – Child support payment guidelines will be changed for the first time in more than 20 years. The guidelines, which will go into effect in October, will raise the scale for payments based on combined monthly income between parents from $10,000 under current law to $15,000.
•    FALSE HEALTH CLAIMS – Lawmakers have sent O’Malley legislation to create civil penalties for people who make false health claims to help the state recover millions of dollars for health care. The state estimates about $20-million in Medicaid could be recovered a year with the help of the legislation, which aims to stop fraudulent practices such as an insurance company filling out a form for a wheelchair for a fictitious patient.
•    FORECLOSURE MEDIATION – Mediation between borrowers facing foreclosures and their mortgage lenders will be required by law, if the borrower requests mediation. Legislation includes a $300 filing fee from lenders filing a foreclosure action to help pay for mediations.
•    GANG LAWS – Legislation to make it easier to prosecute gang members and stiffen penalties against them was approved in a move to close loopholes in the Gang Prosecution Act of 2007. The current law has resulted in only one guilty plea and no convictions by a jury in nearly three years. The bill adds crimes that would make gang members eligible for stronger penalties, including witness intimidation and second-degree assault.
•    GANGS IN SCHOOLS – Maryland educators and law enforcement will be required to report to school personnel the arrests of students for certain offenses to increase awareness about students committing crimes that could indicate gang membership. The measure was brought forward after a 14-year-old Crofton boy was beaten to death last year in an allegedly gang-related incident.
•    JOBS – O’Malley already signed into law the main portions of his job creation initiative. It includes a $5,000 tax credit for Maryland employers who hire an unemployed resident as part of O’Malley’s $20-million budget submission to fund.
•    SOLAR REQUIREMENTS – Maryland utilities will have to increase the amount of solar energy they buy and pay fees for not complying. The General Assembly scaled back amounts of solar energy required to be purchased and the amount of fees initially approved. It is estimated the law will increase residential electricity bills by 5 cents per month next year and 66 cents per month for the average commercial ratepayer. The amount goes up each year, resulting in an increase of 77 cents per month for residents and $9.57 for commercial ratepayers in 2016.
•    SEX OFFENDERS – Lawmakers have approved legislation to require lifetime supervision of some people convicted of the most severe sex crimes.
•    SEX OFFENDERS-SENTENCING – Legislators decided on a mandatory 15-year prison sentence for people who commit more serious sex offenses or rape against a child, instead of a five-year sentence under current law.
•    SEX OFFENDERS-REGISTRATION – Lawmakers agreed on legislation that would bring Maryland into compliance with the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which creates minimum standards for sex offender registration.
•    SEX OFFENDERS-BOARD – A bill to reform the state’s Sexual Offender Advisory Board to ensure its members have skills needed to certify programs has been approved.
•    SEX OFFENDERS-CREDITS – Legislation to eliminate the possibility of reduced prison sentences for good behavior for violent and repeat sex offenders also has been approved.
•    SLOT MACHINES-MARYLAND – Lawmakers endorsed changing the state’s slots machine policy to entice a bidder to a western Maryland location. It would give any bidders for an Allegheny County slots license 35.5-percent of the gaming revenues for five years instead of 33-percent if they agree to buy the troubled Rocky Gap Lodge and Resort.