Busy Saturday: House passes Trans Health Equity Act, advances price-gouging and data protections, backs a new state spirit
The Maryland House of Delegates voted Saturday to approve the Trans Health Equity Act — a bill that just a year ago disappeared from the chamber’s agenda ahead of a floor vote.
Delegates debated the legislation for about 25 minutes early Saturday afternoon before passing the measure 93-37.
Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery), the lead sponsor of the bill, was joined by 59 cosponsors this session.
Kaiser said she thought it was important to serve as a voice for the trans community in the chamber.
“What is being said nationally about trans people are the same lies that were said about gays and lesbians 20 years ago,” said Kaiser, who was one of the first openly gay members of the General Assembly. “And that’s part of the reason I feel the passion and the connection to our trans brothers and sisters.”
She commended Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery) for defending the bill in the chamber during floor debates earlier in the week.
Republicans in the chamber introduced a couple of amendments to attempt to curtail the legislation, but those were voted down.
While the bill generated significant debate, it changes state policy only modestly.
The bill would require Maryland Medicaid, beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, to provide coverage for additional gender-affirming treatments, which are currently disallowed in the state’s plan but commonly covered by private insurance. The expanded treatments include hormone therapy, hair alteration, voice therapy, physical alterations to the body, and fertility preservation.
The state’s Medicaid program already covers treatments including mental health services, hormone replacement therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
The bill does not lift state policies on current requirements to qualify for gender reassignment surgery: Patients must be 18 or older, have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, undergo at least one year of continuous hormonal therapy when recommended by a mental health professional, and receive two referrals from a mental health professional before the surgery.
During the 2022 legislative session, similar legislation passed the Senate chamber and out of House committee, but never came up for a vote on the floor and the committee’s vote was removed from the bill page.
Similar legislation is expected to come up for debate in the Senate on Monday.
Lawmakers are looking to get tough on price gouging following problems that arose at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The House gave preliminary approval to House Bill 775 which would limit non-seasonal price increases on essential goods and services to 15% during a state of emergency. The bill would also give the governor the power during a state of emergency to designate essential goods and services.
The Office of the Attorney General reported that it received hundreds of complaints of price gouging during the pandemic on items including food and cleaning supplies.
The Senate gave final approval to the cross-filed Senate bill on Friday.
Child online protections
The House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require social media companies and other apps to assess how children might use or be affected by their online activities.
House Bill 901, modeled on similar laws in Europe, would require social media companies operating in Maryland to perform assessments on how children are likely to use their products. The companies would also be required to assess how they use the private information of children and how it might potentially expose them to harmful online content.
The companies would also be required to consider how their products affect children’s privacy, health, safety and mental health.
The Senate version of the bill awaits action by the Finance Committee.
The Spirit of Maryland
Marylanders who are fans of state symbols may soon have an opportunity to toast the addition of a new one.
The House of Delegates unanimously approved House Bill 178 which would make Maryland Rye Whiskey the official state spirit.
Prior to Prohibition, Maryland was the third-largest distilling state in the nation behind only Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery), sponsor of the bill, told the House Health and Government Operations Committee he envisions an economic boost to the state from the adoption of the state symbol similar to how Kentucky markets Kentucky Bourbon and the Bourbon trail.
“I have found Maryland Rye in six different states not Maryland,” he told the committee. “Now, I treat Maryland Rye not produced in Maryland the same way I treat Maryland-style crab cakes on a restaurant menu outside of Maryland but it is a real thing and it is something that is part of our history and our heritage and something we need to wrap ourselves around for the benefits of the economy and tourism and business.”
There are roughly two dozen official state symbols including the state crustacean (Blue Crab, of course), cat (Calico), dinosaur (astrodon johnstoni) and cake (Smith Island).
There’s even an official sport (jousting) and team sport (lacrosse).
Not every proposed symbol makes it.
In 2017, David Shore, 10 of Bethesda, made an impressive push to have chromite named the state mineral (he even had a pro-bono lobbyist and testimony from the state geologist).
There were also a few unsuccessful attempts to have the soft crab named the official state sandwich.