Cheryl Kagan | Maryland State Senator - District 17
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Spring 2018

Dear Friend:

It has been a tremendous honor to serve Rockville and Gaithersburg in the Maryland State Senate since 2015. Your emails, calls, tweets, and visits helped me represent District 17. The final session of this four-year term has ended, and I am writing to update you on our accomplishments.

When lobbyist Gil Genn touched me inappropriately, I became the first legislator to “name names” (#MeToo!). Increased awareness, along with persistence by the Women’s Caucus and advocates, led to enactment of a tough new sexual harassment law. Lobbyists and the press will be covered, and an independent investigator will be authorized to look into complaints.

We launched the session with two important legislative victories. First, we overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of last year’s bill that expanded earned sick leave for over 700,000 Maryland workers. Then, after ten years, we finally joined 24 other states in terminating rapists’ parental rights. No victim of sexual assault should be forced to co-parent with her attacker.

Once again, Annapolis was obligated to respond to the irresponsible policies coming out of this Congress and the Trump Administration. The ill-conceived, regressive tax plan they hastily enacted last December would have raised State taxes for almost all Marylanders. Our actions will protect 91% of our taxpayers from this unintended increase. The General Assembly unanimously passed a $44.5 billion balanced budget for Fiscal Year 2019.

Increasing School Safety & Controlling Access to Guns

The horrifying school shooting in Southern Maryland and the inspiring student survivors from Parkland, Florida galvanized support for gun control. Along with hundreds of thousands (maybe you?), I was proud to attend the March for Our Lives in DC. Several initiatives to prevent gun violence in schools were combined into one successful, bipartisan law that will:

  • Improve mental health screening, services, and threat assessment;
  • Provide safety officers at all public schools; and
  • Dedicate $10 million to security features like lockable classroom doors.

We banned “bump stocks,” the dangerous accessories that transform semi-automatic weapons  into automatic weapons. Last year’s massacre in Las Vegas was so lethal (58 dead) because of this device. We also passed a “Red Flag” law, which created a process to temporarily take guns from those who are a danger to themselves or others.

Improving & Funding Public Education

Maryland’s public schools have fallen from #1 to #6 in the country in academic achievement over the past few years. The Kirwan Commission, led by former University of Maryland Chancellor Dr. Brit Kirwan, reviewed school funding; literacy training; teacher pay; career and technical training; and more. We enacted legislation modeled on the Commission’s preliminary report.

For years, local education leaders were forced to seek much-needed funding at a demeaning, annual “beg-a-thon.” Rather than a politicized process involving the Board of Public Works, the General Assembly approved the 21st Century School Facilities Act. Among other things, this will establish a balanced panel of eight education experts to more fairly evaluate construction priorities. The Governor vetoed the bill, and we overrode his veto in the final days of session.

In November, voters will weigh in on a Constitutional Amendment creating a “lockbox” for casino revenue to support education. We added this measure to the ballot to give you a voice on these funds, which were promised to our schools but have been used to balance the budget in tough times.

In my view, public dollars should be allocated only to our public schools. I have been disappointed with Governor Hogan’s continual siphoning of taxpayer money to private and parochial schools– $9 million next year! Several schools receiving those funds were found to have anti-LGBTQ language in their student handbooks. I sponsored a bill to ban discrimination in private schools that receive State funds. Although it did not pass, language in the budget will provide some protection for students seeking admission.

A last-minute compromise resulted in $15 million in funding to allow low- and middle-income students to attend community college for free. This initiative will expand access to critical job-training and degree programs.

Enhancing Our 9-1-1 Emergency Response Systems

Three people, including my friend Carl Henn, have died in District 17 when 9-1-1 failed. Next Generation 9-1-1 (also known as “NextGen911”) services are coming to Maryland. This new technology will allow people to send texts, videos, and pictures to call-takers and improve geolocation services.

I’ve been focused on this issue since joining the Senate in 2015. In February, I was deeply honored to be recognized by the national Next Generation 9-1-1 Institute for their prestigious “Government Leader” award at a ceremony on Capitol Hill. In addition, the Maryland Association of Counties named me as one of their two “Legislators of the Year” at their annual conference for my efforts on this essential service. Both the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun published editorials supporting these efforts, and the Sun also published an opinion piece I wrote on the topic. I will continue to collaborate with experts across the state and around the country.

This year, I sponsored a package of five 9-1-1-related bills.

