Pretrial Programs Limit Unnecessary Incarceration

MACo Legislative Director Natasha Mehu testified in support of House Bill 447 and Senate Bill 1156, “Pretrial Services Program Grant Fund – Establishment”, before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on April 5, 2018.

This bill would establish pretrial programs in counties that do not already have them through a grant fund operated by the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP). The grant is funded by proceeds from the state police sales of forfeited property, in addition to any governor appropriations, grants, or other sources. The bill would alleviate the concerns of starting a pretrial program, and maintains some flexibility for counties to tailor the program to their specific jurisdiction.

From MACo Testimony:

The bill helps to mitigate the cost concerns of starting or enhancing a pretrial program, providing local governments a source for start-up grant funding. This funding supplements but does not supplant existing sources of funding, enabling counties to leverage other opportunities to help fund the launch and continued support of pretrial programs. While the bill has some evidence-based requirements, it keeps the eligibility requirements flexible enough for counties, who are best situated to determine the parameters of their pretrial programs based on the needs of their communities, to do so without mandating a “one size fits all” model.

The fund established under HB 447 to help improve and expand the establishment of pretrial services in county jails will help advance the efforts to address the operational and societal costs of incarceration.”

 

 

Airbnb Bill Drills Down to Reporting Requirements for Counties

MACo Legislative Director Natasha Mehu testified in support of Senate Bill 1081, “Business Regulation – Limited Residential Lodging”, before the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on April 4, 2018. The bill had been previously heard by the Senate Finance Committee, but was rereferred to Budget and Taxation.

Counties support the limited, tax-specific version of this bill, but maintain that the reporting requirements from limited lodgings, such as Airbnb, are critical to effectively calculating and determining appropriate local taxes.

From MACo Testimony:

Counties across the state have either enacted local laws or are in the process of deciding how to regulate short-term rentals. Local governments are best situated to address the specific needs of their diverse and distinct communities – particularly regarding public health, public safety, and zoning matters. Accordingly, the bill expressly protects the authority of local governments to enact local laws concerning the regulation of short-term rentals.

Counties believe SB 1081 balances the shared goals of a reasonable regulatory scheme for limited residential lodging that will both protect consumers and let the industry thrive.”

For more on this and other legislation, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

 

Highway User Restoration Would Pave the Road to Rebuilding County Infrastructure

House Bill 807 distributes additional highway user revenues funds to all 23 counties, Baltimore City, and municipalities. MACo estimates that this will result in $60 million in highway user revenues beginning in fiscal year 2020, and begins to address a long-standing priority of county governments.

This first step towards full restoration aids locals in repairing, replacing, and maintaining county roads and bridges that have suffered or deteriorated in the last several years.

MACo submitted written testimony in support of HB 807 to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on March 28, 2018.

From MACo Testimony:

It is unquestionable that local governments – and, specifically, counties – maintain the lion’s share of the state’s roads and bridges. Unlike most other states, in Maryland, local governments own and maintain 83% of the roads. Every resident depends on local roadways.

Highway user revenues fund roads and bridges throughout our entire state, through an equitable, time-tested formula based on road mileage and vehicle registrations. This touches the roads our kids ride to school, the roads our first responders travel to keep us safe, and the roads where we all live.

HB 807 takes a step in the right direction toward bringing back transportation dollars to the 83% of roads and bridges maintained by local governments in Maryland. It brings back transportation dollars to everyone’s home. This bill offers a path to restore these desperately needed funds.”

For more on this and other legislation, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Insurance Expansion to Local Health Departments Gives Options to Community

Senate Bill 858 expands health care insurance coverage to care from local health departments.

SB 858 would require insurance carriers to offer insurance contracts to LHDs for the delivery of covered treatment services including behavioral health care services. Currently, only some insurance carriers either contract or have agreements with LHDs and only for a limited selection of services.

This would greatly expand access to community members to the array of direct services and resources that local health departments provide. Many rural areas of the state rely on local health departments to provide a significant amount of services, particularly focusing on mental and behavioral health.

LHDs can choose to be added to carriers’ networks, which would significantly expand access to care and health services for those in each community.

