2014 Legislative Issues
In an article originally posted on Conduit Street on Thursday, March 6, MACo posted a summary of Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown’s visit to the MACo offices and Legislative Committee.
In that article, MACo inadvertently misstated the Lieutenant Governor’s mention of the pending budget plan, and the incorporation of certain pension funding as a measure for state budget resolution. The corrected statement now appears in the original article, and also below:
With respect to the fiscal 2015 budget, he commented that the most controversial item is transfer of the $100 million in pension reinvestment savings to the State’s General Fund. He said that it is his hope that “pensions are not looked to to balance the budget in the future.”
The original version of the article left the incorrect impression that the Lieutenant Governor supported long term use of these funds, his direct comments to MACo made his reluctance clear.
MACo regrets the error, with apologies to any officials or readers who may have gathered an incorrect impression from the article.
The National Association of Counties (NACo) has some new and old tools to save the counties money. The NACo Prescription Discount Card Program is available through a partnership with CVS Caremark and provides a FREE prescription discount card exclusively for NACo member counties to offer to their residents. The card will give discounts on prescriptions for residents who are uninsured, underinsured, seniors and pet owners in the county. The card can even be used to help inmates get discounts on prescriptions.
Counties benefit from the program by being able to offer their county residents a no-cost alternative to paying full price for prescriptions. Counties may choose an optional marketing reimbursement fee and counties may also feature their county logo or seal on the front of the card. Residents benefit from the program by saving up to 75% off of their prescriptions with an average savings of 24%. There is no cost for a resident as well as no forms to fill out, no age or income requirements and no medical condition restrictions.
The NACo Health Discount Program is a BRAND NEW health discount card exclusively for NACo member counties to offer to their residents. The program, which is also marketed by CVS Caremark, includes discounts on vision care, LASIK & PRK vision procedures, hearing aids & screenings, prepaid lab work, prepaid diagnostic imaging, diabetic supplies and prescriptions for residents who are uninsured, underinsured, seniors and pet owners in the county. Memberships are available on a monthly or annual subscription basis for both individuals and families* and discounts are available immediately upon enrollment. To learn more, please call 1-888-407-6226 and ask for membership.
Counties benefit from the program by being able to offer their residents an affordable alternative to paying full price for health care. Counties may provide customized resident materials with their county logo or seal on the front of their membership card as well as on the “Member Guide” which each member receives upon enrollment (explaining how to use each benefit and take advantage of their member discounts).
Residents benefit from the program by saving on auxiliary health care services that are not currently included in the Affordable Care Act. There are no annual limits placed on use, no forms to fill out, no waiting periods, no age or income requirements and no medical condition restrictions. The cost to join for individuals is just $6.95 a month or $69 a year. For families it is just $8.95 a month or $79 a year.
And finally, through a partnership with Careington International Corporation, NACo is pleased to introduce the NACo Dental Discount Program! This simple discount card can help the residents of NACo member counties save 5% to 50% on dental care, and 20% on orthodontics. The card is for people who are uninsured but can also complement health insurance plans or work with health savings accounts, flexible spending accounts and health reimbursement arrangements.
COUNTIES can get more information on how your county can benefit from the program by visiting the county website.
RESIDENTS can get more information about the NACo Dental Discount Program by visiting www.nacodentalprogram.org
Visit the NACo website (County Solutions, Cost Saving Tools) to find more information about how counties can benefit from the use of these programs.
The NACo Prescription Discount Card Program and the Dental Discount Program are NOT insurance.
The National Association of Counties (NACo) is looking for counties with innovative programs that modernize county government and increase services to county residents.
Obtain national recognition for your program by applying for a NACo Achievement Award.
Started in 1970, the annual Achievement Award Program is a non-competitive awards program that recognizes innovative county government programs. Each application is judged on its own merits and not against other applications received. Awards are given in 21 different categories including children and youth, criminal justice, county administration, environmental protection, information technology, health, and many more. For a full list of categories and more information on the application procedures, please see the application materials below.
In a hearing Friday, Judge Lynne A. Battaglia made it clear that the option for the Court of Appeals to go back on it’s decision in DeWolfe v. Richmond was off the table. What remains unclear is how the state will comply with the ruling.
As previously reported on Conduit Street, the court found under DeWolfe v. Richmond, that there is a State constitutional requirement to provide representation to indigent individuals at all stages of the bail process, including the initial appearance before a District Court commissioner and subsequent review by a District Court judge. Complying with this decision will have significant costs on the state and county levels, upwards of $30 million per year. As reported in the Baltimore Sun, the court has extended a stay to allow authorities in Baltimore to figure out a way to comply with the ruling.
