Lower Shore Senator Offers Legislative Review

(Editor’s Note: The following review of the Maryland legislative session was submitted by District 38 Senator Mary Beth Carozza, who represents Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset counties. After a term in the House of Delegates, Carozza was elected to the Senate last November.)

BERLIN — The 439th Session of the Maryland General Assembly and my first session as a Maryland State Senator concluded on Tuesday, April 9 at 12 a.m. and adjourned until January 2020. The 90-day session presented a new landscape in Annapolis with new state senators, delegates, leadership members and committee chairs, the passing of Speaker Michael Busch, the health challenges of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and the second term of Gov. Larry Hogan.

The 2018 Election statewide had consequences. For members of the Eastern Shore Delegation, it has meant stepping up to meet the significant challenge of educating more of our urban, liberal-leaning colleagues on the impact of proposed legislation on our Shore Way of Life and beginning to build effective coalitions as new legislation and policies are proposed.

Given the impact of proposed legislation, the Senate Republican Caucus worked to try and minimize the negative consequences on our core constituencies.  With the minimum wage deliberations, we all fought hard to keep the tip wage and to have a longer phase in period for small businesses with less than 15 employees.  I also introduced an amendment that would have created a regional tier system for the implementation of the minimum wage increase.  My amendment had some bipartisan support but not enough to pass it. I voted against the minimum wage increase and voted to sustain Governor Hogan’s veto. To address the many legislative and regulatory challenges currently facing our small businesses, I have begun to work with a bipartisan Senate small business workgroup focused on providing relief for Maryland’s job creators.

Throughout the Session, I returned over and over again to a point I made in the Lincoln Day presentation I was honored to give on the Senate Floor. Looking at the leadership lessons we learn from President Lincoln during the Civil War, I pointed out his approach of always leaving something on the table for the other side, even when you could have taken it all. I reminded my colleagues that having the votes should not mean shutting down the other side. It can and should mean accomplishing goals to include and not harm key stakeholders like small businesses, watermen, and farmers. We have to live and work together.

For District 38, it has meant my using this first year to work with local elected officials and leaders on strategies to advance priorities through legislation, regulatory relief, and partnerships with the Hogan Administration to meet our shared goals.

Taking into account the new makeup and challenges of the 2019 Maryland General Assembly, I especially appreciate our shared accomplishments, including passage of Governor Hogan’s fiscally-sound budget with no new taxes and a record $7 billion for education, the Ocean City Convention Center expansion bill (which did not advance last session), $500,000 for the Somerset County Visitor Center and $931,000 for the entrepreneurship and economic development center in Salisbury.

We also were successful in defeating legislation that would have legalized physician-assisted suicide in Maryland. The legislation proposed was flawed on so many levels with no safeguards for individuals with disabilities, no family notification required, no identification required for pickup, and no way to prevent insurance fraud. Furthermore, every state that has legalized physician-assisted suicide has seen their general suicide rates dramatically increase. This legislation failed by a vote of 23-23, and I voted against this bill. One vote can make a difference.

My proposed legislation to expand the penalties in the special events zones and to extend the seasonal exemption from 106 to 120 days met resistance from committee chairs who were not inclined to make any revisions to the laws which have been in effect for only a year. However, the door has been left open to reintroduce these measures next session.

As a member of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, I was able to use my position to try to reduce the harmful effects of legislation impacting our Shore community.  Working with pro-agriculture advocates, we were successful in adding amendments that reduced the burdens and costs of the revised nutrient management program bill. In addition, legislation that would have created a new and expensive air quality monitoring system near poultry farms did not go forward this session after we underscored that a voluntary air quality monitoring project had already been established between the Delmarva Poultry Industry and the Maryland Department of the Environment. A bipartisan coalition in my committee is becoming visible, where rural interests are transcending partisan politics.

My committee work included the successful passage of legislation that provided regulatory relief to our craft beer manufacturers. I also supported legislation that increased the reimbursement rates for our community pharmacists, and provided prescription drug out-of-pocket reimbursements for state retirees.

I was pleased that two of the major public safety bills that I cosponsored, Laura and Reid’s Law and the Threat of Mass Violence penalties bill (SB 139), passed both chambers. Laura and Reid’s Law creates a more stringent penalty of up to 10 years for a person who commits a crime of violence against a woman when the perpetrator knows that the woman is pregnant. Legislation increasing the penalties for threats of mass violence originally was brought forward by local officials last year, and we were successful in passing SB 139 this session.

Finally, bill to increase the penalty for criminally-negligent driving causing life-threatening injuries (Wade’s Law) passed the Senate for the first time but did not clear the House this session. We will reintroduce Wade’s Law next session.

Reflecting on my first session in the State Senate, I am grateful for the opportunity to have served my constituents in all three counties and to have been a strong voice in protecting our shore way of life. I am confident that a foundation for more and stronger bipartisan approaches has been laid in the Senate as I look ahead to continue to work with and for my constituents on our Shore priorities.