O'Malley Introduces 2007 Legislative Agenda - Southern Maryland Headline News

O'Malley Introduces 2007 Legislative Agenda

Education, Healthcare, Environment, StateStat Top O'Malley's Agenda; Emergency Legislation to Prohibit Ground Rents; Oyster Restoration and Clean Car Bills to Improve Environment

ANNAPOLIS - Just days after introducing his FY 2008 budget that restrains spending and calls for a total budget of increase of only 2.5% over last year's budget - while funding priorities like academic achievement and school construction, as well as land preservation - Governor Martin O'Malley today unveiled his 2007 legislative agenda. The legislative agenda provides increased support for education in Maryland, increased access to affordable, quality healthcare, increased planning for economic development and growth, new programs to improve the health of the environment and the Chesapeake Bay, and legislation to establish StateStat to make state government more accountable and more efficient.

"Along with the priorities laid out in the FY 2008 budget, our legislative agenda is focused on improving our quality of life in Maryland - improving education and healthcare in our State, improving the health of our environment and the Bay, and making government work again for the people of our State," said Governor Martin O'Malley. "We look forward to working with the General Assembly over these next few months to move Maryland forward for the families of our State."

The O'Malley-Brown Administration introduced 13 bills today that would specifically:

* Phase in the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) between FY 2009-11;

* Establish a tuition freeze in the 2007-08 academic year;

* Expand healthcare coverage for children and dependents under 25 on parents' healthcare polices;

* Establish a BRAC sub-cabinet;

* Create a Life Science Advisory Board;

* Prohibit the creation of new residential ground rents;

* Establish a Universal Vaccine Purchasing Task Force;

* Establish a task force on Physician Reimbursements;

* Create StateStat to measure performance and make state government more accountable and efficient;

* Establish funds to assist in reimbursing nursing homes for their services;

* Invest in Oyster Restoration Program, increase penalties for oyster poaching and allow for the lease of Bay bed for oyster restoration purposes;

* Join 11 other States in adopting stricter emission pollution standards for automobiles;

* Increase Negotiating Authority for state workers

Providing Historic Support for Education in Maryland

The O'Malley-Brown Administration understands and values the need for access to affordable, quality education. In addition to the historic $400 million commitment to school construction in the capital budget, and a record $680 million level of funding in the operating budget, the Administration is introducing two bills today that will affirm the State's, and the Administration's, commitment to fully fund the Thornton formula, and provide affordable higher education for working families.

Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI):

The Thornton Commission recommended that a Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) be used to adjust State education aid to reflect regional differences in the cost of providing educational services that are outside the control of local jurisdictions. The GCEI is an integral part of full funding under the Thornton Plan. Recognizing this, the General Assembly codified the GCEI during the 2004 Session but it has never been funded.

Governor O'Malley's bill will fulfill his commitment to fully fund GCEI by the end of this four-year term. The bill will make clear that GCEI is a mandatory component of the Thornton K-12 education formula, and fully fund the formula by FY 2011. The Governor's bill is patterned after legislation, sponsored by Senate Budget & Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie, that passed the Senate last year and would have fully phased-in GCEI by FY 2013. The bill also requires that the State Department of Education update the factors used to calculate the GCEI beginning September 1, 2009 and every three years thereafter.

The 13 jurisdictions with education costs above the statewide average under the GCEI are Prince George's County, Baltimore City, Montgomery, Frederick, Calvert, Charles, Anne Arundel, Howard, Carroll, Queen Anne's, Kent, Baltimore, and St. Mary's counties. The GCEI includes a hold-harmless provision so that so no local school systems will see any reduction in education funding under the Index.

Tuition Freeze

Governor O'Malley has provided a level of support for public higher education institutions in Maryland that he believes is sufficient to enable those institutions to hold the line on tuition increases for the 2007-08 academic year. Legislation, modeled after legislation sponsored last year by Senator P.J. Hogan, will be introduced to formalize the tuition freeze. Governor O'Malley's budget action, and this legislation, will provide much needed relief to working Maryland families while he works with the General Assembly and the higher education community to find long-term solutions to the issue of higher education funding. To that end, Lieutenant Governor Anthony G. Brown will be serving on the Commission to Develop the Maryland Model for Funding Higher Education, Chaired by Senator Hogan, which will hold its first meeting today.

Access to Quality, Affordable Health Care

The O'Malley-Brown Administration is introducing four bills to improve access, ensure quality, and more easily provide affordable health care options. The O'Malley-Brown Administration has pledged to work with the General Assembly to continue to make progress in these areas.

