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| Joe Charlebois | Guest Columnist | Harry M. Covert | Norman M. Covert | Hayden Duke | Jason Miller | Ken Kellar | Patricia A. Kelly | Edward Lulie III | Tom McLaughlin | Patricia Price | Cindy A. Rose | Richard B. Weldon Jr. | Brooke Winn |

DOCUMENTS


The Tentacle


June 6, 2006

One Year’s Worth of Accomplishment – Part 2

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

In a follow-up to yesterday’s column, here’s more evidence to rebut the claim that nothing worthwhile can be accomplished by a politically divided state government.

ENVIRONMENT, AGRICULTURE, & NATURAL RESOURCES

Agritourism: Structures used in agricultural tourism in some counties are exempt from complying with state building standards, and a fund is established to provide grants to preserve historic barns and agricultural structures. (SB485/HB1106)

Septic Systems – Expanded qualifications for eligible septic system users for grants or loans through the Bay Restoration Fund. Priority for eligibility is established. (HB558) The Flush Fee has been a very controversial component of the Ehrlich Administration. History will prove that this bill will be one of the most significant regulatory measures to contribute toward nutrient removal in the Chesapeake Bay and watershed in Maryland’s history.

FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS & COMMERCIAL LAW

Merchant Contact Information: Internet merchant that sells goods or services under a contract that requires periodic payments from a consumer’s credit or debit card must post on its web site a toll-free telephone number or postal address that can be used to cancel the contract. A violation may incur criminal and civil penalties. (HB1016)

FISCAL MATTERS

TAX CREDITS & BENEFITS

Homeowners’ Property Tax Credit Law provides credits for elderly homeowners at least 70 years old and of limited income and for individuals with disabilities based on sliding scales of property tax liability and income. (SB382/HB5) Frederick County Commissioner Bruce Reeder’s lasting legacy to senior citizen taxpayers, a Frederick County idea that went statewide. Thanks, Bruce!

Renters’ Property Tax Relief Law provides relief for elderly or disabled renters from the assumed property tax paid as part of rent. The new maximum annual amount that may be received increases from $600 to $750 effective 2006. (SB382/HB5)

Agricultural Land Use Assessment for Elderly or Disabled applies for a land use assessment waiver regardless of land size instead of 20 acres or less. (HB724)

Veterans – Income Tax Reduction expands the existing military retirement income subtraction modification to individuals at least 55 years old who were active duty enlisted members at the time of retirement and met specified income limits by allowing a subtraction from taxable income for the first $5,000 (instead of $2,500) of retirement income. (SB22) We thank our vets on Memorial and Veterans Day, now we’re thanking them on tax day!

Three-year sales tax exemption to Veterans’ Organizations if the organization has a federal 501(c) (19) exemption. (SB227/ HB308)

Maryland Clean Energy Incentive Act of 2006 provides tax credits for producers of qualified energy resources including energy produced by wind, closed loop biomass, forest thinning and brush, and methane or other combustible gas resulting from the decomposition of certain organic materials. (SB314/HB395)

Employment Tax Credits: Pilot program to employ qualified ex-felons on a long-term basis that provides incentives for the hiring of up to 150 qualified ex-felons each year through one-stop employment and training centers. (SB193/ HB1391)

Estate Tax Reduction reduces the estate tax on the smallest taxable estates from 41% to 16% and modifies administrative aspects of the tax. (SB2/HB1219)

Auction Sales by Religious and Nonprofit Organizations: A sales tax exemption is allowed for sales made by churches, religious organizations, or nonprofit organizations if the sales are made at an auction and the proceeds are used to carry out the exempt purposes of the church or organization. (HB1624)

Enterprise Zones – Property Tax Credit incentives continued for an additional five years after the expiration of the zone designation to businesses and property owners located in economically distressed areas. (SB764/HB941)

HEALTH & HEALTH INSURANCE

Maryland Medbank Program continues for low-income individuals who lack prescription drug coverage. (SB61/ HB 822) MEDBANK distributes free medicine to low-income patients, and the program needed an extended funding commitment. This bill does that.

Medicare Part D Stopgap Program assists individuals in obtaining Medicare Part D prescription drug benefits. (HB1467)

* $2 million for distribution to agencies on aging for outreach, education, and counseling of individuals regarding Medicare Part D

* Requires the collection of statewide data on implementation issues related to Medicare Part D

Prescription Drug Assistance Program for low-income seniors: pays for all or some deductibles, premiums, co-payments or premiums of Medicare Part D enrollees. (SB283/HB702) The federal Medicare Part D program has turned a number of senior’s lives upside down. This enhancement will help, especially for those without a meaningful retirement income.

Umbilical Cord Blood Donations: Umbilical cord blood contains blood stem cells that could be used to treat various life-threatening diseases such as leukemia and sickle cell anemia. The state is to develop educational materials for pregnant patients to be distributed through doctors and hospitals. (SB197)

Establishes that operating an unlicensed Assisted Living Programs is a felony with criminal penalties. (HB 1036)

Nursing Shortages: $5.6 million to be used to increase the number of bedside nurses in hospitals and attract and retain minorities to nursing and nurse faculty careers. The fund consists of money generated by an increase in hospital rates. (SB230/HB322) No one likes paying more in hospital costs, but the nursing shortage is a crisis, and dramatic steps had to be taken.

Statewide Commission on the Shortage in the Health Care Workforce to determine the current extent of the health care workforce shortage in the state, examine what is needed to enhance institutional capacity and educational programs, and identify methods to recruit and retain health care professionals. (HB 1127)

Living wills or advance directives forms streamlined to include selection of health care agents, treating preferences and certain donations as well as clarify that certain surrogate decision-makers may make certain decisions when certain health care agents are unavailable. (HB592/SB369)

Long-Term Care Planning Act of 2006 requires the report to the General Assembly on the implementation of the Maryland Partnership for Long-Term Care Program and requires the Maryland Health Care Commission to conduct a needs assessment of the long-term care delivery system in the state. (HB 1342)

Human Resources

Assistance with Utility Bills: $100.6 million to help low-income households pay their energy bills. Increase the eligibility for the energy assistance programs from 150% to 200% of the federal poverty level and meet increased demand for assistance when the higher electric rates go into effect this summer.

Child Welfare Funding: The budget provides increased rates for foster care, as well as for subsidized guardianship and subsidized adoptions.

Child Welfare Accountability Act: This act requires the implementation of an outcome-based system to measure the effectiveness of child welfare services, the development of a process for assessing the quality of casework services, and the development of a local department of social services self-assessment process. The act also requires the creation of a Child Welfare Training Academy. (SB792/HB799)

TRANSPORTATION

Mandatory Suspensions for Young Drivers: These drivers who violate alcohol and/or drug-related driving provisions face a mandatory license suspension for one year for a first offense and a mandatory suspension for two years for a second or subsequent offense. (SB228/HB310)

Super-Drunk Drivers: For a driver with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 or more, penalties double for both first and subsequent offenses. (HB525)

After reviewing all we have done in the 421st General Assembly session, I hope you’ll excuse my skepticism when the political observers and pundits call it one of the least significant due to the ills of divided government. All divided government means is that state elected officials have to work harder to find a basis for agreement on important policy goals.

Not only can this be done (in spite of partisan rhetoric), my columns of the past two days prove that it has been done, and will continue in the future.



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