From MACo Testimony:

Expanding insurance coverage to LHDs would significantly improve the ability for patients around the state to receive cost-effective and quality treatment within their communities. This is especially important for behavioral health care access. In Maryland, 19 jurisdictions are federally designated mental health provider shortage areas, and a number of those are also deficient in substance use providers. In many rural areas of the state, LHDs are the sole providers of behavioral health services. This bill saves patients from traveling significant distances to receive services from other providers at greater costs.

SB 858 supports LHDs’ efforts to deliver vital public health services and increases patients’ access to that care.”

For more on this and other legislation, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Continued Care of Community College Facilities Creates Cost Savings

MACo submitted written testimony in support of Senate Bill 595, “Community Colleges – Facilities Renewal Grant Program – Established”, to the House Appropriations Committee on March 29, 2018.

The bill would provide grant funding for maintenance efforts at community colleges, including Baltimore City Community College. The program will fund small renovation projects focused on improving the learning environments at different community colleges throughout the State. These small preventative maintenance efforts

The governor must appropriate 5% of the community college construction grant program to this facility renewal program, which can help with cost savings through long-term preventative maintenance.

From MACo Testimony:

The grant program envisioned in this legislation will provide helpful assistance in tackling maintenance projects that will improve the learning environments of community college students and may extend the life of community college facilities, a joint investment of counties and the State of Maryland.

The facility renewal program will fund for small renovations those projects with total estimated costs of less than $1 million. Under this legislation, each year beginning in fiscal 2019, the Governor must appropriate 5% of the annual appropriation for the Community College Construction Grant Program to the new facility renewal program.

The funds would be distributed evenly to community college applicants, with no college generally receiving more than $500,000 grant funding in one fiscal year, and with community colleges alternating years in which they receive grants. In this way, the program assures that all community colleges statewide are provided with some assistance for needed renovations and improvements.”

For more on this and other legislation, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

County Jails Are Not Mental Health Facilities

MACo submitted written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee in support of Senate Bill 233, “Maryland Department of Health – Defendants Found Incompetent to Stand Trial or Not Criminally Responsible – Commitment”, on March 29, 2018.

SB233 provides an expedited process for placing defendants unable to stand trial. The Maryland Department of Health (MDH) is required to place these individuals in a care facility by a court-specified date. If MDH fails to place the individual within that period of time, they must show the reason for this delay. Penalties are possible if the court determines that there was not sufficient reason to delay placement.

From MACo Testimony:

While some progress has been made by the State to address internal processing issues and the lack of beds, more must be done. The State must continue to build on the progress made and take steps to ensure the crisis is abated now and for the future. Due to the severity of their mental illness, holding these inmates in jail longer than absolutely needed is unconscionable. County jails cannot continue to be de facto mental health facilities.

SB 233 establishes a process for defendants in need of treatment to be promptly placed in state facilities for care they need without languishing inappropriately in county jails.”

SB 233 passed the Senate 45-0 on March 14. For more on this and other legislation, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Legislation Would Ensure Fair and Effective Communication in Estate Transfers

MACo submitted written testimony in support of Senate Bill 466, “Estates and Trusts – Administration of Estates – Waiver of Fees”, to the House Health and Government Operations Committee on March 28, 2018.

This bill would allow for the waiver of probate and administration fees in certain circumstances where the heir of an estate is unable to afford the settlement of an estate. Additionally, if the heir continues to live on the property it is possible that they may not be receiving appropriate bills for property taxes or utility usage that would be sent in the owner of the property’s name.

MACo supports this bill in the effort to effectively settle estates to avoid proceeding to tax sale while also ensuring accurate land reports and reduce errant billing.

The bill and its cross-filed counterpart, House Bill 556, have already passed their respective houses unanimously.

From MACo Testimony:

Counties support this bill as a “good government,” wise approach to prevent properties from unnecessarily going to tax sale. Tax sale serves as an effective means of collection and one of last resort. However, it benefits everyone to make sure that the record owner of the property is correct, so that counties can provide notice of moneys owed and assistance to their residents effectively.

