Annapolis Insights: Legislative Newsletter – Week 4

Opening Statement

Another week in the 2024 General Assembly has concluded, and it was filled with exciting developments. Governor Wes Moore kicked off the week by introducing the ENOUGH Act, aimed at ending concentrated poverty. With critical legislative deadlines approaching, the Maryland General Assembly has already introduced over 1,800 bills and anticipates hundreds more before these vital dates. Although bills can be introduced at any point during the 90-day legislative session, those submitted after the introduction deadlines in each chamber face significant hurdles. Specifically,  House bills after Friday, February 9th, and Senate bills introduced after Monday, February 5th, must be referred to the House Rules & Executive Nominations Committee and the Senate Rules Committee before they can advance to a standing committee for a hearing and testimony.

2024 Legislative Highlights

Modernizing Education for Dialysis Technicians: The Introduction of HB0959

I’m sponsoring HB0959 to reform continuing education for Certified Dialysis Technicians. This bill addresses the current mandate requiring technicians to complete a single 3-hour course for certification renewal, a challenge due to the scarcity of courses designed specifically for dialysis professionals. The proposed change allows more flexibility, permitting technicians to fulfill their 3-hour education requirement through multiple shorter courses. This amendment is essential for adapting the certification renewal process to be more accessible and accommodating to educational opportunities, ensuring dialysis technicians can more easily maintain their certifications.

Health and Government Operation Committee 

This week, the Health and Government Operations Committee heard several significant bills, including a trio of Maryland legislative proposals aimed at enhancing public health and wellness. Among these, HB0042 proposes tightening restrictions on tobacco product sales to certain military members, allowing the Maryland Department of Health to reallocate unused cancer grant funds, and revising the duties of the State Council on Child Abuse and Neglect. Additionally, HB0057 seeks to include veterinarians in the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program as “dispensers” of controlled substances for animals, without requiring the program to share prescription drug monitoring data with them. HB0358 focuses on establishing a Workgroup on Health and Wellness in Prince George’s County to assess health practices and recommend best practices for community health programs. These hearings represent a proactive step towards refining the state’s approach to public health and safety.

Insurance and Pharmaceuticals Subcommittee

This week, during a hearing held by the Insurance and Pharmaceuticals Subcommittee—a committee I am part of within the Health Government Operations Committee—we closely examined several critical pieces of health insurance legislation that could significantly impact Maryland. The agenda included discussions on HB 23, which focused on improving dental coverage in health plans by removing certain exemptions and redefining the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange’s authority over pediatric dental benefits.

Additionally, we evaluated HB 30, which seeks to bring state health insurance laws in line with federal mandates, especially regarding the No Surprises Act, and to introduce provisions for extended open enrollment periods under specific conditions. We also heard HB 24, which is aimed at preventing the cancellation of health insurance policies for minor premium payment shortfalls, specifically when the deficit is $10 or less and paid within the grace period. 

Planned Parenthood Reception

On Thursday, I had the honor to attend the Planned Parenthood reception. It was an amazing experience being in the presence of individuals who help maintain and advocate for reproductive rights. 

Union Press  Rally

This week,  I had the honor to attend a Union Rally which held in DC AFL-CIO, in collaboration with various labor unions, including AFSCME MD, AFT-MD, IAM, MCGEO, SEIU 500, and UAW, where we held a press conference in the Senate Media Room. This conference aimed at drumming up support for several key collective bargaining bills slated for this year. The initiative, spearheaded by AFL-CIO, was designed to showcase the solidarity among labor groups in their push for enhanced collective bargaining rights. Among the significant bills discussed were the Library Workers Empowerment Act (HB609/SB 591), which would empower Maryland’s public library employees to unionize and engage in collective bargaining; HB 260/ SB 192, proposing collective bargaining rights for over 4000 state-employed supervisors; and HB 493/ SB #TBD, aimed at granting collective bargaining rights to faculty, part-time faculty, postdoctoral associates, and graduate assistants within the University System of Maryland, Morgan State University, and St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, with 300,000 members from diverse sectors, champions workers’ rights, including unionization, fair wages, and workplace safety. It focuses on creating jobs, especially in infrastructure and education, revitalizing the economy for quality employment, advocating for equitable tax policies, safeguarding public services, and fighting against wage theft.

