Annapolis Insights: End of Session Legislative Newsletter – 2024

Dear constituent, 

As we conclude another productive year of service to the 8th District, marking my sixth year of dedicated advocacy, I am filled with gratitude for the unwavering support and engagement of our constituents. Your voices have been instrumental in guiding our legislative efforts throughout the 2024 session. This End of Session Letter serves as a reflection of our collaborative work and a testament to the positive impact we’ve made together. While we celebrate our accomplishments, we also recognize the ongoing challenges that demand our attention. With a commitment to continuous improvement, we look forward to building upon our achievements and addressing the pressing issues facing our community. This session, we championed bipartisan initiatives focused on accessibility, healthcare, social work regulation, and emergency services, demonstrating our collective commitment to serving the needs of Marylanders. Together with my colleagues in the legislature, we navigated complex issues, including funding for trauma services, expansion of mental health support, consumer protection measures, and the tragic events surrounding the Key Bridge collapse. Your input has been invaluable in shaping our priorities and guiding our actions. I am deeply appreciative of the conversations we’ve shared, the concerns you’ve raised, and the trust you’ve placed in me to represent our district effectively. While our perspectives may vary, our shared dedication to serving our community remains unwavering. Thank you for the privilege of representing you—it is an honor I hold dear.

Legislative Success

During this session, we focused on addressing critical issues that directly affect the well-being of Marylanders. With 1,526 bills heard in the House and 1,188 in the Senate, a total of 1,053 bills passed both chambers, and now await the governor’s approval. Personally, I’m honored to have sponsored 19 bills which were  enacted into law in the past.  This year, among our many successes, four bills that I had the privilege of sponsoring stand out for their notable impact and broad bipartisan support. I’m proud to say that each of these bills has successfully passed through the legislative process and now awaits the governor’s signature.

Places of Public Accommodation – Motion Picture Houses – Captioning (HB0426)

This bill, which mandates closed captioning for motion picture screenings, is a vital step towards making our movie theaters more inclusive for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Its passage will ensure that everyone can enjoy the magic of cinema, regardless of hearing ability.

State Board of Social Work Examiners – Board Membership and Certified Social Worker Licenses (HB0755)

By updating the membership of the State Board of Social Work Examiners, this legislation enhances the effectiveness and responsiveness of our social work regulatory framework, ultimately improving outcomes for those in need of social services.

Health Occupations – Certified Dialysis Technicians – Continuing Education Requirement (HB0959)

HB0959 introduces flexibility to the continuing education requirements for certified dialysis technicians, empowering them to tailor their educational pursuits to their specific needs. This measure strengthens our healthcare workforce and ensures the highest standards of patient care.

Emergency Medical Services – Maryland Emergency Department Wait Time Reduction Commission – Establishment  (HB1143)

The establishment of the Maryland Emergency Department Wait Time Reduction Commission underscores our commitment to improving emergency medical services across the state. By developing strategies to reduce wait times, this commission will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our emergency care system.

In addition to my legislative successes, I’ve been proud to co-sponsor 113 impactful bills this session. Here are a couple highlights:

Time to Serve Act of 2024 (HB580): This bill doubles disaster service leave from 15 to 30 days, giving employees more time to respond to emergencies. It also boosts paid leave for uniformed services training or active duty, acknowledging the dedication of military and militia members. This bill underscores our commitment to supporting employees and honoring their service to Maryland.

Artificial Intelligence Governance Act of 2024 (SB818): SB818 establishes crucial policies and procedures to ensure the ethical and responsible use of artificial intelligence within our state government, safeguarding against discrimination and bias while harnessing the potential of this transformative technology.

On top of our legislative efforts, I’m thrilled to share the exciting progress on our bond initiatives in District 8, Baltimore County. The district 8 legislative team proudly allocated funds for vital projects such as enhancing Holland Hill Park, supporting the enriching endeavors of the Natural History Museum, uplifting Perry Hall Elementary School, empowering Rosedale Christian Academy, and bolstering the invaluable services of Franklin Square Hospital. With a collective investment of $1.63 million dollars, these initiatives symbolize our unwavering commitment to fostering a thriving and vibrant community for all. 

Budget Priorities

In our FY25 Budget, we’re reinforcing our dedication to Maryland’s future by prioritizing key areas despite fiscal challenges. With a focus on transportation, education, and healthcare, we’re paving the way for a prosperous tomorrow for all Marylanders. 

Our commitment to education is evident in the $9.1 billion allocated to public schools, supporting initiatives outlined in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, from expanding pre-K programs to promoting teacher diversity. Moreover, our transportation system receives a significant boost of $330 million, bolstering local roads, transit systems, and essential projects like the Red Line.

Recognizing the critical role of trauma centers, we’re allocating an additional $105 million to ensure prompt and effective emergency care statewide. Additionally, our commitment to comprehensive healthcare is reflected in the $14.4 billion in Medicaid funding, providing coverage to over 1.6 million residents, including expanded services for school-based mental health.

