It looks like the worst of the arctic weather is behind us and it’s finally starting to feel like spring. Similarly, the Maryland General Assembly has made it a long way from the completely virtual session of last year and is once again starting to feel more like it did before the start of the pandemic. We began the session in a hybrid format: floor sessions were in-person while bill hearings remained mostly virtual. Voting sessions eventually returned to the committee room just in time for the last push of the hectic legislative session.
This session I worked tirelessly on equitable legislation that would make a difference in people’s lives, be it by advancing juvenile justice initiatives, combating climate change, or ensuring access and availability of transportation for all Marylanders. I have included a summary of some of the bills I proposed and fought for during the 2022 session. I have also included some other important legislation I supported that will impact the lives of every Marylander.
As a member of the House Environment & Transportation Committee, I am committed to supporting eco-friendly policies and environmental justice. This is why I sponsored HB772– which passed through the full legislature and will be sent to the Governor! – and HB363 this session. The former would strengthen efficiency standards for certain household appliances to reduce energy use, which would benefit the environment andlower consumer costs. In fact, according to the Maryland Energy Administration, the enactment of HB772 would save over 6 million megawatt hours in electricity, 200 billion gallons of water, and over 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by the year 2040. This is just one step in helping Maryland transition to an affordable green future. Unfortunately, another bill I introduced to encourage green policy in Maryland by allowing the attorney general to prosecute large corporations that knowingly contributed to the climate crisis, HB363, did not pass the legislature. However, the next session awaits! Many thanks to Senator Paul Pinsky for sponsoring HB772’s Senate cross-file SB494, and to the countless Delegates who co-sponsored HB363, underscoring its importance.
When introducing the Transportation Equity Act of 2022 (HB141), my goal was to make equity central to the Maryland Transportation Plan. It would require equity and cost-benefit analyses, community outreach, and public hearings to be conducted before any major service changes are implemented. This would reduce air pollution in heavily affected neighborhoods, fight climate change, and help build a Maryland where everyone has equal access to the opportunity transit provides. It passed through the legislature and will be sent to the Governor’s desk! Many thanks to Senator Jill Carter, who introduced the bill’s Senate cross-file SB23.
I introduced HB84 to improve Maryland’s Education Code by removing harmful and outdated language that allows students to be charged with a crime for typical adolescent misbehavior like storming out of class. While it didn’t fully pass, I want to thank everyone who advocated for this bill, co-sponsored it in the House, and to Senator Mary Washington who sponsored its Senate cross-file SB119.
With HB610, I sought to create something similar to the Kirwan Commission but for healthcare. It would have developed a plan for the creation of a statewide universal healthcare system to ensure all Maryland residents receive the care they need without the threat of major financial burden. Thank you to Senator Pinsky for introducing its Senate cross-file SB493. Unfortunately, neither bill made it out of their respective committees – but there’s always next year!
We were also able to secure $150k in funding for a new playground at Westowne Elementary School! This project will fill a void in the community after the school’s previous playground was taken down and never replaced. A big thanks to Delegate Eric Ebersole, Delegate Pat Young, and Senator Charles Sydnor for helping to push through this important bond initiative!
Additionally, the Baltimore County Delegation worked diligently to secure millions of dollars in funding for other important Southwest Baltimore County projects. Through bond initiatives like the one that granted funds to build Westowne’s new playground, organizations critical and dear to our community will be receiving financial assistance, including $300k to allow Catonsville Emergency Assistance to purchase a new facility and upgrade their current one, $100k for the Clubhouse of Catonsville to conduct much needed site renovations, and $96k for the St. Gabriel parish to develop and renovate their pantry in Windsor Mill. Funding for other crucial local capital projects was also secured: $200k to assist streetscaping projects in Arbutus, $120k for Mount Gilboa A.M.E. Church road improvements, $100k for improvements to Catonsville Middle School (including additions to their athletic facilities), $850k to build and maintain bus stop enclosures throughout the community, $500k for the construction of a trail connecting the Baltimore Highlands Light RailLink stop and the Patapsco Regional Greenway, and an entire $10 million devoted to the Security Square Mall Renovation and Replacement Project!
Other Important Legislation On Issues Like:
This year I also had the privilege of serving as the Vice Chair of the Transit Caucus, a bipartisan group of Delegates and Senators committed to supporting legislation that improves transportation in Maryland. We had four major priorities this year. The Maryland Regional Rail Transformation Act (SB514/HB778) requires the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to invest in much needed enhancement of MARC service and the infrastructure it relies on and is now officially law after we overrode the Governor’s initial veto of the bill!
