The 2004 session was one of the most challenging and difficult in recent memory. Although there were topics that dominated the headlines, much was accomplished that did not garner media attention. As a member of the House Health and Government Operations Committee and as Chair of the sub-committee of Government Operations, I was privileged to work on a wide variety of legislation. I initiated and was the lead-sponsor of bills that will improve the economy, health, and environment of our State and that I am sure will interest you. Those marked with an asterisk have passed both the House and the Senate and are awaiting action by the Governor. I was fortunate to have eleven bills approved, a significant number for any legislator.
*HB 109 - Environment - Electronic Waste Collection Systems: aÊrevolutionary and environmentally important bill that takes the first steps towards recycling computers in Maryland. Less than 4% of 84 million tons of computers in our state are properly and safely disposed. Computers are a mega-toxic waste problem which pose a significant threat to human health as they are made up of lead, cadmium, plastics, and other materials linked to diseases of all types. It's critical that we are pro-active and address this serious problem now before it gets completely out of control.
*HB 122 Health Insurance - Coverage for Young Adults will be a real help to families with young adults facing the loss of their health insurance coverage. Many children of baby-boomers are reaching the ages of 19-22 when they are no longer eligible to be kept on their parents' health insurance policies. This bill requires insurance companies to give families at least 60 days notice and to provide information about insurance alternatives. With the help of this bill and careful planning, families can effectively address this change in status.
*HB 123 Health Insurance - Prompt Payment of Claims closes a loophole whereby insurance carriers were delaying payment to providers of health services. This bill requires strict adherence to Maryland's prompt payment law.
*HB 429 State Government - Administrative Procedure Act - Proposed Regulations provides for critical reforms to the state regulatory process. State regulations, although hidden from public view, have the force of law and impact virtually every aspect of life in Maryland. This bill opens the door for public notice and involvement so that the average citizen's voice can be heard. This is essential to the democratic process. Over the long hall, this bill is one of the most important bills passed this year.
*HB 556 & *HB 557 Advanced Directives: These bills address the very sensitive and important issue of care at the end of life. The bills help people to clearly define their personal choices.
*HB 558 State Board of Dental Examiners - Regulation of Sedation - Issuance of Permits provides critical safeguards for patients receiving sedation in dentists offices.
HB 680 Department of Health and Mental Hygiene - Sale or Transfer of Facilities would put strict regulations on future development at the Rosewood property should the facility be closed, preserving open space in our District and reducing development and sprawl. This bill does not address whether the facility should remain open or closed; it deals with the important issue of land use should the facility close. This bill also protects the land that has been set aside for use as a middle school. This parcel has been placed in reserve and funding for the school will be a referendum question on the 2006 ballot.
*HB 702 Procurement - Request for Proposals or Invitation for Bids - Notice completely reforms the State's archaic and confusing system of advertising for contracts by removing barriers that prevented businesses of all sizes from competing for the State's contracts. This restructuring will help local businesses grow while saving the State substantial money in its $7 billion procurement process, and thus this bill represents a major modernization in how the State transacts its affairs. The long term impact of this will be considerable. For example, if we gain even a modest 1% increase in efficiency, that will save us $70 million.
HB 708 Proposed Capital Projects - Planning - High Performance Buildings this legislation would encourage the design and development of new capital projects using the most current high performance technology. These "green buildings" have been proven to lower energy consumption and to increase worker/student productivity, thus saving money. The bill passed the House overwhelmingly but died in the Senate. I will continue to work for intelligent use of capital resources in planning and design.
*HB 718 Procurement - Reciprocal Preference for Resident Offerors levels the playing field for Maryland businesses competing with out-of-state companies seeking to do business in Maryland.
*HB 721 Procurement - Minority Business Enterprises - Directory facilitates minority businesses growth by creating a yellow-pages-like user-friendly directory. This bill was strongly supported by Minority Business Enterprises (MBE's) and by the entire business community. MBE's include businesses owned by women, African-Americans, the disabled, Asian-Americans, Native-Americans, and the chronically economically disadvantaged. This bill promotes economic activity across-the-board and will save money by increasing competition for contracts.
HB 725 Maryland Development Authority - Management and Procurement Policies and Procedures would provide much needed reform of the Maryland Stadium Authority. This agency received a scathing audit report describing a variety of wasteful practices. By reforming this agency's activities, substantial money will be saved. The bill passed the House. The Senate did not act on the bill, choosing to send a letter asking the Stadium Authority to comply with the law. At the very least, both the House and Senate will be watching the actions of the Authority very closely.
*HB 767 Procurement - Board of Contract Appeals - Jurisdiction over State ClaimsÊspeeds resolution of conflicts before the Maryland State Board of Contract Appeals, saving time and money for all involved.
HB 1446 Health Insurance - Health Care Provider Credentialing Process, while not passing, did create a mechanism expedites credentialing of health care providers by insurance carriers. This will help providers to continue to be able to deliver care to our citizens.
I was disappointed that medical malpractice reform did not progress. This is a critical issue that must be addressed. Failure to do so will result in a breakdown in care delivery. As a practicing emergency medicine physician on the front lines of health care, I know how important this is. I will continue to work with all stakeholders to achieve tort reform and improve safety for patients.
