An overview of MACo’s advocacy on health and human services legislation in the 2021 General Assembly.
Each county in Maryland has a local health department that plays a role in providing essential public health services to residents, even more so during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are also county agencies that provide human or citizen services for children, families ad persons with special needs. MACo advocates actively for policies that continue to confront the opioid crisis and to support county health and social services programs.
This year the Maryland General Assembly conducted a legislative session unlike any other due to the enduring COVID-19 pandemic. The unique circumstances surrounding the 442nd legislative session, including necessary health and safety measures, posed a challenge for lawmakers and advocates alike. Despite the unusual circumstances, MACo’s advocacy still led to more positive outcomes for its members.
For more information on Maryland’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic visit MACo’s COVID-19 resource page.
Emergency Service Transporters Reimbursements
MACo supported two bills that attempted to create a study for or modernize reimbursements for services provided by emergency services transporters to better meet t growing demand and needs for these services. Counites supported these bills because the costs of emergency service transports and treatments are exceedingly borne by county and volunteer providers without adequate increases in State support.
These bills respectively sought to modernize who emergency service transporters are reimbursed for emergency transport, and how emergency service transporters are reimbursed for non-emergency medical transportation. Neither piece of legislation advanced during the 2021 legislative session, but many stakeholders (including counties) raised continuing concerns about these topics going forward.
MACo members voted to support legislation that expands and strengthens the Behavioral Health Crisis Response Grant Program and fosters the development of supportive resources for residents in such need. Counties host various structures to serve residents with behavioral health needs – some within county government, others through a community-based non-governmental organization. Regardless of the specific means, counties are active partners in delivering services locally to those who need them. The existing Behavioral Health Crisis Response Grant Program frames this relationship, creates standards for grant applications. Behavioral Health Crisis Response Services – Modifications passed the General Assembly and now awaits the Governor’s signature.
MACo supported legislation that establishes a statewide framework to target health inequities and promote better health service and offerings in underserved areas of Maryland. This bill creates a plan to identify communities of concern and need, targeting health disparities by providing incentives for health care practitioners to locate in these areas. County government, and local health departments, are among the substantial list of stakeholders in the processes envisioned under the bill and are eager to play their role in moving forward and riding the gap in health care access. The Maryland Health Equity Resource Act passed both chambers and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.
MACo supported legislation that would prohibit a person from making or sending a threat to a public health official with the intent to intimidate, interfere with, or impede a public health official from performing their duties. This is critical given the important work that local health department employees do, especially (most recently and visibly) in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. Criminal Law – Threat Against Public Health Official was referred to the Rules committee in each chamber (due to its very late filing) but did not receive a public hearing prior to the end of the 2021 Legislative Session.
Cigarette, Other Tobacco Products, and Electronic Smoking Devices
MACo supported legislation that would reverse a Maryland Court of Appeals decision that preempt local tobacco regulation. In 2013, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that a Prince George’s County ordinance regulating the size of cigar packs was preempted by the General Assembly. The broad, most pervasive, interpretation of the ruling of this is that local government may not regulate the packaging, sale, and distribution of tobacco products, including cigars, as State law has occupied that field. This bill would allow local governments to regulate the sale and distribution of tobacco products. This is important as local governments are best situated to understand the dynamic of tobacco use and the needs of their communities. Cigarettes, Other Tobacco Products, and Electronic Smoking Devices – Local Law Authorization did not advance in the 2021 General Assembly following its public hearings.
Local Health Funding
MACo adopted as one of its top legislative initiatives for 2021, legislation to strengthen the support for local health departments, the state’s front lines of public health and prevention efforts. This bill would advance the core funds for local health departments in each of the next two years, supporting central staff and other expenses that are essential to their function. Additionally, the bill clarifies how local health departments may use the partially restored core funds along with a study of the information systems that support all health departments in the State. Local Health Departments – Funding passed the Senate with time to spare, and following a lengthy delay, on the final day of session, was passed through with amendments deferring its fiscal effect for two years – still a meaningful victory for public health resources on the front lines.
MACo supported legislation with amendments that aimed to address the funding and infrastructure for local health departments. This bill clarifies pandemic-related uses of funding and requires a study of information systems supporting these public health services. MACo requested that provisions from HB 1043 Local Health Departments – Funding be amended into this bill. Local Health Departments – Funding and Infrastructure did not advance in the House after its public hearing, but the essential tenets of the bill were passed by the General Assembly in the MACo initiative bill, SB 563.
For more on health and human services legislation tracked by MACo in the 2021 legislative session, click here.