Maryland A National Leader in Reducing Prison Population

States with Declining Incarceration, via Vera Institute of Justice
A recent report by the Vera Institute of Justice shows Maryland leading the nation in prison population decline. Its 9.6% decline between 2016 and 2017 was tops in the country (the national trend was a 1% decline), and comes as the state is implementing broad-based “Justice Reinvestment” efforts. The report also does show that Maryland’s rate of 299 incarcerated people per 100,000 remains higher than the national average.

The website for the Maryland Justice Reinvestment Board includes information about the Board, its meetings, and activities.

The Baltimore Sun profiled the report, noting:

The reduction appears to have been triggered in part by the 2016 Justice Reinvestment Act, a sweeping measure that sought to divert nonviolent offenders from prison to drug treatment and other programs.

Last year’s reduction was not a one-year fluke. Over the past decade, Maryland’s prison has dropped by almost 23 percent — fifth in the nation.

Read the full Sun article online.

See previous Conduit Street coverage:

Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board Gears Up For Act’s Implementation

Local Government Commission Convenes to Discuss Justice Reinvestment

County Residents Pile up the Savings with NACo’s “Live Healthy” Card

A prime offering of NACo membership is the “Live Healthy” program — a plug-and-play program offering prescription discounts to your county residents. The program is free to your county, free to your residents, and helps thousands of uninsured or under-insured Marylanders with prescription drug costs every year.

In the first few months of 2018 alone:

-Frederick County residents have saved more than $15,000 on drug costs at their choice of pharmacies

-More than 3,000 Montgomery County residents have found a better drug price using the NACo card

-Wicomico County residents saved an average of over 40% from retail prices by using their card

So… this is a can’t lose proposition for your county, and your residents.

They get a free discount card, they get an option to buy in to other services to give them other discounts on health products or dental care, and it’s free to your county. You can even put your county logo and branding on the discount card.

20 counties across Maryland already belong.

Wait… don’t see your county listed in that pull-down menu? Sign up today!

And if you’re already a member county using this program, go online to order new promotional materials, to tell your residents about the free benefit you’re making available to them. NACo is ready to help you reach your residents, and deliver a great deal.

Somerset Launches New “Trail Mix” App Featuring Local Recreation

Somerset County has launched a new user-friendly app called “Trail Mix,” to help and encourage residents to take advantage of trail-walking and other outdoor recreation across the county.

From coverage in the Daily Times:

Clint Sterling, director of Somerset County Recreation & Parks, said all the information walkers need can now be in the palms of their hands.

“The Somerset Trail Mix App offers casual walkers and serious exercisers tools for finding paths, trails and street courses throughout the county,” said Sterling. “Our goal is to get people walking for both their health and the enjoyment of county-owned resources.”

The app [launched] at Somerset County Field Day in Westover on Saturday, Apr. 21. Representatives [were] on hand to teach participants how to download and use the app.

“There’s some wonderful, accessible technology built into this app,” said Sterling. “We took top-quality drone footage and panorama photos of each location, so you can see where you are going before you go there to get a sense of a place. And, as you are walking, you can use a GPS locator to be sure you are headed where you want to go and track your efforts through a pedometer.”

Visit the Somerset County Trail Mix website for more information.

MACo’s PIA Initiative Bill Sent Back to Committee, Likely Defeated

MACo’s initiative legislation to modernize the state’s Public Information Act, SB 788, received its likely death blow on the Senate floor, and has been recommitted back to its Senate Committee. That, very likely, ends the debate on the matter for this session. The House cross-filed bill has not received any House action.

During the bill’s hearing the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, who objected to certain provisions of the bill regarding the release of body camera footage. MACo’s bill sought to carve out narrow classes of materials as not appropriate for release under the PIA — including footage that could identify crime victims, show the death of a public safety officer, or are offered without any claim of wrongdoing or other potential rights violations. Despite these provisions, the Maryland ACLU testified the bill was too broad. Some time after the public hearing, additional groups representing other communities came out in opposition to the bill.

On the Senate floor, the Chair of the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee Joan Carter Conway noted the opposition from groups that had not appeared before the committee, and after making that reference, urged the Senate floor to recommit the bill “for more work.” No Senators objected to the request, which then passed on a voice/acclamation vote.

In most cases, “recommitting” a bill represents a final chapter in legislative deliberations. While it is still procedurally possible for the bill to be reported out again, that appears unlikely.

