2021 End of Session Report

Apr 15, 20210 comments

Friends and Neighbors, 

For nearly seven years, I have had the honor and privilege of serving as a State Delegate in the General Assembly. From the first door I knocked on in 2013 through today, I have loved every minute of working in my communities, learning from Marylanders, and championing statewide legislation to build a more just, equitable, and thriving state. Each session has been different, but my goal of eliminating barriers and increasing opportunity has never wavered. 

After our shortened session last year and the incredibly difficult year we experienced as a nation, the General Assembly session we concluded on April 12 was by far the most productive of any I have played a role in. We passed groundbreaking legislation in nearly every area in the past 90 days in Annapolis. 

Highlights of our 2021 work include: 

  • enacting major police and criminal justice reforms 
  • increasing access to high-speed internet 
  • providing record investments in our public schools
  • ensuring fair housing practices 
  • improving transparency and accountability 
  • reforming our state’s unemployment system 
  • passing major legislation to curb climate change 
  • increasing funding for transit
  • providing resources for the arts 
  • and increasing the earned income tax credit for working families

You can always get in touch with me at 410-841-3319 or brooke.lierman@house.state.md.us. To read more about my work, please sign up for my email updates or follow me on social media. If you are receiving this letter, it is because you took the time to write an email, send a letter, or make a phone call to my office at some point during the past 90 days. Thank you for being involved!

Maryland General Assembly COVID-19 Response

The Speaker & Senate President established the Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup early in the pandemic to ensure transparency and information sharing regarding the Governor’s response to the pandemic. Throughout this legislative session, the General Assembly worked closely with the Governor to bring immediate relief and protection to Marylanders impacted by this public health emergency by passing the RELIEF Act of 2021 (HB 612/SB 496). Signed into law on February 15th, this emergency economic impact and tax relief package directed more than $1 billion to Maryland working families, small businesses, and those who have lost their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The RELIEF Act provided over $500 million to grant programs and direct payments and included $1 billion in tax relief and tax credits by:

  • Exempting unemployment insurance payments from the state income tax
  • Allowing small businesses to keep sales tax collections of up to $9,000 over three months
  • Allowing up to 100,000 small businesses & nonprofits to defer paying unemployment insurance taxes until the first three months of 2022 to help cash flow (they employ one-quarter of our state’s workforce)
  • Converting up to $50,000 in Equity Participation Program loans to grants

In addition, we increased the Earned Income Tax Credit (HB143/SB218) in Maryland – making our state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) now the most generous in the nation, and ensured that those benefits are available to all tax filers, including those who file using Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs), often immigrants. This change will grant 86,000 immigrants who pay taxes access to the EITC. The EITC is considered one of the most important tools the government has to decrease poverty by providing direct aid to families who need it. This was an essential and historic step toward alleviating poverty in Maryland.

The General Assembly and the Governor also approved a robust package of legislation to shore up our state’s beleaguered unemployment insurance (UI) system. Thousands of Marylanders – including over 900 of my constituents – reported that they were unable to get timely assistance with their UI claims, payments and more. The State has been using an outdated system that needs both short and long-term fixes. This package of bills will: 1) study system reforms to improve the State’s UI process and require the Department of Labor (DOL) to produce reports for the General Assembly (HB0907/SB817); 2) require DOL to offer a variety of payment plans that provide more flexibility for employers making contributions to UI (HB0908/SB816); 3) create accountability and oversight for DOL (HB1138/SB818); 4) increase the wage amount disregarded when calculating a claimant’s weekly benefit from $50 to by $200 in wages paid to the claimant per week through the end of the declared State of Emergency (HB1139/SB819); and 5) expand Maryland’s work sharing program (HB1143/SB771).

FY21 Budget

Last year, the outlook for state budgets around the country was very grim. Fortunately, the revenue estimates for Maryland began to improve in last fall and winter and federal stimulus legislation was instrumental. The American Rescue Plan has indeed rescued our budget! Thanks to the work of the General Assembly and the federal assistance provided by Congress, I am proud to say that we passed a fiscally prudent and socially responsible budget, taking into account the financial realities of the State while meeting the moment to care for Marylanders and businesses through this trying time. The budget will fund critical priorities, including education, transit, public health, public safety, and provide funding for COVID-19 related relief. A few highlights include: restoration of the Rainy Day Fund, $1.5 billion to construction projects that will create jobs, $2 billion toward education, recreation and localities, $320 million to build and modernize schools, $75 million in bond initiatives to stimulate local investments, and a 4% increase in Medicaid reimbursements to developmental disability administration programs and behavioral health providers.

