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April Fools: MD General Assembly Week 12 in Review

The 2016 Session of the Maryland General Assembly began with Spring Break then transitioned into March Madness. Now, week 12 brings us the April Fools.

There are only 10 days left until Sine Die, so there are only 10 days left for the legislature to pass bills. However, the looming veto fight will surely add more chaos and drama as the leaders in the House of Delegates and State Senate scramble to find the votes necessary to pass a measure that can accomplish nothing but to spite the Governor.

Without a media that properly covers what is taking place, it is easy for the leaders in Annapolis to pass a lot of bills that will cause great harm to Marylanders. Here are some of those bills moving through this week:

Less Transparency Than Exists

Earlier this week, HB 368 and SB 370 have officially passed both chambers of the General Assembly. As we previously explained, this bill will put into law a lesser form of what already takes place. This is a bill that does not address an actual issue.

However, no Republican opposed the bill in the Senate, and only three opposed it in the House. A bill that provides nothing passes through with very little question. The media doesn’t ask why the General Assembly passes meaningless bills or even why meaningless bills are even proposed. There is a reason: to make it appear that the legislature is doing “something.”

Merging Colleges to Fake Numbers

Another meaningless bill that passed, SB 1052, merges the University of Maryland, College Park with the University of Maryland, Baltimore. As we pointed out before, the only justification for this merger is to inflate enrollment statistics. It will not improve conditions at the school or the education students receive.

One of the “whereas” justifying statments in the bill says “All but one of the competitor state peers for the University of Maryland, College Park have a school of medicine, law, or both at the same institution and all of the ‘Big 10’ institutions have both a school of medicine and a law school.”

The solution, according to the legislature, is not to add a school of law or medicine but to add one on paper. The campuses are 40 minutes apart (not considering traffic conditions), and it would be highly unlikely for any student to be able to enroll in classes simultaneously at both locations. Like the previous bill, it serves no purpose except to pretend to fix a problem without any actual change.

Less Democracy in School Board

Claiming that Republican elected officials are unwilling to serve the will of the people in choosing a school board for Anne Arundel County, the Assembly passed HB 172, which will make the process even less democratic.

Currently, the Governor would appoint 5 members of the nominating commission for the school board and the county executive would appoint 1. Together, they accounts for 6 of the current 11, or a majority. The other 5 represent unions, the local Chamber of Commerce, and the community college.

Under the new system, the nominating commission would expand to 13 members, with the NAACP and CASA De Maryland each having 1 representative, 2 from the PTA, 2 representing unions, and 2 from the Chamber of Commerce. Only 3 will be appointed by an elected official.

To make the system more “fair,” the legislature removed the voice of the people and those who can be held accountable. Instead, the power to nominate is given to those who are politically motivated with no accountability. The vote on this bill fell along partisan lines.

Profiting Off of Retirees

A bill that passed out of the Senate but is waiting to move through the House will force Marylanders who lack a retirement plan to automatically enroll in a new state plan unless they opt out. SB 1007 has changed slightly from when we first mentioned this bad proposal: the state will only collect .5% from retirement funds as an “administrative fee” instead of the original 1%.

.5% is still a significant amount of money, and there is no legal guarantee that retirees will even receive their original contribution back let alone any interest or growth in their investment. Many will be enrolled simply because they couldn’t figure how to opt-out, thus giving the state their money without wanting to do so.

There is little justification for this bill except to take more money from taxpayers without any expectation for a return. If the bill sponsors honestly want to provide for the retirement of Marylanders, then a provision must be included that guarantees the return of at least the original contribution. There is currently no such guarantee, and there will most likely not be such guarantee because it is highly probable that these funds will lose money, not gain. Regardless of these fundamental flaws, the bill unanimously passed in the Senate.

Conclusions

There are many bad pieces of legislation this session, but not all are obvious at first glance. If a bill does nothing, then there is no reason for it to pass. If a bill does exactly the opposite of what the sponsors claim the bill will do, then the media is obligated to point this out.

This is especially true of HB 1013, the bill that would alter how transportation funds are prioritized in Maryland. If it will ultimately do nothing, why is it being passed? No one has been able to answer our concerns on this issue, yet the media continues to insist that everything is fine. Either the bill causes harm and should be squashed, or the bill does nothing and should not be passed.

Legislation needs to be justified before it turns into law. Otherwise, we are just adding meaningless words to an already massive Annotated Code of Maryland (our body of laws). It is the obligation of the legislators to serve the people, and it is required of the media to hold them accountable. Neither are doing their job.






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