After a three year effort to bring change to these public records laws, it appears the effort will go unresolved. These sensitive classes of documents and records will remain conditionally releasable, as custodians will be without bright-line rules on what documents should not be released to the public.

MACo’s PIA Initiative Bill Clears Senate Committee

MACo’s legislative initiative to “Modernize the Public Information Act” passed its Senate Committee on Tuesday, March 13, clearing its first of several hurdles toward passage.

SB 788 passed the Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee without any “NO” votes, after the Committee spent time during its voting session discussing the bill’s application and effects. At the time of this writing, the bill sits on the floor of the Senate awaiting a second reader vote, and the addition of technical amendments.

MACo is working with multiple other stakeholders – representing law enforcement, victim’s rights groups, school systems, and others – in arguing that the bill provides needed balance to laws generally dictating that public records and documents be shared with the public. Other groups that frequently oppose measures that limit public distribution of such documents (the MD/DC/DE Press Association, and Common Cause of Maryland) have indicated their comfort with this bill’s balance, and did not raise such objections to the bill (into which they contributed very substantial input).

The bill faces opposition on the Senate floor and may be subject to multiple attempts to lessen its scope or effects via floor-offered amendments. Its elements regarding footage from body cameras and similar devices are the central target of this opposition. Some legislators have expressed concern that the bill retains too much direction to provide records of body camera footage. Others have been advised by a limited group of advocates that denying such records compromises accountability in troubling circumstances like police officer misconduct (although the bill explicitly does not change the law regarding such records).

Other bill provisions include tightened assurances that personal identification information such as Social Security numbers and dates of birth should not be released, and that passive subscribers to government newsletters and mailing lists should not have their personal information released under the PIA.

Follow the progress of MACo’s initiative bill through MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.

Senate Committee Rejects SDAT Cost Shift, Maintains Local Health Funding

During its operating budget decision meeting on March 8, the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee rejected two proposals in SB 187, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act of 2018 (“BRFA”) that would have compromised county finances. The full Senate is expected to take up these budget decisions early next week.

As introduced, the BRFA would have shifted 90 percent of costs for certain State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) functions onto the counties. The bill proposes shifting nearly all costs for SDAT’s property assessment, information technology and Office of the Director costs. Currently, counties fund 50 percent of assessment and information technology functions. The cost shift would have placed an additional $20 million on the backs of county budgets.

The Department of Legislative Services recommended against the proposal, insinuating it was unwise.

In addition, the BRFA proposed level funding the core public health funding to local health departments. However, the Committee voted to “leave the door open” on increasing this funding according to the inflation-based formula – providing an additional $890,793 to local health departments.

On March 6, the Senate Budget and Taxation Health and Human Services Subcommittee voted these actions, and the full committee approved them two days later. The House will take actions on these items, with final determinations made by the Conference Committee, which will be appointed by both chambers.

5 Year Highway User Revenue Funding Passes House

HB 807, a bill amended to provide 5 years of enhanced funding for local roads and bridges, has passed the full House of Delegates on a unanimous vote.

For FY 2020 through 2024, the bill would increase the county share of Highway User Revenues from 1.5% to 3.2%, with additional funding also supporting Baltimore City and municipal government.

See previous Conduit Street coverage for further information.

The Senate Budget & Taxation Committee, during its hearing on the cross-filed bill SB 516, made prominent note of the House action to advance a multi-year funding bill. County stakeholders expressed support for the measure.

As of this writing (Friday, March 9), the bill’s fiscal note had not been revised to reflect the effect of the substantial amendments. A revised fiscal note is expected in the days ahead.

County Input Sought on “Opportunity Zone” Designations

The State Agencies working to designate “Opportunity Zones” created under recent federal tax reforms are seeking input from county officials.

Under the 2017 tax reforms, Congress established a new program, where states designate a series of census tracts as “Opportunity Zones.” From the website of the Economic Innovation Group, this tidy description of the funding scheme connected to the designated Opportunity Zones:

WHAT ARE OPPORTUNITY FUNDS? Opportunity Funds are private sector investment vehicles that invest at least 90 percent of their capital in Opportunity Zones. U.S. investors currently hold trillions of dollars in unrealized capital gains  in stocks and mutual funds alone— a significant untapped resource for economic development. Opportunity Funds provide investors the chance to put that money to work rebuilding the nation’s left-behind communities. The fund model will enable a broad array of investors to pool their resources in Opportunity Zones, increasing the scale of investments going to underserved areas.