Maryland Health Care Access Act of 2007

The O'Malley-Brown Administration has been actively working with House Health and Government Operations Committee Chairman Peter A. Hammen and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Thomas M. "Mac" Middleton on a package of health care reform measures. The Administration will introduce today legislation that contains many provisions of legislation the respective Chairmen will introduce later in this Session. Among the provisions in the Administration bill:

* Expanding the Maryland Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to cover children in families that earn up to 400% of federal poverty guidelines;

* Requiring insurance companies to allow parents to cover dependent children up to the age of 25 on the parents' policy;

* Creating a Maryland Health Insurance Exchange to enable small business owners to provide to their employees, on a pre-tax basis, access to a broad range of affordable policies;

* Creating an Institute for Health Care Quality to promote quality health care in the State;

* Encouraging the use of wellness programs, to improve preventive care in the State; and

* Creating a Task Force on Expanding Access to Affordable Health Care to examining issues such as the expansion of Medicaid to cover adults, providing incentives to small businesses to provide coverage, incentives for individuals to secure coverage, developing a cost-effect reinsurance fund, and other important initiatives.

The O'Malley-Brown administration understands that the issue of expanding health care coverage is a complex, intertwined, and costly problem. We have pledged to work closely with legislative leaders to find long-term solutions, and have asked Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene John Colmers to make this issue a top priority as he begins his duties.

Universal Vaccine Purchasing System

Access to necessary vaccines is an important public health challenge. As modern medicine makes available a growing number of immunizations that can prevent disease, we need an effective, reliable system to vaccinate the most possible people at the lowest possible cost. Maryland's pediatricians, health care providers, and local health departments are very supportive of expanding access to immunizations. Unfortunately, however, all too often the financial risk of providing access to the immunizations falls on the backs of these providers. This can lead to an under-purchasing (and resultant under-utilization) of certain immunizations, or an over-purchasing by a provider, who loses money on the unused product.

The O'Malley-Brown Administration is introducing legislation requiring the existing Statewide Advisory Commission on Immunization to make recommendations on the viability of establishing a Universal Vaccine Purchasing System, or similar system, to address this issue. This approach has been used in at least 8 other States, and may be an effective tool for Maryland.

Task Force on Health Care Access and Reimbursement

Maryland has one of the highest-quality, effective health care delivery systems in the nation. However, the quality and effectiveness of the system is challenged when physicians and other providers are unable to receive adequate compensation for the services they provide.

For several years, legislation has been introduced to impact the negotiating positions of the providers and the health insurance carriers. Some changes have been made, but there has not been a comprehensive effort to study the problem and build consensus on the issue. The O'Malley-Brown Administration is forming a Task Force on Health Care Access and Reimbursement to provide a forum for this discussion. In addition, Governor O'Malley provided over $100 million in the FY 2008 budget to strengthen Maryland's healthcare provider systems, including increasing payments to physicians participating in the State's Medicaid Program.

Nursing Home Provider Quality Assessment

Maryland has a quality nursing home system that does a fine job of assisting our aging population. Unfortunately, during difficult fiscal times, the Medicaid dollars that we use to compensate nursing homes for their care are cut. The O'Malley-Brown Administration, in response to pleas from the nursing home community, will introduce legislation to generate funds to assist in reimbursing nursing homes for their services. Similar legislation has been introduced in the past by many legislators, most recently by Delegate Keith Haynes.

The legislation will impose a Quality Assessment not greater than 2% on nursing home providers - not patients - that have more than 45 beds. The assessment will not be placed on continuing care retirement communities, transitional care units, and nursing homes smaller than 45 beds. Funds generated by the assessment will be used to leverage additional federal funds to improve reimbursements for Medicaid provider nursing homes. Approximately 32 other States have similar programs.

Promoting Jobs and Economic Growth

The O'Malley-Brown Administration strongly believes that any responsible, well-run organization begins by focusing on its strengths and maximizing the benefits of the natural advantages it has. Their vision for Maryland is no different. Maryland needs to take advantage of the "unfair advantages" we have - a highly educated workforce, the presence of numerous federal labs, public and private universities with pre-eminent national programs in the sciences, homeland security, and linguistics, and a good business environment. In order to build on the opportunities we have, the Administration will be introducing two bills.

Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Subcabinet

Maryland is one of a handful of states that will gain high paying jobs and population from the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendations. The BRAC recommendations will result in significant growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Ft. George G. Meade, Andrews Air Force Base and the Bethesda Naval Hospital, over the next six years. These projected gains present many economic opportunities as well as wide-ranging challenges for Maryland. Making the promise of BRAC a reality will require an unprecedented effort by the State to address the transportation, workforce, education and workforce housing needs of communities surrounding our military installations.

Governor O'Malley's legislation will establish a BRAC Subcabinet to coordinate and marshal the planning and financial resources of State government to support the missions of military installations in the State. The Lieutenant Governor will chair the Subcabinet, which will include the secretaries of Business and Economic Development, Environment, Higher Education, Housing and Community Development, Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, Planning, Transportation, and Budget and Management. The Department of Business and Economic Development will provide staff support for the Subcabinet.

The BRAC Subcabinet will:

* Coordinate and oversee the development of BRAC-related initiatives in the areas of workforce readiness, education, business development, community infrastructure and growth, environmental stewardship, workforce housing, and transportation;

* Collaborate with and review the recommendations of the Maryland Military Installation Council established in the Department of Business and Economic Development;

* Work with local jurisdictions affected by the BRAC recommendations to achieve the requisite levels of planning, coordination, and cooperation among the State and local governments;

* Work with Maryland's congressional delegation to attain federal funds to support the missions of military installations in the State;

* Make policy and budget recommendations to the Governor and General Assembly to strengthen State support of our military installations; and

* Report annually to the Governor and General Assembly on State efforts to support the missions of military installations.

Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board

Maryland has been a world leader in the life sciences industry and the development of revolutionary approaches to fighting and preventing illness and disease. It has a collection of world-class bioscience assets, including the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, and over 350 bioscience companies. Combined, these assets account for up to $9 billion annually to the State, employing more than 57,000 our citizens. Growing Maryland's vibrant life sciences industry is critical to the State's economic future.

Governor O'Malley's legislation will create a Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board in the Department of Business and Economic Development. The Board will develop a comprehensive plan to encourage life sciences companies along with Maryland's federal and university-based life sciences institutions to invest and grow in Maryland. The 15-member Board will include representatives of federal agencies based in the State, leaders of Maryland's research universities, and executives of Maryland's leading bioscience businesses.

Among its duties, the Maryland Life Sciences Advisory Board will assist the Department to: develop a comprehensive State strategic plan for life sciences; promote life sciences research, development, commercialization, and manufacturing in the State; develop a strategy to coordinate State and federal resources to attract private sector investment and job creation in the life sciences; support the missions of federal life sciences facilities located in Maryland; and make recommendations to the Governor to address critical needs in the life sciences, including access to venture capital and capital construction funding.

Governor O'Malley's FY 2008 budget makes strategic investments to continue Maryland's economic growth - and expand opportunity for our neighbors in every jurisdiction, including $70 million for business development programs (including $20 million to support small or minority business entrepreneurs), $2 million for the Sunny Day Fund to capitalize on extraordinary economic development opportunities for Maryland, $5 million for technology transfer/development and for incubator programs and $5 million in capital funding for the East Baltimore Biotechnology Park. The FY 2008 budget allocates $25 million for stem cell research.

A Healthier Environment; A Healthier Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay is Maryland's most precious resource. Yet despite past efforts, much remains to be done to protect our Bay. The O'Malley-Brown Administration is introducing two measures to improve air and water quality.

Restoring the Native Oyster Population

Governor O'Malley and Lt. Governor Brown will be joining an effort, led by Speaker Michael E. Busch, Delegate Maggie McIntosh and Senator Brian Frosh, to restore the native oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay. The first step is legislation to allow the Department of Natural Resources to lease parcels of land on the floor of the Bay for oyster restoration projects, enhance penalties for oyster poaching, and create a Task Force on Oyster Restoration to recommend further methods of protecting and enhancing the native oyster population.

Restoring the native oyster population is a long-term project that will require the State to develop increased capacity to produce oyster spat, create natural and artificial oyster bars, and otherwise protect this population. The legislation being introduced today is an important first step.

Clean Cars

Pollution finds its way into the Bay in numerous ways - from the land, from storm runoff, from human activity, and from the air. Governor O'Malley will introduce legislation, similar to legislation introduced recently by Senator Brian Frosh and Delegate Liz Bobo, to join 11 other States in adopting stricter emission pollution standards. The population of the 11 States exceeds one-third of the total population of the United States.

Making Government Work - StateStat

While Mayor of Baltimore City, Governor O'Malley instituted a government accountability system - CitiStat - that has revolutionized the way local governments across the country manage government operations. The Administration will introduce legislation to institute StateStat, an intensive, performance-driven, and continuous management tool to supplement the State's current Managing For Results program.

Beginning immediately, the O'Malley-Brown Administration will be implementing this performance measurement system to improve the management of State agencies and the performance of State government functions.
Protecting Middle-class families - Ground Rent Reform

For years, then-Baltimore Mayor O'Malley fought to reform the ground rent system, which has slowed efforts to revitalize communities and has cost hard-working Marylanders their homes. Some progress has been made, but much remains to be done. The O'Malley-Brown Administration has been working with legislators - including Senators Frosh, McFadden, Gladden, Della and Kelley, and Delegates McIntosh, Rosenberg, Malone and Niemann - to develop meaningful reform in this area.

Today, the Administration will introduce emergency legislation to prohibit the creation of ground rents on certain residential properties.

This legislation is an immediate step that can be, and must be, undertaken to begin to reform the process. Over the next few weeks, we will be working with members of the General Assembly to continue to reform this antiquated process. We anticipate efforts to improve notice to homeowners, encourage the redemption of existing ground rents, and reform the unfair ejectment process that currently exists.

Collective Bargaining Negotiations - Service Fees

In 1999, the General Assembly codified the State's collective bargaining process, which granted bargaining rights to employees in the principal departments of the executive branch of State government. The 1999 legislation was amended to prohibit collective bargaining to include negotiations relating to the right of an employee organization to receive service fees from nonmembers. A service fee is a non-member's financial contribution to an employee organization to pay for negotiating contracts, representing employees in grievances, and other organization activities that benefit the non-member.

The Governor's legislation would make it permissible for State collective bargaining negotiations to include the right of an employee organization to receive service fees.

Source: Governor O'Malley's Office

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