I am enclosing a copy of a letter (see below) that was sent out prior to the end of session which details my perspective on the most effective way to deal with the State's fiscal challenges. Regardless of whether tax increases or slots are part of any future budget package, the fundamentals outlined in my letter remain unchanged.
Although the make up of the Legislature and Executive Branch have undergone changes, please know that I have made it a point to work collegially with fellow legislators and the administration. In fact, if you look at the "sponsor line" of my bills, you will see support from both Democrats and Republicans. As always, I have enjoyed a close relationship with my District 11 colleagues, Senator Hollinger and Delegates Cardin and Zirkin, and I rely on them for support and advice. I'd also like to thank my excellent staff, Sharon Heneson Bloom and Penny McDougal, who always do a great job.
I am as honored to be representing you today as I was 10 years ago when I was first elected to the House of Delegates. I appreciate your continued faith and trust in me. Please let me hear from you. I really depend on your input for ideas, perspectives, and guidance.
Dan K. Morhaim, M.D.
Knowing of your interest in the activities of the Legislature, I wanted to share the following with you.
I appreciate you taking the time to contact me regarding issues being addressed by the Maryland General Assembly this session. One of most pressing of these issues is the fiscal situation.
Overall, the challenge we face is one of balancing between infinite demands and finite resources. Government cannot solve all problems for all people; but, it does have a responsibility to provide basic services in education, public safety, transportation, health care, and environmental protection.
In constructing a balanced budget, there are two sides to the ledger: income and expenses. Public attention in the current debate is focused almost entirely on the income side: slots, new and/or higher fees, increased taxes. By any name, these are all things that increase revenue. While tax increases should be avoided wherever possible, most of us recognize fair taxation as a responsibility of citizens in a free society. And among the fifty states, Maryland ranks 28th in overall tax burden while maintaining a Triple A bond rating from Wall Street.
Before addressing the various revenue enhancement proposals before the General Assembly, I'd like to draw your attention to an area in this debate that is all too often overlooked -increased efficiency in government operations, i.e., lowering our operating expenses. The State's budget is $24 billion, and $7 billion of this goes to procurement; that is, the purchasing by the state of everything from paper clips to computers to desks to construction services to real estate. As chair of the House Government Operations Subcommittee, I'm pleased to report that over the past two years, we've passed a number of bills that make the procurement process more open, honest, competitive, and cost effective. Even a small percentage in savings in the procurement arena means big savings in actual dollars, e.g., a 1% savings will amount to $70 million off the bottom line. I believe we can readily save 5-10% in this area without in any way compromising service to citizens, and in some cases, we can even enhance it. While this will not be an easy or short process, the first key steps have been taken. You can read about my efforts in this regard atwww.drdanmorhaim.com, www.communitytimes.com, or www.baltimoresun.com and type "Morhaim" into the search box. If you don't have computer access and would like to see these articles, contact my office.
Regarding specific bills:
I voted for the Governor's HB 297. This bill closes loopholes that out-of-state corporations have used to evade in-state taxes.
I voted against the Governor's HB1467. This package raises $650 million from Marylanders by increasing a variety of taxes and fees related to motor vehicles including a $46 per car registration tax. The car tax hits everyone who drives equally, whether they drive a little or a lot. I also did not support the Governor's HB 869 which would have raised various fees/taxes including, for example, one on teacher certification (raising their fee from $10 to $75) and one on nursing homes. These fees would target those who educate our children and vulnerable elderly.
I voted for the Governor's HB555, better known as the "flush tax." This bill increases charges for septic systems and sewers, with the funds going to clean up our waste water system. I believe this worthwhile cause justifies the expense. We are all responsible to insure clean water.
Last, after careful consideration, I voted for the House revenue plan, SB508. While I did not like every aspect of this approach, I concluded that, on balance, it was the most reasonable way to closing the budget shortfall. The 1 cent increase in sales tax is earmarked to education via the Thornton Education Trust Fund, something the vast majority of District 11 constituents support. Please note that 25% of the state's sales tax revenue is paid by non-Marylanders, people who make purchases while visiting or traveling through the state. Conversely, the bill significantly cuts the state's property tax rate by 63%, a fee paid only by Marylanders, and the bill increases the Earned Income Tax credit, something that helps middle and lower-middle income citizens. The bill increases the vehicle titling tax from 5% to 6%, but I did vote for an amendment that would exempt this for trade-in value.
Regarding slots, I am awaiting the final version of a slots bill before making my decision.
Experts and economists on both sides of the issue have presented compelling arguments as to why slots are good or bad for the state. I have reviewed all the information and am listening closely to all sides. The devil is clearly in the details regarding ownership, operation, location, infrastructure cost, social consequences, cost-benefit analysis, and revenue distribution.
These are times of tremendous fiscal challenge. I strive to listen to all constituents and do what I think is best for District 11 and the entire state. Again, my focus is on improving government efficiency in procurement. There is more money to be saved here than is the subject of tax/fee/spending debates combined. Many constituents have offered valuable ideas on saving money, and these have been incorporated into bills and policy. If you have any ideas about this, I invite you to share them with me.
Please continue to stay in touch.
Dan K. Morhaim, M.D.
Delegate, District 11