MACo sent a letter to the two affected state Departments, urging a process to incorporate county input into that selection. From MACo’s letter:

County governments have a close and special knowledge of the communities that fall under their jurisdiction and a significant stake in the census tracts to be selected. They have helpful information about the specific areas of need, local priorities, land use planning, and local projects or investments that may help inform the decision-making process. A public process, affording local governments—as well as their economic and community development partners—the ability to share their valuable knowledge could substantially improve the effectiveness of the Opportunity Zones designated across our state.

Maryland has a short time window to offer its zone designations. The Administration has responded by designating an official at the Housing Department, who will serve as a coordinator for any input received. County views on the “Opportunity Zone” designation process should be directed to:

Michael White
Chief of Staff
Department of Housing & Community Development
Office of the Secretary
7800 Harkins Road
Lanham, MD 20706

The timetable for the zone selection is rapid, so counties are encouraged to submit any input to the Department in an expedited basis.

County Officials Seeking State Offices

With the filing deadline behind us, Conduit Street shares a survey of county elected officials, from around the state, who have thrown their hat into the ring for state-level offices.

State Senate (sorted by District number)

Frederick County Council member Billy Shreve (R) has filed to run for State Senate in District 3, where incumbent Democrat Ron Young is running for re-election.

Howard County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty (D) has filed to run for State Senate in District 12, where incumbent Senator Ed Kasmeyer is retiring. Current Delegate Clarence Lam has also filed to run for the seat in the Democratic primary.

Prince George’s County Council Member Obie Patterson (D), a former State Delegate, has filed for Senate District 26. Incumbent Senator C. Anthony Muse (D) has filed to run for County Executive.

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Click here to see the complete list of candidates for all State Senate seats.

State Delegate (sorted by District number)

Former Howard County Council Member Courtney Watson (D) has filed for Delegate District 9B, where incumbent Bob Flanagan (R) is seeking re-election.

Howard County Council Member Jen Terrasa (D) has filed for Delegate District 13, where one of three incumbents Frank Turner (D) has announced his retirement.

Prince George’s County Council Member Mary Lehman (D) has filed for Delegate in District 21, where one of three incumbents Barbara Frush (D) has announced her retirement.

Prince George’s County Council Member Andrea Harrison (D) has filed for Delegate in District 24, where one of three incumbents Carolyn J.B. Howard is not seeking re-election.

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Charles County Commissioner Debra Davis (D) has filed to run for Delegate in District 28, where one of the three incumbents, Sally Jameson, has indicated she will not file for re-election.

Anne Arundel County Council Member Jerry Walker (R) has filed to run in District 33, where all three incumbent Delegates have filed for re-election.

Harford County Council member James “Cap’n Jim” McMahan has filed to run in District 34, where incumbent Susan McComas has filed for re-election.

Former Baltimore City Council Member Carl Stokes has filed to run for Delegate in District 43, where incumbent Mary Washington is running for State Senate.

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Click here to see the full list of candidates filed for Delegate races statewide.

Some Images Courtesy of Maryland Manual On-Line

Highway User Bill in the Fast Lane – “Deal” Locks in 5yr Funding Increase

A House Committee has amended and is advancing HB 807, legislation to increase state funding for locally-maintained roads and bridges. The five-year plan would set new, higher levels of funding for county and municipal roadways beginning in FY 2020. Signs point to the bill marking a negotiated “deal” including legislative leaders from both chambers, clearing its path to passage this session.

Both MACo and MML have made restoring Highway User Revenues a top priority for years, as recession-driven cuts left local governments with a fraction of historic funding levels of state transportation revenues.

The amended version of HB 807 would roughly double the funding for county governments in each year — to approximately $58 million each year. The funding would be designated as “capital transportation grants” rather than simple statutory distributions (the effect of this terminology change on local governments is unclear, but may be negligible). The new funding level for counties would represent 3.2% of the funds from the Highway User Revenues, coming from taxes on motor fuels, vehicles, and other transportation-related sources — an increase from 1.5% today (through a combination of traditional HUR and capital grants).

The municipal share would be adjusted to 2.0% of the total, and the share for Baltimore City (which has the unique responsibility of maintaining nearly all state roads within its boundaries) is adjusted to 8.3%.

In the days ahead, the House floor debate and public discussion on the legislation may reshape the debate over local road funding for the future. Conduit Street will continue to follow this top priority local issue.