ANNAPOLIS – With the General Assembly session rapidly drawing to a close, several measures that will have an impact on healthcare, education and governing bodies in Prince George’s County are nearing the finish line to become laws.
Last session, securing state operating funding for the new Prince George’s Regional Medical Center planned for Largo was at the top of the county’s agenda. Although the General Assembly passed a law mandating certain funding levels in 2016, this year, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) sent in a budget proposal that reduced the operating subsidy by $15 million.
Additionally, the Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BFRA) designed to balance the state budget proposed restructuring future state funds to the hospital ($15 million in Fiscal Year 2018 through FY21 and $2.5 million in FY22, changed from $30 million in FY18, $15 million in FY19 and $5 million in FY20 and FY21).
The General Assembly, however, rejected those proposals through amendment. The amended BFRA passed the House 112-49 and the Senate 41-6. The bill is now in a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the version passed by each house.
“Both delegations, as well as the Prince George’s county executive and county council, are committed to getting the new regional hospital at Largo up and running, and to improvements at Laurel and Bowie hospitals,” said Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-21), the Prince George’s Senate delegation chair. “The governor has been a little slow, in terms of what he’s put in the budget.”
The Senate amendments to the BFRA included a passage adding new funding for the hospital. It mandates $28 million in FY18, $27 million in FY19, $15 million in FY20 and FY21 and $10 million a year for FY22 through FY28. It also spells out capital funding requirements: $11.3 million in FY18, $48 million in FY19 and $56.2 million in FY20. The same text has been introduced as its own, separate Senate bill, The Prince George’s Regional Medical Center Act of 2017, which has passed the second reading in the Senate.
Del. Erek Barron (D-24) said the delegation’s collective efforts have resulted in an even larger commitment from the state than previously existed.
“In addition to securing the regular allocation of state funding for this year, we also have successfully fought for an additional $100 million in mandatory funds over the next 10 years,” he said. “So, overall, this session is shaping up to be a big win for healthcare in the county.”
Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-23A), vice-chair of the county House delegation, expressed a similar sentiment.
“Our hopes are, through the leadership of the Senate and the House delegation, that we will place into statute a future dedicated funding stream for the new regional medical center that will include strong operational funding,” she said.
The General Assembly is also tackling liquor board reform in the wake of a bribery and corruption scandal that involved several county businesses, liquor board members and two former delegates. Three competing proposals for reform were introduced. While Hogan’s proposal appears unlikely to move out of committee, the proposal by the Prince George’s Senate Delegation passed 36-11, and left the House 100-39 with amendments. The measure would still give the power to appoint liquor board members to the county executive and require the nominees have relevant professional experience and abide by county ethics laws, but the House’s amendments change the confirming body for the appointees from the Senate to the county council. The House changes align with a proposal County Executive Rushern Baker, III submitted and that is set for its hearing on April 4 in a Senate committee.
Despite the differences, Rosapepe said he is confident some version of reform will pass this year.
“The big picture is, everyone is committed to fixing the problems with the liquor board and cleaning it up and professionalizing it,” he said. “They are very close to each other and I’m very optimistic we’ll get them worked out within the next two weeks.”
Changes to another county governing body, the board of education, are also under discussion this session. After committee work and substantial amendments, a proposal to reform the school board’s voting procedures and leadership is on its way to the Senate after passing the House 134-1.
The sole no vote was Del. Anne Healey (D-21), who did not return request for comment. However, at the delegation hearing vote, she said she believes the current structure, put in place by General Assembly action in 2013, has yielded real results and should not be changed.
Valentino-Smith said the delegation as a whole is being cautious on changing things too drastically. The original proposal would have returned the board to an all-elected body, but the final bill only makes three changes: providing for the election of a vice-chair instead of the county executive appointing someone to the post; changing the majority needed to overrule the chief executive officer (CEO) from two-thirds to three-fifths, and pushing forward the due date for a report on the results of 2013’s changes.
“The modifications that we made were the response to many advocates who were seeking some realignment of the balance of power between elected and appointed members,” Valentino-Smith said. “But we want to refrain from making additional changes until we receive the report from the CEO and the school board regarding the progress that was made due to the changes that we implemented.”
The Senate has scheduled the bill for a committee hearing on April 4. The session ends April 10, so the upper chamber has a short turnaround time if it is going to pass the measure.
One measure that has already gone through both houses is HB119, which established the Metrorail Safety Commission. Federal transportation dollars are on hold for Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia until the three jurisdictions pass identical legislation to create the MSC, which will oversee Metrorail and have the authority to do inspections, impose penalties and remove employees from safety-critical jobs.
The bill passed unanimously out of both houses (134-0 in the House and 47-0 in the Senate).
“We’re very committed to making sure Metro is safe,” Rosapepe said.
Barron, who has been a leader on Metro-related issues in the House, said further discussion around the issues of Metro safety and financial viability will be taking place.
“Going forward, I expect you’ll hear more talk about what a new underlying Metro compact should look like along with proposals for additional funding sources,” he said.
Rosapepe said other accomplishments made during the session to date include protecting education investments and expanding the P-TECH program that allows students to fast-track into careers, as well as ensuring state funding for the Purple Line remains in place.
Valentino-Smith highlighted some of her bills as well, including HB1433, which would exempt municipalities from paying back income tax money they erroneously received from the comptroller’s office. The measure has passed the House (130-0) and the second reading in the Senate.
“That type of forgiveness ensures local municipalities won’t be adversely impacted by the mistake and will not be forced to cut other important municipal projects like roads and public safety,” she said.