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Annapolis notes: Immigrant health bill advances, watching paint dry, and one senator’s tough vote

Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

A bill to allow undocumented immigrants to purchase health care coverage from the state’s insurance marketplace passed in the House of Delegates Friday, but not without a fiery debate from lawmakers.

HB 728, sponsored by Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery), passed on party lines Friday, with 101 in favor of the legislation and 34 against the measure. Four Democratic and four Republican votes were not recorded.

The bill, referred to as the Access to Care Act, would allow undocumented immigrants without health care coverage to access the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange and shop for lower cost insurance plans. The legislation would prompt the exchange to seek a federal waiver to accomplish this goal.

Discussions on the floor got heated.

Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) called the legislation “ridiculous,” claiming that there are not enough primary care providers across the state to justify allowing undocumented residents to add to the number of patients waiting for doctor appointments.

“It’s very difficult to get an appointment with a doctor, even a primary care physician in the state,” he said.

“I’m just curious why the [Health and Government Operations] committee thought it was OK to provide health insurance to people who are not citizens of the United States, when the citizens of the United States, who live in Maryland, who built these hospitals and put this medical system in place, can’t even get medical care themselves,” Fisher said.

Health and Government Operations Chair Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel) argued that the bill is “not ridiculous” and that undocumented residents without health care often go to the emergency room to seek medical care, contributing to the state’s extended emergency room wait time.

“Where are these people going to get their care? You know where they go? They go to the emergency room,” she said.

HB 728 “saves us a lot of money…because hospitals last year spent $120-$150 million on uncompensated care,” she added. “Not only that, we also have people that are not getting their care, that when they start going to the ER, that costs us a lot of money because you are not spending money on prevention.”

HB 728 moves on to the Senate. SB 705, the cross-filed legislation, has been discussed in the Senate Finance Committee earlier this month, but has not yet received a vote.

After passing in the House last year, the bill was bottled up in the Senate during the final days of the legislative session.

Painting a picture of environmental protection

Meanwhile, lawmakers debated paint this week.

Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore and Carroll) says his wife “puts so much pressure on me” every four or five years to purchase two gallons of paint to paint a room in their house.

The problem, he said, is that all the unused paint containers are left in his basement and remain there for long periods of time.

That’s why West served as a co-sponsor with Sen. Benjamin Brooks (D-Baltimore County) on Senate Bill 325, a paint stewardship measure. West and Brooks joined 31 other senators to approve the measure on the Senate floor earlier this week. Twelve Republicans voted against it.

It would require a producer, distributor, or retailer of architectural paint to participate in a paint recycling program managed by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

That type of paint is defined as interior or exterior coatings sold in containers of five gallons or less. That doesn’t include industrial, specialty, or original equipment coatings.

A company would pay a plan review fee to the department for approval that could take up to six months. It must submit an annual report and pay an annual fee.

The goal: reuse certain paint products and not dispose of them with household waste.

According to the department, some counties collect household hazardous waste (HHW) such as paint, pesticides, and batteries only once a year.

“Due to the potential for HHW to cause physical injury, contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems, and present hazards to children and pets, MDE recommends the proper recycling and disposal of HHW materials at local HHW collection programs,” according to the Department of Legislative Services’ fiscal note and analysis of the legislation.

Sen. Chris West (R-Baltimore and Carroll). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

The note also states special fund expenditures would increase to $70,200 in fiscal year 2026 but decrease to $64,300 by the following year.

“Most of my constituents don’t like paying taxes…because they figure more money is going to be wasted,” West said. “Fees are something different. For a program where you pay a fee and you can see that the program is actually accomplishing something. I don’t think my constituents are upset with that.”

Sen. Johnny Mautz (R-Middle Shore) said the fees will result in a greater cost to consumers and retailers.

“Inflation is everywhere,” said Mautz, who voted against the bill. “This is another example of the government fueling the fire of inflation that’s burning everyone up.”

The bill was moved Wednesday to the House and referred to the Environment and Transportation and Economic Matters committees.

The paint bill’s House version, sponsored by Del. Regina T. Boyce (D-Baltimore City) was approved Friday by a vote of 99-37.

Del Jefferson L. Ghrist (R-Upper Shore) called the measure “a silly bill.”

“If you buy a gallon of paint and you don’t use the whole thing, you’re probably going to store it in a garage, probably store it in a closet somewhere, [or] in the basement,” he said. “You’re not going to take it back to the store to dump it in a container to have them reuse it. From a pure, practical sense it’s not going to happen. Consumers are going to be charged a fee for something they’re not even going to take advantage of, more than likely.”

The purpose of the bill, Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery), chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee said, was simple.

“We are following what other states have done to try to have a cleaner, greener environment and less waste,” he said.

Sydnor takes a tough vote

A bill to protect members of the armed forces and veterans from discrimination became a vote of principle for one member of the Maryland Senate.

Senate Bill 501, sponsored by Sen. Dawn Gile (D-Anne Arundel), would elevate members of the armed forces, reserves, veterans, and dependents to a protected class under state law. Should it become law, it would prohibit discrimination based on military status.

Current protected classes in Maryland include race, sex, age, religion, and sexual orientation.

The Senate passed the bill 45-1 this week, sending it to the House.

Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County). Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

For Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III, (D-Baltimore County) the language went too far — but not because he opposed military service.

Sydnor said “it always is” tough being the lone voice of dissent on an otherwise popular issue.

“Someone’s going to read this and say Sydnor’s against discriminating against veterans. I’ve voted for plenty of things to provide to those serving in the military,” said Sydnor.

Military issues are center stage this year after Gov. Wes Moore (D) declared 2024 “the year for military families.”

Giles’ bill, supported by Moore, would designate military status, including for military spouses, as a protected class for hiring purposes.

Adding service members to a list of protected classes recognized by the state went too far for Sydnor.

“The more and more that you add non-traditional protected classes, the more and more you’re diluting what a protected class is,” he said. “Pretty soon it loses its meaning.”


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Annapolis notes: Immigrant health bill advances, watching paint dry, and one senator’s tough vote