Further, the operating budget includes over $12 million for special education, $2.9 million for schools in areas of concentrated poverty, $26 million for Pre-K, $5.8 million for school construction, and in-state tuition increases at higher educational institutions has been capped at 2%.

On the capital side of things, the District 46 team was able to secure extensive capital funding through the Legislative Bond Initiative Process for multiple projects and organizations in the district – see the text box for more information. We also created a new Local Parks & Playground Initiative and seed funded it with $85 million – $10 million of which will come to Baltimore City. The Capital budget also has funds for school construction, strategic demolition, relocating state offices from state center to downtown Baltimore, for our universities, and hospitals and more. All in all, this was an exciting budgetary year and President Biden’s Rescue Act really saved the day!

Creating Safe Communities & A Justice System that Works for all Marylanders

Policing. Our country and State have been experiencing an important reckoning on the unjust treatment of Black Americans at the hands of the police – and the racist practices in so many other aspects of life, including health, housing, and economic disparities. After months of study and discussion starting last summer, the General Assembly passed comprehensive police reform legislation this year (including overriding the Governor’s vetoes).   

By passing the Speaker Adrienne Jones’ bill (HB 670), the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021 – Police Discipline and Law Enforcement Programs and Procedures, Maryland became the first state in the nation to repeal a law enforcement office bill of rights (LEOBR). We replaced it with a civilian-driven and transparent process through which to try, discipline, and charge officers. This bill as passed by the House also included measures to improve transparency of police misconduct and disciplinary records, strengthen limitations on use of force, require independent investigations of police-involved civilian deaths or shootings, create local police accountability boards, put limits on no-knock warrants and after-hour police raids, change the way that law enforcement officers in the state are hired and trained, and much more. The Senate took out many of these provisions but, fortunately, most of these measures were passed through individual Senate bills as part of a “Maryland Police Accountability Act” package, including: (1) SB71, which establishes a statewide use-of-force standard , expands access to mental health services for police officers, and requires the usage or body cameras by police), (2) SB600, which demilitarizes the police and requires independent investigations of police involved deaths, (3) SB786, which starts the process of returning full control of the Baltimore Police Department to Baltimore City, and (4) SB178 (Anton’s Law). Anton’s Law curtails no-knock warrants and reclassifies records related to an administrative or criminal investigation of misconduct by a law enforcement officer so that they are no longer deemed ‘personnel records’ and are no longer subject to mandatory denial under a Public Information Act (PIA) request. 

Criminal Justice Reform. Police reform is an important piece of the puzzle, but there is more work to be done on the larger criminal justice system in order to create a safer and more just society. I was very proud that that the House and Senate both voted unanimously in support of the Walter Lomax Act (HB742/SB14) to provide a clear path to receive compensation to exonerated prisoners. In my legal work, I have represented a man who was wrongfully convicted and spent 25 years in prison. We ultimately were able to secure monetary damages for him because of the misconduct by police in his case – but it was a long and arduous process. It is so important that we ensure that individuals who the justice system has failed are provided recompense. I was also proud to vote for the Juvenile Restoration Act (HB409/SB494), which follows on advice from the U.S. Supreme Court (Miller v. Alabama, 2012) and disallows a Maryland court from sentencing a juvenile to life without parole. A bad decision by a child should not preclude them from working to improve themselves and ultimately rejoining society if they are ready for that responsibility. Finally, we passed legislation to join nearly every other state in the country and remove parole decisions from political influence by removing the Governor from the parole process (SB202). These bills all create a justice system focused on justice and rehabilitation rather than vengeance.