Investments of nearly $488 million in the Child Care Scholarship Program underscore our commitment to supporting Maryland families by bridging gaps and ensuring access to quality childcare. We’re also dedicated to public safety, with investments in police aid, gun violence prevention, and community-based services aimed at fostering safer neighborhoods and supporting victims.

Furthermore, proactive steps to address climate change include a $90 million allocation for pollution reduction efforts, such as electric school buses and vehicle charging infrastructure. In response to challenges faced by individuals and businesses affected by reduced operations at the Port of Baltimore following the Key Bridge collapse, the FY25 Budget provides $275 million in assistance.

Additionally, our FY25 Capital Budget strengthens Maryland’s infrastructure, generating tens of thousands of jobs and leveraging approximately $2 billion in local and private funds, including $45 million for community college projects. Together, these budgetary initiatives exemplify our shared values of opportunity, resilience, and progress, laying a robust foundation for a brighter tomorrow for all Marylanders.

Promoting Education

In the realm of education, Maryland is taking bold steps to ensure our students receive a well-rounded and inclusive learning experience. I was proud to vote “yes” on the Freedom to Read Act (HB785). This groundbreaking legislation positions Maryland at the forefront of safeguarding intellectual freedom in our schools and public libraries. The Freedom to Read Act establishes statewide standards for library collections, protecting them from censorship attempts. By preserving diverse viewpoints, HB785 fosters an environment where students can explore differing perspectives with respect and understanding. In addition, Education – Initial Teacher Certification – Requirements (HB945) paves new pathways into the teaching profession, addressing critical shortages and promoting diversity within our educator workforce. As a fellow educator during the interim, I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact of this legislation on our profession. By expanding options for teacher certification, this bill not only bolsters our efforts to meet the goals of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future but also ensures our classrooms are enriched by a broad spectrum of experiences and backgrounds.

Protecting Marylanders

Maryland is leading the charge in safeguarding consumer rights and privacy with recent legislative efforts. SB1 modernizes regulations in the retail energy market, shielding customers, especially those in vulnerable communities, from exploitative practices and potentially saving millions annually. Meanwhile, HB567, the Maryland Online Data Privacy Act of 2024, empowers consumers by granting them control over their online data, setting a new standard for data protection in the nation. Additionally, HB603, known as Maryland Kids Code, prioritizes the safety and well-being of children online, ensuring that tech companies uphold stringent privacy standards and refrain from exploiting kids’ data. These measures exemplify Maryland’s commitment to fostering a fair, transparent, and secure digital landscape for all its residents.  I take immense pride in having supported and voted “yes” on all three bills, which secured their passage through the House. 

Expanding Housing Opportunities 

In addressing the pressing need for affordable housing, Maryland is taking proactive steps to revitalize communities and improve accessibility to housing options. I am deeply honored to have co-sponsored both HB599 and HB538, which are instrumental in this endeavor. HB599 establishes the Maryland Community Investment Corporation, providing vital financial support to low-income areas across the state, with an estimated $50 million in federal funding directed towards community projects. Additionally, HB538, the Housing Expansion and Affordability Act of 2024, tackles affordability challenges by permitting new housing developments in strategic locations. Recognizing the importance of local control, the bill streamlines review processes while ensuring adherence to specific affordability requirements. Priority projects, including transit-oriented developments, former state/federal campuses, and charity-owned properties, receive targeted support to accelerate housing construction and promote community revitalization efforts. These initiatives underscore Maryland’s commitment to fostering vibrant and inclusive communities where every resident has access to safe and affordable housing options.

Health Government and Operations Committee Accomplishments

Reflecting on the accomplishments of the Health and Government Operations Committee this session fills me with pride and gratitude. Together, we’ve advanced critical legislation aimed at bolstering healthcare access, protecting public health, and promoting well-being throughout Maryland. It’s been a privilege to contribute to these efforts by voting on these impactful bills both in Committee and on the House floor. Here are some of the impactful bills championed by our committee that are poised to positively shape the lives of our constituents:

  • HB728 Health Insurance – Qualified Resident Enrollment Program (Access to Care Act): This bill empowers undocumented Maryland residents to access health insurance through the state’s health insurance marketplace, reducing the number of uninsured individuals, lowering premiums, and curbing uncompensated care costs. As chair of the Maryland Legislative Asian-American & Pacific-Islander Caucus, I am honored to have co-sponsored this bill, which embodies our commitment to equity and inclusivity in healthcare access for all Marylanders
  • HB1051 Maternal Health – Assessments, Referrals, and Reporting (Maryland Maternal Health Act of 2024): Addressing critical gaps in maternal healthcare, this legislation codifies practices to safeguard new mothers and infants, ensuring hospitals provide essential postpartum support, follow-up care, and education to new parents statewide.
  • HB1229 Public Health – Kratom Consumer Protection Act: Prohibiting the sale of kratom to minors, this act establishes consumer protection regulations to prevent improper labeling and contamination, safeguarding public health from the risks associated with opioid-like substances.
  • HB1230 Public Health – Tianeptine Consumer Protection Act: Targeting the harmful effects of tianeptine, known as the “gas station heroin,” this bill prohibits its sale in Maryland, mitigating the risks of addiction and misuse, particularly among young people.
  • HB576 Mental Health – Assisted Outpatient Treatment Programs: Aligning Maryland with national standards, this legislation facilitates the establishment of assisted outpatient treatment programs, ensuring individuals with severe mental health needs receive essential care and support, even if they don’t voluntarily seek treatment.
  • HB 865  Maryland Medical Assistance Program and Health Insurance – Coverage for Prostheses (So Every Body Can Move Act): This bill expands health insurance coverage to include prostheses and replacements, ensuring access to essential devices for daily living and maximizing whole-body health for individuals requiring prosthetic support.
  • HB 177 Hospitals – Care of Infants After Discharge (Safe Sleep Act of 2024): Promoting infant safety, this bill mandates hospitals to provide comprehensive education on safe sleep practices to new parents, reducing the risks of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) through informed care and support.

Challenges & Resolutions

This session, we faced significant hurdles, including a $761 million budget shortfall projected for the fiscal 2025 budget. Despite this, we successfully passed the FY ’25 budget with a funding emphasis on transportation, education, and healthcare, ensuring vital services for our communities. Additionally, the tragic collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge deeply affected us all, resulting in the loss of six dedicated workers. The economic impact and disruption to daily life reverberated across the state. In response, I remain committed to supporting those affected in any way possible.

In light of this tragedy, HB1526 – Maryland Protecting Opportunities and Regional Trade (PORT) Act was introduced. This legislation provides essential financial assistance to affected workers and companies, including scholarships for the families of those who lost their lives. With a provision of up to $275 million to mitigate wage losses and money to support the rebuilding of the Francis Scott Key Bridge, this bill stands as a testament to our unwavering commitment to the well-being of our community. I want to express my gratitude to Governor Moore for his steadfast leadership during this challenging time. His team’s dedication in keeping us informed and equipped through regular briefings is commendable. For further updates and official statements, please visit: https://governor.maryland.gov/news/press/Pages/default.aspx 

Priorities for the Interim

During this interim period, I will prioritize listening to you at town halls and community meetings, while also closely monitoring the implementation and effectiveness of key legislation passed during this session. We’ll observe outcomes such as HB1143, establishing the Maryland Emergency Department Wait Time Reduction Commission to enhance emergency medical services statewide. Similarly, HB0426 mandates closed captioning for motion picture screenings, promoting inclusivity for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in movie theaters. Additionally, we’ll track the impact of Health and Government Operations Committee bills like HB576, aligning Maryland with national mental health treatment standards, and HB728, enabling undocumented residents to access essential health insurance coverage. By monitoring these initiatives closely, we ensure they meet their objectives and effectively serve our communities’ needs.

District 8 Legislative Scholarship

We’re dedicated to supporting the educational aspirations of our community members in District 8. If you’re a resident of our district and planning to pursue higher education at a Maryland college, university, or trade school, you may be eligible for our academic scholarship. To access the application and find detailed instructions, please visit our website at https://delegatebhandari.com/scholarship/. Should you have any questions or need assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to Sadiksha Basnet, our Scholarship Coordinator, at harry.bhandari@house.state.md.us or (410) 841-3526. We’re here to help you navigate the process and support your educational journey every step of the way.

Thank You

I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the constituents of District 8, my dedicated interns and staff, and the fellow legislators I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with throughout this session. Your unwavering support, hard work, and commitment have been the driving force behind our accomplishments. Together, we’ve made strides in advancing legislation that positively impacts the lives of Marylanders. Your diverse perspectives and passionate advocacy have enriched our discussions and decisions, making the legislative process more robust and meaningful. I deeply appreciate the trust you’ve placed in me to represent our community’s interests effectively. Moving forward, I encourage everyone to stay engaged and continue to be active participants in shaping our shared future. Your input and involvement are invaluable in ensuring that our government remains responsive and accountable to the needs of all. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions, feedback, or concerns. I look forward to our continued collaboration and progress together. I’m always eager to hear from you at harry.bhandari@house.state.md.us. Let’s keep working together to build a better future for our community and our state. 

Newsletter

Stay connected with me by subscribing to my newsletter! Whether you want to stay updated on legislative matters, county events, or simply want to share your thoughts and concerns, I’m here for you. You can subscribe by emailing harry.bhandari@house.state.md.us or simply scan the QR code to the right. Rest assured, during the interim, you can expect to receive the newsletter monthly, while during the legislative session, updates will be delivered weekly. Your support and engagement mean the world to me, and I look forward to staying connected with you every step of the way!

Warm regards,
Delegate Harry Bhandari

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