The Vision Zero Implementation Act (HB254/SB874) passed the legislature and was signed on April 21st! It requires the State Highway Administration to review all pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities within six months and determine what steps need to be taken to improve transportation safety.
Unfortunately, the Equitable and Inclusive Transit-Oriented Development Enhancement Act (SB516/HB710) – which would have granted financial assistance to counties and cities to improve transit through the More Jobs for Marylanders program – and the Safe Access for All (SAFE) Act of 2022 (HB656/SB880) – which would have required the design and implementation of better safety measures for pedestrians and cyclists along high traffic routes – did not make it through the legislature, but there’s always next year!
Criminal Justice and Public Safety
While the enactment of these laws are contingent on the passing of a constitutional amendment subject to a ballot measure in November’s general election, two bills on cannabis reform (HB1 and HB837) would finally legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana in the state of Maryland while allowing those who have been charged with minor cannabis-related offenses to have them expunged from their criminal record. While this is a great start I am very much committed to further addressing the needs of equity and justice reform in legalization during the next legislative session.
After tireless advocating and the support of Attorney General Brian Frosh, Maryland will officially ban untraceable and unserialized firearms – or “ghost guns” – (HB425/SB387), a bill that the governor chose not to sign or veto, allowing it to become law. I am proud to have supported this important step in protecting Marylanders from the growing scourge of gun violence.
Addressing a huge problem in our district and throughout the state, SB612 heightens penalties for street racing and exhibition driving, including the impounding of perpetrators’ vehicles. This reckless driving is not only a nuisance – it puts people at risk of serious injury or death. My committee worked hard to strengthen this bill and create an effective deterrent against this dangerous behavior and it awaits a decision from the Governor. If this bill becomes law it will go into effect on June 1, 2022.
There were a few key bills introduced this session that would protect and expand reproductive rights and access to reproductive healthcare. While one which would have enshrined reproductive rights in the state constitution failed to pass the Senate, the General Assembly was able to override the Governor’s veto of the Reproductive Health Care Access Bill (HB937) and pass this bill into law! This will improve the affordability and accessibility of facilities that offer abortive care services by increasing the number of providers who can perform abortions and requiring Medicaid and private healthcare providers to cover abortion care. Reproductive health care is health care and it is our job as legislators to ensure that all – regardless of race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status – have equal access to it.
Since its veto was overridden by the legislature, the Time to Care Act (SB275) will establish the first ever statewide paid family and medical leave program in Maryland. Employees will be eligible to receive 12 weeks of paid leave to handle personal and family medical emergencies or the birth of a child. The program will be funded through contributions made by employees and employers and take effect in 2025. The bill also offers relief for businesses with 15 employees or less. This is essential to providing a fairer work environment for our hard-working employees.
The Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 (SB528), which was officially enacted without a gubernatorial veto, sets a statewide goal to reduce 60% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 with a net-zero goal of 2045. It requires MDE to develop building energy performance standards to achieve a 20% reduction in net direct greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net-zero direct by 2040. It also aims to electrify state-operated vehicles and school buses. This law is a crucial step in our ongoing fight against climate change.
Of particular local note, District 44 Senator Charles Sydnor sponsored SB557, authorizing the Baltimore County Council to create a West Baltimore County Redevelopment Authority. I worked closely with Senator Sydnor, Delegate Pat Young, and Delegate Ben Brooks to push this bill through the House and it is set for the Governor’s review. If created, this new authority would focus on redevelopment and economic revitalization of the area bounded by Rolling Road, Liberty Road, Route 40, and the Baltimore City line.
Something else you may want to be aware of: HB1468 – which has been enacted – provides tax relief for eligible seniors. Maryland residents age 65 and older with incomes under and up to $100k can claim a $1k credit on their state income tax! Married couples filing jointly making up to $150k in income can also claim a $1750 credit if both are eligible.
To end on a very positive note, two bills recognizing the importance of our state’s diversity were signed into law: one making Juneteenth a state holiday (HB227), another to increase the funding received by the African American Heritage Preservation Program (HB1088)!
The final deadline to get bills on Governor Hogan’s desk is April 30 and in turn he must either sign them into law, allow them to become law without his signature, or veto them by May 30 – so be sure to keep a close eye out for what comes of these important laws!
It has been a long and difficult session, but we were able to use the time to make significant progress on key issues impacting our state. I appreciate all of your calls, emails, and letters; your participation is critical in making this process work. Though the session has now ended, I will continue to be available for questions, comments, and constituent requests for assistance at firstname.lastname@example.org. It is an honor to serve you all, whether during session or interim.
All my best to you,
Delegate Sheila Ruth