Support for Immigrants. I am proud to represent such a diverse district – one that includes so many immigrants, and I have represented children in immigration proceedings in our very broken federal immigration system. We should all be invested in ensuring that immigrants are able to thrive in our state and contribute by meeting their full potential. In addition to ensuring that immigrants using an ITIN to file taxes are eligible for the EITC, we passed the Driver Privacy Act (HB23/ SB234), legislation to ensure that the MVA cannot disclose personal information to a federal agency seeking access to records for immigration enforcement purposes without a warrant. And, after several years of work, we finally passed the Dignity Not Detention Act (HB16/SB478), banning private immigration prisons in Maryland and prohibiting our police from doubling as ICE agents. I was proud to stand in support of this legislation to make Maryland a more inclusive and humane place for all residents to live, work, and raise a family.

Creating Sustainable, Thriving, Connected, and Affordable Neighborhoods

Housing. Maryland is facing an affordable housing crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Affordable, healthy housing is essential to ensuring the stability and well-being of Maryland families. I introduced three bills this session to promote fair housing, de-concentrate poverty, and increase homeownership rates, especially for people of color. First, we passed my bill to require the state and local governments to administer programs that affirmatively further fair housing as part of their duty under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (HB90/SB687). This bill will provide a framework for local governments and local housing authorities to take concrete, data-driven, community member-oriented steps toward fostering thriving communities. I am also thrilled that we passed legislation I championed with Senator Hayes to address the real estate appraisal gap that precludes responsible redevelopment of formerly red-lined and low-income communities (HB1239/SB859). Too many neighborhoods around our state are riddled with vacant and unsafe houses and many neighborhoods are declining because of the gap that exists between what it costs to renovate a house and what it can sell for – this legislation will help address that challenge!

The General Assembly also considered several bills to help both homeowners and renters – but unfortunately only a couple actually passed both chambers: HB104/SB401 will require landlords to give tenants additional notice (between 60 and 90 days) if they decide not to renew a lease agreement and HB18/SB154 will make Maryland the first state to grant very low-income tenants access to counsel in specific eviction cases. Unfortunately, HB31 to increase the fee to file for an eviction from $15 to $75 to bring us more in line with other states and fund legal services failed to pass the Senate at the last moment. And, although the House passed HB1312 to create a statewide rent relief fund and makes significant changes to the eviction process in Maryland, the Senate did not.

I also worked to pass legislation to ensure that low-income Marylanders on energy assistance are not being taken advantage of by unscrupulous third-party energy suppliers. I am so pleased that the House & Senate passed (HB397/SB31) to forbid these energy suppliers from receive state assistance dollars unless their prices are at/below standard offer service.

Transportation. Our economy cannot thrive without  safe and reliable transportation, including a robust transit system. I am proud to continue to serve as co-chair of the Transit Caucus in the Maryland General Assembly. The Caucus identified five priority bills this year and the General Assembly passed four of them which are awaiting approval of the Governor! (1) The Zero Emission Bus Transition Act (HB334/SB137), (2)  HB414/SB81 sets the stage for a Southern MD Rapid Transit Project, (3) SB869  requires a study on expanding the MARC to Western Maryland was included in (4) HB114, the Transit Safety and Investment Act(below). The P3 Oversight & Reform Act (HB485/SB361) passed the House but was not taken up in the Senate.

Since my first election, I have worked to shore up our state’s beleaguered and underfunded transit system. I am so thrilled that the Transit Safety and Investment Act (HB114/SB199) passed the House and Senate this year with bipartisan support. Once approved by the Governor, this act will ensure that the state makes the capital investments necessary for a safe and reliable transit system for all Marylanders to get to work, school, and more. MTA has been neglected for the past six years and has identified $2 billion in unfunded essential maintenance and needed enhancements for our buses, subways, commuter trains, and light rail over the next decade. The law helps ensure that funding will be available.

Digital Connectivity. Last year one of the biggest needs I saw in my district was access to high speed internet and devices. Fully 23% of Maryland families do not have wireline broadband service. I met with experts around the state all summer and fall and crafted legislation to address this need: HB97/SB66, the Digital Connectivity Act of 2021. Now more than ever, access to the internet and to digital tools like computers and tablets are essential to full participation in society. Being disconnected is no longer just an inconvenience, it prevents Maryland residents and families from accessing education, health care, business, and benefit programs, which worsens and perpetuates existing social inequities. The Digital Connectivity Act passed unanimously in the Senate and overwhelmingly in the House and the Governor signed it into law on April 13. The Digital Connectivity Act creates the Office of Statewide Broadband (OSB), which will facilitate a coordinated, comprehensive, state-wide effort to ensure that all Marylanders are connected to high-speed, affordable broadband internet by 2026. It will be responsible for administering $300m of dollars from the American Rescue to expand affordable, reliable internet.