Because it helps put counties in contact with the correct resident of a property, and facilitates notice of moneys owed and assistance available to those who need it, MACo urges a FAVORABLE report on SB 466.”

For more on this and other legislation, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

 

Older Schools Result in Repeated, Long-Term Maintenance

MACo submitted written testimony in support of Senate Bill 611, “Education – Healthy School Facility Fund – Established”, to the House Appropriations Committee on March 28, 2018.

This bill establishes the Healthy School Fund which provides grant money to public schools to improve school facilities. With school construction costs increasing by over 50% in the past five years, it has been difficult for the State and count governments to keep up with school construction needs. The average school facility in the State is now 29 years old, and many require significant attention to address severe infrastructure and utility issues. This legislation begins the long road of addressing critical school building needs.

It has already passed the Senate 36-11.

From MACo Testimony:

The State’s school facilities are an average age of 29 years, a statistic that belies many schools much older than 29 years and still in regular use. Issues such as heating failures, air quality concerns, mold, and temperature fluctuations frequently plague aging schools. Investment in updated systems and infrastructure improvements in these areas contributes to healthy learning environments. Addressing these building issues may also provide long-term cost-savings for counties, school boards, and the State of Maryland with improved energy efficiency and extended facility life.

The State’s commitment to school construction funding needs to remain strong and smart to best serve the modern needs of our schoolchildren. This grant program, which aims to fix critical building needs, supports equal access to facilities that meet basic health standards, providing a foundation for educational success.”

For more updates during the 2018 legislative session, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts here.

 

Amendments Satisfy County Concerns Over Wireless System Regulation

MACo submitted written testimony in support of House Bill 645, “Business Regulation – Wireless Security Systems – Local Government Licenses and Permits”, to the Senate Finance Committee on March 28, 2018.

HB 645 defines a wireless security system and prohibits local governments from requiring any license or permit to install, maintain, inspect, replace, or service a wireless security system that does not require a fire protection plan review. As introduced, MACo had concerns with the vague language of the bill.. It did not account for longstanding, commonsense state and local public safety protections for security systems, which should apply regardless of whether the security system is wired or not. As amended, the bill accomplishes its objectives more clearly, and without upending important and appropriate local oversight.

From MACo Testimony:

As amended, the bill ensures that:

  • Low voltage is explicitly defined as 50 volts or lower;
  • Only electrical licenses or electrical permits are prohibited for wireless systems;
  • Individuals who install wireless systems comply with state laws governing security system technicians;
  • Wireless security system operators and users comply with any local alarm business registration and alarm system registration laws; and
  • Wireless systems must meet the appropriate building codes wherever installed.

HB 645 provides clarity to vague provisions of current law and protects the safety of county residents, while setting a framework to appropriately regulate wireless security systems.”

For more updates, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.

Tax Credits an Alternative to Depleting County Coffers

MACo submitted written testimony in opposition to House Bill 296, “Income Tax – Subtraction Modification – Retirement Income of Correctional Officers”, to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on March 28, 2018.

This legislation is among a number of subtraction modification bills that would mandate reductions in local revenue by reducing an eligible individual’s taxable income. Due to the clear fiscal impact that these modifications would have on local governments and their ability to provide needed community services, counties generally oppose such changes.

Additionally, the effects from federal tax reform on local and county government revenues remain uncertain.

From MACo Testimony:

HB 296 is just one of many bills that have already been introduced this session to reduce or adjust the income taxes paid by residents of Maryland. According to the bill’s fiscal note, local revenues would decline by approximately $1 million in fiscal 2019. However, it is not clear from the fiscal note whether the thousands of local and federal correctional officers are included in that estimate. Nevertheless, this revenue effect combined with that of other bills already introduced this session, simply cannot be afforded as a statewide county mandate and could present substantial budget difficulties. This is exacerbated by the fact that counties do not know yet just how tax reform will affect their revenues.

MACo suggests that consideration be given instead to providing state tax credits, which do not mandate the depletion of resources from all counties for education, public safety, and needed community services.”

For more on this and other legislation, follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2018 legislative session here.