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Senate Democrats offer 'progressive' agenda

The Democratic leadership of the Maryland Senate announced a wide-ranging session agenda Tuesday morning that includes formation of a Chesapeake Conservation Corps, an income tax checkoff to generate more funding for disabilities programs and greater sharing of information about sex offenders.

The nine bills, unveiled at a morning news conference, are all but guaranteed to pass the Senate this year. House sponsors of several of the measures appeared at the Senate event as well, suggesting bicameral support.

President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) called the nine-bill package "a progressive agenda ... to move Maryland forward." The event came a day after Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) released his legislative package for the session, which includes bills related to sex offenders, home foreclosures and job incentives.

Among the bills with House support is one that would create a volunteer service focused on restoring the Chesapeake Bay. Participants in the Conservation Corps would be eligible for student loan remission, academic credit and stipends, sponsors said.

Other bills in the package seek changes in health insurance rules, prevent employers from making most hiring decisions based on an applicant's credit report and insure that state retirees will not see their benefits cut in the coming year.

A complete list of the bills, as described by Senate staff, is below.

* The Chesapeake Conservation Corps (Senators Miller & Klausmeier). The bill would establish a public-private volunteer serviced-based program focused on environmental restoration, protection, energy conservation and education. The CCC would mobilize and recruit young adults to enroll in an intensive one-year volunteer commitment to train for green-collar jobs, to organize communities, schools and individuals around projects to promote energy conservation and Bay restoration. Participants would be eligible for student loan remission, higher education academic credit, and stipends.

* Credit Reports and History -- Limits on Use by Employers (Senators Lenett & Pugh). The bill would prohibit an employer from using the credit report of an employee or an applicant for employment in order to discharge, deny employment, or determine compensation, unless the employer is a financial institution or the employer is required to request the credit report pursuant to State or federal law. Under the bill, an employer could consider a credit report for an applicant who has received an offer if there is a bona fide work related purpose as defined by the Commissioner of Labor.

* Health Insurance Coverage for Child and Other Wellness Visits (Senator King). Insurance plans are currently permitted to deny coverage for a wellness visit if the visit does not occur exactly 365 days after the prior year's visit. The bill would prohibit denial of coverage for wellness visits provided the visit occurs within 45 days of the anniversary of the prior year's visit. The bill would not mandate additional coverage and would apply to covered benefits that have already been paid for in the premiums charged.

* Assignment of Benefits (Senators Garagiola & Kelley). The bill would allow individuals who seek out-of-network health care services the ability to assign, with certain protections, the benefit payment for the covered part of the service to an out-of-network health care provider.

* Local Government Ethics Compliance (Senators Raskin & Peters). State law currently permits counties and municipalities a great deal of flexibility in structuring their ethics and disclosure laws. The bill would reduce that flexibility by requiring local government to enact conflict-of-interest laws and financial statement requirements for local elected officials and local school board members who are at least equal to the level of regulation and disclosure for State officials. The bill would also require the same filing deadlines as the State and require local governments to certify compliance with these provisions within one year to the State Ethics Commission.

* Sex Offenders -- Registry Information Expansion and Interstate Data Sharing (Senator DeGrange). The bill would expand information contained on the Maryland Sex Offender Registry as to the offender (palm prints, travel documents, professional licensure information) and require links and information contained on other states' registries to connect to the Maryland site. Many of the bill's requirements would ensure compliance with the federal Adam Walsh Act, including quarterly registration instead of biannual registration for the most dangerous offenders, and retroactive application to instances before the current 1995 date.

* State Retirees -- Prevention of Benefit Decrease (Senator McFadden). The current recession has resulted in an unprecedented negative cost-of-living adjustment for retirees of the State Pension Systems, including retired employees, teachers, and State Police. Although never anticipated by the Retirement System, the average benefit would actually decrease by an average of $72 next year. The bill would cap the cost-of-living adjustment at zero.

* Developmental Disabilities Waiting List Check-Off (Senator Kramer). The bill would establish a voluntary income tax check off provision on all State individual income tax returns that would be dedicated to increasing the number of individuals receiving services through the Developmental Disabilities Administration Waiting List Equity Fund.

* African American Heritage Preservation Program (Senators Miller, McFadden & Currie). The bill would establish a 5-year grant program in the Capital Budget for the purpose of identifying and preserving buildings, communities, and sites of historical and cultural importance to the African American experience in Maryland. The program would be administered on a competitive basis by the Maryland Historic Trust in consultation with the Commission on African-American History and Culture.

By John Wagner  |  January 26, 2010; 12:46 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly , John Wagner  
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How many sex offenders have Miller and his law firm defended?

Posted by: Juliea2 | January 26, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

Once again, the Dems are missing the boat. These toughy/feely proposals are wonderful, except they don't address the states chronic structural budget deficits at all. We the people of Maryland deserve a lot better, until we get it, don't reelect any incumbents.

Posted by: VikingRider | January 26, 2010 7:48 PM | Report abuse

Thank you to Senator Kramer for introducing the Developmental Disabilities Waiting List Check Off option on income tax returns. This should be adopted quickly by the legislature, as it does not involve a cost to the budget, and it allows citizens to help end the waiting list for people with disabilities, which is now approaching 20,000 individuals. This is a great way for us to come together as a state to help people with disabilities get the services and supports they need, without requiring additional funds from the Developmental Disabilities Administration budget.

Posted by: JohnDumas | January 27, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

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