Eastern Shore lawmakers reflect on 445th Maryland General Assembly session


MARYLAND – Monday marks the end of the 445th Maryland General Assembly session. Eastern Shore lawmakers say it’s been a successful 90 days, in terms of advocating for their priorities.

“It’s a numbers game. It’s just simple math up here in Ananpolis,” said Delegate Wayne Hartman. “We definitely work hard for the wins we do get. And, we also work hard to make bad things better.”

Trauma Center Funding

One of the bills that lawmakers are marking as a win, is the passage of Senate Bill 493.

“We’re going to be looking at trauma funding across the state, and help change that formula so that TidalHealth can get proper funding to continue their trauma care,” said Del. Hartman.

The impetus for the bill came from conversations with TidalHealth officials in 2022, say lawmakers.

“We were briefed earlier in the Fall, as a delegation, about TidalHealth’s trauma center being woefully underfunded,” said Senator Mary Beth Carozza. “TidalHealth’s trauma center is the Eastern Shore’s only trauma center. It serves over 500,000 locally, and 8 million people and visitors a year.”

TidalHealth worked with a state commission to express its needs, while lawmakers advocated for additional funding in Maryland’s operating budget to cover trauma centers. In the end, $9.2 million was set aside for all Maryland trauma centers where TidalHealth will receive a small portion.

“It wasn’t just local. Of course, it’s important to us locally. But, we are serving the entire state, and we made that case effectively,” said Sen. Carozza.

“I want to be thinking about ways that we can continue to improve the quality of health care on the Eastern Shore,” added Delegate Tom Hutchinson. “I’ll be working with [the Health and Government Operations Committee], and committee chair, on those issues in the interim.”

Eastern Shore Wins

Eastern Shore lawmakers are also celebrating local funding requests granted this session.

Del. Hartman cites $75,000 for Diakonia, and additional funding for Ocean Pines Volunteer Fire Department. “The budget became more and more challenging as the state was writing down their revenue expectations. We knew it was going to be harder to get money for the district,” he said.

And, Delegate Charles Otto says the passage of House Bill 1087 could help hunters keep food on the table. “Sunday hunting is one that, I think, has passed a hurdle to be able to control the deer population, and offer opportunities for my turkey hunters to have the spring season,” he said.

Speaker Pro Tempore Sheree Sample-Hughes says another local success is House Bill 678. The legislation would exempt electricity used for agricultural purposes from sales and use tax.

“I want to ensure that we’re doing it in a fair way to make sure that they’re not paying sales and taxes on electricity as it has been done in other areas of the state,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes.

Watching Maryland’s Wallet

However, some money matters have some lawmakers aiming for next session, or worried all together.

One is how the Fair Wage Act of 2023 will change Marylanders’ paychecks. Under the bill, Marylanders would make a minimum of $15 an hour by 2025; a number that lawmakers warn could grow as the years go on.

“We got rid of the CPI, or automatic indexing, for all future wage increases, making sure that the legislature – if we’re going to raise minimum wage – puts a vote to it,” added Delegate Chris Adams. “This year, next year, five years from now.”

Del. Hartman also has concerns about Governor Wes Moore’s adoption of California’s clean car standards, and how it will impact budgets and wallets; 43% of cars sold would have to be zero-emission by 2027, and all passenger vehicles sold would have to be zero-emission by 2035.

The delegate suggests a study of the electrical grid, how the change will impact operating costs, and how many people can actually afford an electric vehicle.

“When I’m representing an area like Ocean City, thinking about 300,000 in a ten mile stretch, that requires a lot of infrastructure if we’re going to have that percentage of electric vehicles in our town,” said Del. Hartman.

New Education Requirements

As this year’s legislative session ends, lawmakers are continuing the first stages of tackling Maryland’s education overhaul. The changes were studied for years under the Kirwan Commission.

In 2021, the Maryland General Assembly passed the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The goal of the legislation: increase education funding by $3.8 billion each year for the next ten years, improve students’ and educators experiences in the classroom, and reach communities that have been historically left behind in the education field.

However, with the sweeping changes, come worries from lawmakers from more rural parts of the state. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in whatever normalcy already existed inside Maryland’s schools, and a teacher shortage is impacting districts nationwide.

“Kirwan’s not addressing some of the problems, as far as behavior issues in schools,” said Del. Hartman. “And now, we have some jurisdictions coming out and saying the cost of Kirwan is a ‘gut punch.’”

Senator Johnny Mautz says each of Maryland’s schools has their own unique sets of challenges. And, those on the Eastern Shore, are not excluded.

“We’re dealing with the reality right now of the cost, of the challenges, and whether or not some of the mandates can even be executed. In the past, it was either you’re for it or against it. Now, that discussion is different,” said Sen. Mautz.

In a Bigger Sense

On a larger scale, lawmakers say this session was unique, as they tackled issues both large and small.

“This session, to me, was one that was a lot deeper than past sessions, where there was a lot of partisan back and forth. We actually got into some ideological differences,” said Sen. Mautz. “I think, all in all, the discussion has been good. But, what we produce in this session, we’ll know at midnight tonight.”

Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes says the work done under a new administration indicates a bright path ahead for Marylanders.

“Every [lawmaker] is mindful and respectful of their jurisdictions. Working with the new administration has been very uplifting and open conversation on policy areas that are germane to specifically my area of the Eastern Shore,” said Speaker Pro Tem Sample-Hughes. “This is one year of four [for Governor Moore]. We have three more years to continue to move the needle on issues that are priorities, and making sure our citizens are in a better posture than they were before.”

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