For Immediate Release
April 13, 2010
Annapolis, MD – As the 427th Legislative Session closed at midnight on April 12, 2010, the General Assembly passed sweeping new legislation introduced by Senator Jamie Raskin (D-20 Silver Spring, Takoma Park), to green the state’s purchases, expand teacher’s rights to negotiate and help Marylanders undergoing bankruptcy. This session was Senator Raskin’s fourth session since being elected in 2006 completing his first term in office.
Among the bills passed by Senator Raskin were:
Green Maryland Act: SB 693, backed by the Governor’s office, requires all state agencies and departments to establish internal recycling and composting plans, phase in usage of 90% recycled paper, creates green contracting and procurement rules, and establishes in the Governor's office a Green Purchasing Committee for the State.
Benefit Corporations: SB 680 recognizes a “benefit corporation” as a new corporate entity. The new law will allow a company to officially incorporate a social mission into its charter via a shareholder vote and will send a signal out to customers and investors alike that the company has a greater purpose than profits alone. The bill also offers legal protection to benefit corporation directors who make reasonable business judgments incorporating social and environmental values.
HOV Lane Exemption for Plug-In Vehicles: SB 602 authorizes plug-in vehicles to use HOV lanes regardless of passenger count. Championed also by the Governor, this legislation is considered an important step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum use, lowering fuel costs, upgrading air quality and increasing the State’s energy independence.
Fairness in Negotiations Act: SB 590 reforms the collective bargaining process governing disputes between teachers and other public school employees and local school boards. This bill creates a Public Education Labor Relations Board to address problems with the structural imbalance and inequity in the current system, which is weighted in favor of management. The new board is modeled after the Maryland Higher Education Labor Relations Board, a Board that Senator Raskin chaired which has shown how independent and neutral boards can effectively resolve conflict and improve workplace fairness and harmony. The bill will affect more than 100,000 teachers and school employees who have helped to make Maryland’s public schools #1 in the United States.
Affordable Housing Land Trusts: Maryland has a large number of foreclosed and empty houses but still lacks affordable housing opportunities for tens of thousands of families. SB 780 allows non-profit community developers and local governments to set up "affordable housing land trusts" that can develop affordable housing and then sell it to low or moderate-income purchasers at a below-market rate. Families that purchase homes from an affordable housing land trust will own their house for as long as they like, but when they decide to sell, their house must be sold at the same price for which they purchased it plus interest over the years – thereby assuring that these homes always remain within an affordable range.
Voter Pre-Registration: SB 292 lowers and standardizes the voter registration age to 16 so that all high school students will have the opportunity to register before they graduate from high school, advancing the goal of universal registration. Also included in this legislation is a modification to the date for changing party affiliation to be the same date as the last day to register to vote.
Bicycle Safety: SB 51 requires motorists to provide cyclists a 3-foot buffer when passing on a roadway. The General Assembly passed this important public safety measure on the heels of the tragic death last week of Larry Bensky, who died when a motorist crashed into his bicycle in Reisterstown, Maryland.
Child Abuse Disclosure: SB 948 requires the disclosure of all information relating to the case of a child who dies or almost dies as a result of abuse or neglect. Under current law, local departments of social services and the Maryland Department of Human Resources have discretion over what information, if any, they release to the public, and they are prohibited from disclosing information when there are not related criminal charges. The stronger disclosure requirements provided by SB 948 are designed to make apparent where inefficiencies or loopholes in laws and agency practices may have compromised child safety. Between 2005 and 2008, 113 children died in Maryland as a result of abuse or neglect.
Bankruptcy Homestead Exemption: SB 782 authorizes individuals who file for bankruptcy to exempt up to $21,265 of the equity of their home. The new state homestead exemption is tied to the federal homestead exemption, which includes a cost-of-living increase every 3 years. Under Maryland’s current statute, a debtor is not entitled to use federal bankruptcy exemptions and may exempt no more than $5,000 of their home aggregate with personal property. According to the Eastern Shore Bankruptcy Bar Association, under present law Marylanders are more likely to lose their home than they would be if they lived in any other state. SB 782 will bring Maryland in line with thirty-two states that already allow homestead exemptions of $20,200 or higher and five additional states that permit exemption of up to a specified number of acres.
None of the legislation passed by Senator Raskin has a significant impact on state expenditures.
During the interim, Senator Raskin plans to work on implementing the new policies associated with this new legislation and develop proposals for the 2011 session.