  • Transitioning to NextGen911 is a complex process that will require significant planning and funding. That’s why the Senate and House unanimously passed my bill to convene a Commission of key stakeholders.
  • 9-1-1 call-takers, our “First First Responders,” are the life-saving bridge between people in need and emergency assistance. Yet across the State, they are underpaid and underappreciated, leading to recruitment and retention problems. My bill, which passed unanimously, will allow counties to offer call-takers tax credits given to other emergency personnel.
  • I also introduced three other bills that did not pass. The first, named for Carl Henn, would have closed a loophole in how 9-1-1 fees are assessed. The others would have required accountability for our investment and updated our public records law regarding photos and videos.

Guaranteeing Reality-Based Funding for Nonprofit Organizations

Throughout my career, I have worked closely with the nonprofit sector (including my current part-time job). This has provided me with insights, as well as a network of thoughtful leaders. Last year, working with my Nonprofit Advisory Group and Maryland Nonprofits, I enacted two bills to support the sector.

This year, my groundbreaking legislation passed unanimously and will likely become a model for other states. Nonprofit organizations that earn State grants or contracts receive limited or no funding to cover their indirect (overhead) costs– necessities like rent, staff salaries, and utilities. In 2014, federal regulation guaranteed that grantees could use at least 10% for these essential expenses. My bill conforms Maryland’s grant and contracting practices to these federal standards, increasing the long-term health of our nonprofit sector.

For my dedication to the betterment of the nonprofit community, I was presented with the Phyllis Campbell Newsome Public Policy Award by the Center for Nonprofit Advancement.

Protecting Maryland’s Environment

The League of Conservation Voters named me a Green Champion.” This year, I was proud to sponsor one of the environmental community’s top priorities: a statewide ban on harmful foam food containers. Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, DC, and 134 other jurisdictions around the country have already banned expanded polystyrene foam, or Styrofoam, which is bad for both our ecosystem and our health. I was pleased that my Committee passed the bill but was disappointed that the House Environment & Transportation Committee never voted on it. (I was, however, successful in having foam containers removed from the Senate canteen!)

I co-sponsored a bill to double Maryland’s use of renewable energy by 2030. After an unfavorable vote in the House, the bill was withdrawn. I hope this will be revisited in the future.

Working with environmental allies, I co-sponsored a bill to expand the Forest Conservation Act. In hearings, concerns were raised about its impact in both Gaithersburg and Rockville. After spirited negotiations between local governments and environmental advocates, the bill mysteriously disappeared and could not be finalized on the last day of session.

We passed two bills to help Maryland combat climate change. The first requires the Governor to join the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan group of States dedicated to upholding the Paris Accords from which President Trump withdrew. We also prevented the Governor from pulling out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) without prior approval from the legislature.

Keeping Our Residents Healthy

By repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, Congress put 150,000 Maryland residents at risk of losing their health care. We taxed insurers in order to stabilize the health insurance market through an innovative “reinsurance” program.

Over 3,600 Marylanders are awaiting organ transplants. Spurred by the House Speaker’s recent liver transplant, we encouraged organ donation by providing living donors a $7,500 tax deduction. Also, automobiles that transport organs will soon be designated as emergency vehicles.

Expanding Voter Access & Safeguarding Our Elections

A proposed Constitutional Amendment will be on the ballot this November. If it passes, eligible but unregistered citizens could sign up and cast a ballot on Election Day. The General Assembly approved automatic voter registration. Residents who meet all requirements to become a voter can be registered during interactions with most State government agencies.

In light of concerns about the security of our elections, I introduced a bill to require that all international election observers be vetted by the U.S. State Department. This decades-long program teaches foreign leaders about democracy. I was disappointed that my Republican colleagues played politics with this common-sense bill, employing scare tactics about Russians undermining our elections.

In 2016, I met discouraged constituents who registered as independent voters and were not allowed to participate in the primary election. While they were barred, an unregistered resident could choose a political party and cast a primary ballot during Early Voting. My nonpartisan bill would have put them on equal footing and enhanced franchise access.

Addressing Our Region’s Economic Needs

Amazon identified Montgomery County as one of only 20 finalists from the 200 proposals for their second headquarters. This choice recognizes our skilled workforce; proximity to federal government; high-quality schools; vital infrastructure; and quality of life. Because this would bring as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs and international prestige and visibility, I co-sponsored and voted for the incentive package.

Our region depends on the Metro system, which has struggled recently. Maryland joined DC and Virginia in pledging $167 million annually for at least three years for Metro maintenance and upgrades. This is in addition to emergency needs, such as the $1 million I obtained from the State to run shuttle buses during an extended period of repairs. Adequate funding could help lure Amazon and will ensure that we have the safe, reliable, frequent, and affordable mass transit system we desperately need.