The high court extended a stay on a lower court order that lawyers be provided immediately; it was due to expire Friday but was extended until Tuesday afternoon. And while the judges floated some ideas about how to proceed, the hearing ended with little clarity.
Steven M. Klepper, an attorney who specializes in appeals cases and blogs on the topic for the Maryland State Bar Association, said the short stay suggests the court will issue some kind of order next week, with a detailed opinion to follow.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he still hopes the ruling could be overturned. “The easiest thing would be for one or more of the judges to admit a mistake was made.”
But if the judges do not reverse themselves, it will be up to the legislature to craft a solution to comply with the ruling. A spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley said the governor is now in favor of the General Assembly arriving at a long-term answer.
“He’s working with legislative leaders to overhaul the current system in a way that addresses the Richmond decision and improves the pretrial system as a whole,” said spokeswoman Nina Smith.
To avoid the cost, the General Assembly is considering plans to mostly eliminate the first round of hearings. They could also put jail officials — instead of court commissioners — in charge of the first hearings, a technical change that might not trigger the need for an attorney.
Those changes could take up to a year to implement, Bernhardt said. Lawmakers are also looking at a stopgap measure, changing the way commissioners make release decisions, also potentially avoiding the need for lawyers to be present.
On Tuesday the Montgomery County Council voted to revise the county’s zoning code. From a March 4 Washington Post article:
Some of the changes are technical, designed to streamline and rationalize a 1,200-page document that has not been seriously revised in nearly 40 years. Over time, it has been swollen by more than 400 land-use categories (newspaper stand, flower shop), multiple tables, and confusing or antiquated terminology.
But the new code is also designed as a tool to shape a less car-dependent county where residents walk more, drive less and use mass transit.
This is a good step forward for Montgomery County,” said council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), who chairs the council’s planning committee.
While the revised code aims to limit sprawl residential construction in some commercial zones, council member Marc Elrich warned that the revisions do not adequately protect neighborhoods from commercial encroachment. The article reported that the council may also revisit regulations covering the county’s agricultural zone.
For the full article, visit The Washington Post website.
With a vote of 44-0 the Senate passed SB 653, a bill that would authorize programs to withhold income tax refunds from people with outstanding warrants. The bill was based upon a pilot program that found success in Anne Arundel County.
MACo opposed the bill in its original form as it set a requirement for all counties to participate in this program. To address these issues MACo advocated for amendments that would remove the requirement and make participation in the program a local option.
MACo suggests that a path forward on this issue would be to engage both local law enforcement and elected officials to craft an “opt-in” program that would allow suitable definition and implementation by each jurisdiction. A process of this sort could help counties guide the range of warrants appropriate to trigger interception. It could also help determine whether program implementation is best handled by law enforcement units either within county government or under a sheriff, as well as who should interface with the Office of the Comptroller. It would allow the counties flexibility in managing the range of other potential issues arising from a statewide option.
The proposed amendments were adopted by Senate. The amended Senate bill is now in the House where MACo will advocate for the same local option outcome.
The Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, in its full committee budget decisions on Friday, March 7, approved a one-time $10 million grant to counties for pothole repairs. In introducing the budget amendment, Senator Madaleno said its been a very severe winter and its wreaking havoc on our roadways. This funding will assist counties with much needed roadway repairs. A previous blog on Conduit Street, Maryland’s “Year of the Pothole,” highlights the challenges local governments are facing in repairing their roadways.
To bring the budget into balance, the committee also approved taking a larger share of the pension reinvestment dollars and transferring them to the State’s General Fund. As reported by WBAL Radio:
Under pension reform three years ago, Maryland was to pay $300 million above its required pension payment each year to move gradually to fully funding the pension system. Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed capping the payment at $200 million this year to help fill a budget gap.
Now, with a $238 million downward revision in state revenues creating a bigger hole, senators have decided to make only a $100 million payment for fiscal year 2014 and fiscal year 2015. That frees up the remaining $200-million to ease budget pressures.
In making this decision, the committee also approved a plan to gradually increase the payment of reinvestment funds back to the full $300 million in fiscal 2019.
The Senate budget panel decided to slowly increase the payments in future years. For example, the panel decided to bring the additional payment up to $150 million in fiscal year 2016, $200 million in fiscal year 2017 and $250 million in fiscal year 2018. In fiscal year 2019, the full $300 million payment would be made.
The Maryland State Education Association and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees expressed support for this approach during the meeting.
More information on the State’s revenue write down and its effect on the State’s budget can be found in a previous post on Conduit Street.