Arts. Maryland’s strong arts community plays an important role in the state’s economy and also makes it a wonderful and enriching place to live. The third year was the charm for passage of legislation to create the state’s first new art grant program in decades. I’m so proud to have passed HB310/SB323 to create the Maryland Arts Capital (MAC) Program, a new $3 million dollar program run through the MD State Arts Council to provide capital grants to small arts and cultural institutions!

Environment. Maryland is fortunate to serve as the home of the largest estuary in the United States. The Bay and beaches bring tourism and commercial industry to our great state, supporting a robust economy. That privilege comes with great responsibility. This Session, I championed four bills to protect the environment: (1) The Plastic Bag Reduction Act (HB314/SB223), (2) Environmental Complaints, Inspections, and Enforcement – Maintenance and Reporting (HB204/SB324), (3) Recycling Market Development (HB164/SB116), and (4) Extended Producer Responsibility for Packaging and Paper Products (HB36). These bills sought to address global warming, the degradation of our environment, and information transparency. HB204 will  increase transparency and accountability of our environmental agencies and HB164 will help develop our recycling markets. These bills passed both chambers of the legislature and will become law with the Governor’s approval. I also worked with my colleagues to support and pass other legislation to protect our environment for years to come. All of the following bills have passed both chambers and are awaiting the Governor’s approval: (1) HB30, Office of People’s Counsel Environmental Reform Act, which creates a climate council aimed at helping us meet greenhouse gas reduction goals, (2) the preservation of over one million acres of productive agricultural land, (3) the diversion of food waste from landfills (HB264/SB483), (4) the creation of an urban tree program to replace trees removed during construction and transportation projects (HB80/SB359), (5) removal of black liquor from the Renewal Portfolio Standard (HB875/SB65), (6) the sales restriction on neonicotinoid pesticides (HB208/SB375).

Many constituents reached out about the Climate Solutions Now Act (SB414/HB584). Unfortunately, the House and Senate were not able to come to an agreement over all of the provisions in this big bill before Sine Die, but many elements of the legislation are captured in other standalone bills that did pass, including creating a program to plant 5 million new trees (HB991), strengthening the Environmental Justice Commission (HB1207) and the zero emission bus bill mentioned above. 

Supporting our Workers. Finally, no community can thrive without jobs that pay a living wage and support their employees! I am so glad we were able to pass HB581/SB486, the Maryland Essential Workers’ Protection Act. In addition to this legislation, as the Chair of the Joint Cmte on Pensions, I am glad that we passed HB922/SB642 to ensure that the family of any state worker who dies from COVID-19 has an easy and transparent way to claim death benefits.

Ensuring Access To A Great Education

This year we continued our fight for a better education system for our children and grandchildren through our landmark legislation that would change public education in Maryland over the next decade – The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (HB1300/SB1000). One of our first acts on the House floor was to override the Governor’s veto of this legislation. We updated and strengthened the bill with HB1372/SB0965, which adapted the plan to the current state of education as a result of the COVID pandemic. The Blueprint 2.0 closes the gaps in the education funding that were exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and provides more support to address learning loss, expands behavioral and mental health resources, closes the digital divide with more access to broadband and devices, and requires better reporting and data tracking for more accountability. The Governor signed this legislation in early April.

We also took long overdue action to provide more funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities with (HB1/SB1). This bipartisan legislation will provide $577 million to resolve the program duplication issues in Maryland’s four HBCUs and level the playing field for these important educational institutions. The Governor signed this legislation in late March.

Finally, I’m also thrilled that after three years of work we passed the Jordan McNair Safe and Fair Play Act (HB125/SB0439). This legislation will require our public universities to (1) student athletes to earn income from their own name, image, or likeness, (2) prioritize the academic work of our student athletes, and (3) adopt and report on measures to protect student athletes’ health and safety and prevent future deaths. I was proud to work on this bipartisan bill with Jordan McNair’s father.

