Hogan to Sign Bills That Expand Health Care, Increase Age to Buy Tobacco

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) with House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) at the last bill-signing ceremony in Annapolis. Jones at the time was speaker pro tem. Monday's scheduled bill signing will be the first since Jones was elected speaker on May 1. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

Maryland’s governor and legislative leaders will sign dozens of bills into law on Monday, including measures to ease health care enrollment and raise the legal age to buy tobacco products in the state.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) will invite Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) to the Governor’s Reception Room for the signing ceremony.

measure to increase the age to buy tobacco to 21 will take effect Oct. 1.

Another bill would establish the Maryland Easy Enrollment Health Insurance Program to let Marylanders start health insurance enrollment by checking a box on their annual state income tax returns. The program is expected to help tens of thousands of Marylanders obtain health insurance, which will expand the pool of consumers who are insured and bring down premium costs for other enrollees.

Monday’s list of bill signings is dominated by health and education-related measures, but the governor will also sign into law several measures to change criminal law and reform government.

Health

House Bill 1284 will protect living organ donors in the state from insurance discrimination and require employers to provide unpaid leave for recovery time.

Another measure, House Bill 124, will prevent Marylanders under the age of 18 from using indoor tanning beds. Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and in 2019, the American Cancer Society projects that 1,750 Marylanders will be diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer; 110 are projected to die from the disease.

House Bill 838 will rename the Maryland Food Stamp Program as the Food Supplement Program and allows some benefit recipients who don’t have a place to store and cook food or do not have access to a grocery store to use benefits at participating restaurants.

Education

Hogan will sign a measure to add three more P-TECH schools in the state. The governor has championed the P-TECH program, which enables students to graduate with a high school diploma and a no-cost, two-year associate degree in a critical STEM field. Each P-TECH school in the state includes a partnership among a local high school, a college, and a private company.

Senate Bill 1011 will establish a public-private partnership to accelerate school construction in Prince George’s County. The program would accelerate school construction projects throughout the state’s second-largest school system, which estimates an $8.5 billion backlog for school construction and maintenance. The program is believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

Under House Bill 1253, the state will expand funding for schools to reduce lead levels in drinking water sources. The bill encourages school systems to adopt a limit of no more than 5 parts per billion of lead in drinking water sources and requires annual reporting of school water sources with higher levels.

The Ready to Read Act will provide for reading screening in kindergarten and first grade for all students to identify reading challenges like dyslexia at earlier ages, and it requires school systems to intervene to provide additional support to make sure students can master this fundamental skill.

The bill passed the General Assembly unanimously, and was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery), who spoke passionately on the floor about overcoming his own challenges with reading at a young age.

In higher education, Hogan will sign a bill aimed at stopping deceptive practices of student loan providers. House Bill 594 will prohibit student loan servicers from engaging in any deceptive practice — like giving false information to students or misapplying or refusing to correct misapplication of payments. The legislation was introduced at the request of Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D).

Another bill to be signed Monday will require each college in the state to develop and adopt a written policy for receiving and addressing student concerns about the institution’s athletic programs by Oct. 1.

Criminal law

Hogan will sign Laura and Reid’s Law, which will create an enhanced 10-year penalty for someone who commits a crime of violence against a woman they know or believe to be pregnant. The measure is named for Laura Wallen, a Howard County school teacher who was four months pregnant when she was killed in September 2017. She planned to name her son Reid.

Hogan will also sign House Bill 1268, which will direct $3.5 million to law enforcement agencies that have the most untested rape evidence kits in the state. The bill’s signing comes after another measure House Bill 1096, which will expand requirements for rape kit testing in the state, was also signed into law.

Government and business reform

Hogan will also sign a bill to establish new oversight and transparency guidelines at the Maryland Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) after a damning audit that revealed investments in companies not based in the state and an ad hoc advisory committee that included two members associated with firms that had received more than $21 million in funding from a corporate venture fund.

The bill will create a new investment committee in TEDCO subject to regulations and state ethics laws, add reporting requirements, and more narrowly define the types of Maryland-based businesses that would be eligible for initial funding, among other changes.

Senate Bill 184 will require the Maryland State Board of Elections to video stream and record meetings.

Another bill would limit the number of medical cannabis dispensaries one company can operate in the state to four.

House Bill 1113 will create the Office of Performance Evaluation and Government Accountability within the Department of Legislative Services. The office, with a core staff of four evaluators, would undertake reports on the performance of state government units, including recommendations for programmatic or policy changes.

Performance evaluations would include investigations of waste and fraud, and be more robust than, but complementary to the state’s current auditing process.

The bill was cosponsored by the late House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D).

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