As a member of the House of Delegates, I was an early supporter of making medical marijuana available to cancer patients and others. Unfortunately, the process for granting licenses to dispense the drug resulted in no minority-owned businesses being selected. We passed a bill that will create procedures to diversify licensees. During the floor debate, I raised concerns about issues of local control for our cities and towns which were resolved in the final version of the bill.

I was recently appointed to serve on the Governor’s Workforce Development Board. This will allow me to represent the I-270 High-Tech Corridor– an important economic driver for our State. I can also offer the perspective of the nonprofit sector, which employs 10.6% of Maryland residents.

Advancing Women, Minorities, and Civil Liberties

Our population is growing more and more linguistically diverse. In 2016, I sponsored and passed a bill that mandated free translation of State government websites. This Administration chose to interpret it narrowly, applying only to certain sites. This year’s bill clarified that “Language Access” must include all government web pages.

“Conversion Therapy” for LGBTQ youth is a traumatic and dangerous practice. Gay teens are 500% more likely to commit or attempt suicide. Conversion therapy conveys the message that there is something wrong with them as they are. Sixteen major professional organizations representing counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists agree that it doesn’t work and can be harmful. I am proud to have co-sponsored a successful bill to ban it in Maryland.

Police departments face a shortage of qualified personnel. Meanwhile, honorably discharged veterans who are legal permanent residents (but not yet citizens) are barred from even applying for open positions. In partnership with Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger, I introduced the “Freedom to Serve” Act. It passed in the House and had 41 of 47 Senators as co-sponsors but was not approved in the Senate. I plan to reintroduce it next year.

Over the years, a dozen legislators, including my predecessor Jennie Forehand, have attempted to replace Maryland’s offensive, pro-Confederate State Song, “Maryland! My Maryland!” I proposed to repeal and replace the song through a competition. It was amended to designate the State Song as “historical.” The Senate approved this imperfect compromise, but the House took no action.

Defending Consumers & Tenants

When we sign up for government alerts about weather, road repairs, or school closings, we don’t intend to invite unsolicited emails or calls. But under the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA), our information was available to anyone who requested it. A lawsuit in Montgomery County forced the release of over 200,000 email addresses. Urgent action was needed to block disclosure of personal contact information. I convinced every Senator to sign on as a co-sponsor and worked with the Maryland Municipal League to pass the bill. It has already been signed into law!

Another MPIA bill I sponsored sought to balance transparency and privacy regarding police body camera footage. It seemed reasonable to shield the victims of domestic, sexual, or child abuse, and the death of First Responders. Unfortunately, despite active negotiations until the very end of the session, we were unable to reach consensus.

In an era of widespread data vulnerability and identity theft, our personal information should be extracted and stored only with our consent and when absolutely necessary. Therefore, I proposed restrictions on electronic scans of driver’s licenses. I will continue to consult with industry representatives to enact a fair policy, similar to what is already law in 21 states and DC.

Gas station owners currently display the lowest prices, even though most charge more for the 75% of consumers who pay with a debit or credit card. With support from the Attorney General and consumer groups, I introduced a bill to end this “bait & switch” at the gas pump.

As significant as it is to pursue good legislation, it can be equally meaningful to kill bad bills. I was proud to have been the only Senator to speak against a bill that would have allowed landlords to evict tenants in just 7 (rather than 14) days. Although it won nearly unanimous support in the House, I worked with tenant groups, housing attorneys, the NAACP, and the Attorney General’s Office to successfully amend, then kill, this anti-renter bill.

Serving Gaithersburg & Rockville

Once again, State funding for key projects in our area won approval. Worthy initiatives included:

Although the legislature failed to fund a new Gaithersburg police station, I will continue to seek State support.

For my commitment to Rockville, Gaithersburg, and Maryland’s 155 other cities and towns, I just learned that I will be named a “Municipal Superstar” by the Maryland Municipal League for the fourth year in a row!

Working for You!

If you are having problems with a State agency, my staff and I may be able to help. Please email me!

Each year, I award scholarships to worthy undergraduate and graduate students who live in my district. The deadline for the Fall 2018 semester is April 25. More information and the application are available at www.CherylKagan.org/Scholarships.

You can connect with me on social media at “Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan” on Facebook, @CherylKagan on Twitter, and @CherylCKagan on Instagram.

Once again, it has been my honor to represent you in the State Senate. Thank you for your interest and your dedication in reading this extensive update!

Best,

Cheryl

Cheryl C. Kagan
Maryland State Senator
District 17 (Rockville & Gaithersburg)

PS:  Two of my favorite Spring events are around the corner! I hope to see you at the Gaithersburg Book Festival (Saturday, May 19 from 10:00am-6:00pm) and/or Rockville’s Hometown Holidays (Memorial Day weekend, May 26-28).

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