Supporting Small Businesses and Entrepreneurs

Even in good economic times, small businesses struggle to open, operate, and find the help that they need – including financial capital. I am proud to represent so many amazing small businesses and incubators, and I believe the State must work hard to ensure small businesses can thrive and grow. We know from data that Black and Brown-owned businesses have struggled with accessing loans and capital much more than white-owned businesses. And through the pandemic, many more of these businesses have closed. This is devastating not only to those businesses but to our entire economy. We need to fundamentally reimagine how our state supports and encourages small business growth and development. Ultimately, we need businesses to start in Maryland and stay in Maryland!

This Session I worked with Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), banks, credit unions, and other lenders to author and pass legislation to create the Maryland Capital Access Program (HB829/SB788). This bill allows the Department of Commerce to create a loan loss reserve program to encourage financial institutions to make loans to small businesses that have difficulty obtaining financing. Setting up this program will help Maryland be best positioned to receive and efficiently implement impending federal funding via the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI). Maryland is estimated to be receiving nearly $167 million from the U.S. Treasury over the next year under SSBCI.

In addition to creating the Maryland Capital Access Program, we also passed several other important measures to help buoy and support entrepreneurs, including the Pre–Seed Capital for Minority Entrepreneurs (HB1211) to ensure that people of color can secure capital; HB1210 to require businesses seeking grants, tax credits, and contracts from the State to demonstrate board diversity or support for underrepresented communities; and HB1213 to require financial institutions to consider alternative indications of creditworthiness when making a mortgage loan or extending credit.

I am also excited that overrode the Governor’s veto of HB514 from the 2020 legislative session. This law will create the Maryland Small Business Innovation Research and Technology Transfer Incentive Program in order to foster job creation and economic development in the State by promoting commercialization of research, facilitating technology transfer, and encouraging small business participation.

Building Better Government for All Marylanders

Transparency and accountability build trust in government – an essential component of our representative democracy. Marylanders deserve regular reporting and easy public access to records. I introduced three important, bipartisan bills that both passed the House and Senate – HB183, HB1003, and HB113. The Equitable Access to Records Act (HB183/SB0449) expands and revises our state’s Public Information Act laws to make the PIA process more affordable and accessible to everyday residents. For the first time in our state, all government entities subject to our public information act will be required to adopt a policy of “proactive disclosure” to ensure they are being transparent. In addition, I passed legislation to help reform and build more transparency into the Bureau of Revenue Estimates, an important body overseen by the Maryland Comptroller. HB113/SB0314 will increase transparency and reporting from the BRE to ensure that it is providing the best possible assistance to the Legislative and Executive branches as we craft the state budget each year, and to aid local governments in their revenue estimates. HB1003/SB780 improves the transparency of emergency contracts, of which there have been many (and some controversial) over the past year.

We also strengthened our ethics law by plugging loopholes that currently exist on retaliation and gift prohibitions. HB363/SB004 prohibits an official or employee of the state from retaliating against an individual for reporting or participating in an investigation of a violation of the Maryland Public Ethics Law and ensures all lobbying associations are playing by the same rules.

Voting. In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential primary in Maryland, many concerned constituents emailed me regarding the integrity of our election systems, concerned that one million mail-in ballots were significantly delayed getting to voters in Baltimore and Montgomery County. We worked on and passed through both chambers a number of other important bills this session to protect and strengthen the rights of Maryland voters in a number of ways. HB1048 creates a permanent mail-in ballot option to make voting easier and more convenient. HB745 modernizes state’s formula for early voting centers, resulting in more than a dozen new voting centers across the state for the 2022 election. HB222 provides Marylanders released from a correctional facility with a voter registration application and informs them of their right to vote. The House but not the Senate also passed HB1047 the Mail-In Voting Enhancement Act to codify the successful practices adopted by the State Board of Elections in 2020 – including requiring drop boxes around the state, expanding email ballot notifications, and providing for ballot curing.

Keep in Touch!

This letter is just a snapshot of all the work we did this session, but I hope it conveys the amount of work we did and the seriousness with which we approached this pandemic session. My legislative director, Dani DiPietro, and I are always here to help you and work with you to find answers to questions and solutions to challenges. Thank you for your advocacy and commitment to Baltimore and Maryland. I look forward to continuing to work with you to build a better Maryland for all our residents.

My best,