Taste of Maryland Agriculture 

The 54th annual Taste of Maryland Agriculture Celebration  at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland in Hanover, served as the state’s premier event where agricultural leaders convene with local and national legislators. Their mission is to promote agriculture and educate lawmakers about its significance to Maryland residents, facilitated by direct engagement with producers and supporters of agricultural products.

HGO Bills Passed

I’m delighted to share that during our voting session this Friday, the Health and Government Operations Committee successfully passed 12 bills I supported, many of which I co-sponsored. These bills, now advancing to the Senate for further consideration, span a variety of important topics, demonstrating our dedication to tackling a wide array of issues affecting our community.  These bills are now advancing to the full House and subsequently to the Senate for further consideration. The passed bills include:

HB0091: Bans the State from purchasing or using fossil fuel-powered lawn and garden equipment starting January 1, 2025, aiming for a complete cessation by 2030 to enhance environmental stewardship.

HB0110: Mandates private review agents conducting health insurance reviews for mental health and substance use disorder benefits to meet specific criteria, ensuring fairness and transparency.

HB0255: Repeals the establishment and governance of the Interagency Committee on Aging Services, effectively dissolving it moving forward.

HB0312: Shifts from delegation to collaboration agreements for physician assistants, allowing a patient care team physician to oversee up to eight physician assistants, fostering better medical practice collaboration.

HB0355: Permits licensed direct-entry midwives to care for clients with previous cesarean sections under new regulations, promoting safe and collaborative maternity care.

HB0023: Removes an exemption for qualified health plans from offering essential benefits, duplicating dental plan benefits, and ends mandated pediatric dental benefits, aligning with federal standards.

HB0030: Updates state health insurance laws to match federal requirements, including consumer protections under the No Surprises Act and expanded open enrollment periods.

HB0055: Establishes a commission to make Maryland the leading state for veterans and military families by developing strategic plans and providing recommendations.

HB0133: Forms a commission to study African American Civil War soldiers from Maryland, tasked with planning a dedicated memorial and reporting by December 1, 2024.

HB0227: Updates IT project definitions and requirements for state agencies, enhancing oversight and clarity in technology project management.

HB0232: Streamlines and updates the regulation of physicians and allied health professionals, reducing redundancies and clarifying licensure and discipline processes.

HB0235: Grants pay-for-success contracts by the Department of Natural Resources an exemption from certain General Procurement Law provisions, facilitating innovative environmental projects

Black History Month

This week was the start of Black Histroy Month. Each year we dedicate the month of Feburary to honor the history and lives of African Americans. A community that has left deep impacts and vital contributions to the American fabric. With the recent election of the first black governor in Maryland, Governor Wes Moore, and the third in the history of the United States, it was a monumental victory for the state at large and provides us with hope as to what is to come for the state and those communities that are most marginalized. 

Apply Now for the Delegate Scholarship Program

To be eligible for the academic scholarship, you will need to reside in the 8th Legislative District and attend or plan to attend a Maryland college, university or trade school (unless you have acquired a “unique major” designation from the Maryland Higher Education Commission) . The application and detailed instructions can be accessed by clicking on the following link: https://delegatebhandari.com/scholarship/

Your Voice Matters

I extend my gratitude to all those who have contributed their perspectives on the legislation. Your advocacy is not only acknowledged but also deeply valued. A knowledgeable and involved constituency enhances the effectiveness of our government, whether at the federal, state, or local level. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any inquiries, feedback, worries, or requests for support. Look for my weekly session updates each week through Session. As always, if you have any feedback on how I can serve you better, or issues you’d like to know more about, I’d love to hear from you at harry.bhandari@house.state.md.us.

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