Annapolis Insights: Legislative Newsletter – Week 5

Opening Statement

As we navigate through Week 5 of the General Assembly, the air is charged with debate and the crafting of legislation that promises to shape the future of Maryland. I’m excited to share insights from the Governor’s State of the State address. Governor Moore confidently declared Maryland’s condition as robust, acknowledging the journey ahead to tackle significant challenges and the valuable lessons from his first year. He detailed a strategic vision to enhance safety, affordability, and competitiveness in Maryland, introducing a comprehensive state plan focused on public safety, housing, childcare, and reducing child poverty. Here is the full speech

This plan, underscored by measurable goals, is a testament to the Governor’s commitment to collaboration and progress.  

Breaking Barriers in Cinema: Championing Closed Captioning 

This week  I presented my first bill of the session  HB426. Motion Picture Houses – Closed Captioning in the Economic Matters Committee. This legislation proposes that all motion picture houses be mandated to provide closed captioning for every screening of a motion picture. Additionally, certain motion picture houses would be required to offer open captioning for at least specific screenings each week. The aim is to ensure accessibility for individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, making motion picture houses more inclusive as places of public accommodation. The bill emphasizes the importance of providing captioning options to enhance the overall experience for all patrons, aligning with the broader principles of accessibility and equal access in public spaces.

With 900 letters of support from across the state for HB0426 (SB0092), our initiative for closed captioning in motion picture houses, we’re energized to continue advocating for accessible and inclusive public spaces. Join us in this journey to make Maryland a model of opportunity and inclusivity.

Climate Justice Reception

On Wednesday, I  had the honor to address  Climate Justice Reception, hosted by the League of Conservation Voters on Wednesday. The event gathered dedicated advocates focused on building political power for people and the planet. The reception was a time to come together with other environmentalists and discuss legislative priorities for the 2024 session. These include:

Senate Bill 783 sets Maryland on a path to 100% clean energy by 2035, targeting a 50% renewable energy share by 2030, with 14.5% from solar. The bill boosts solar incentives for residential, community, and utility projects and encourages solar installations on brownfields and parking lots to preserve farmland.

The Solar Incentives Legislation (House Bill 24 / Senate Bill 96) aims to integrate equity into Maryland’s solar project permitting, leveraging the 2022 Climate Solutions Now Act. It uses the MDE EJ Screen tool to identify and support overburdened and underserved communities, ensuring fair treatment in environmental policies, including those related to air pollution permits.

The Whole Watershed Act (House Bill 1165 / Senate Bill 969) introduces a science-based, coordinated effort for watershed restoration in up to five Maryland watersheds. Inspired by Pennsylvania’s success, it seeks to improve water quality through comprehensive management of nonpoint source pollution, with a focus on Environmental Justice communities and areas with high restoration potential.

I’m looking forward to working closely with these pieces of legislation and seeing them get pushed forward so we can achieve a greener and cleaner Maryland. 

Latino Caucus Press Briefing

On Thursday, I addressed the Latino Caucus Press Briefing and also joined the Black Caucus, underscoring the collaborative effort across caucuses for a significant cause. The Access to Care Act, a bill we’re championing this legislative session in Maryland, stands out as a priority for the AAPI Caucus as well. This legislation is a strategic move to reduce the uninsured population without incurring state costs, by facilitating access to insurance through the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange without the need for legal residency documentation. It’s designed to relieve the healthcare system’s burden, encourage preventive care, and make health coverage more flexible and accessible. The broad support from various communities and caucuses underscores the Act’s potential to significantly improve public health outcomes and ensure equitable medical services access. We deeply appreciate the widespread community backing for this crucial initiative.

 

Key Bills Discussed in the Health and Government Operations Committee

This week, the Health, Government & Operations Committee was bustling with activity as we held hearings for bills to address various critical issues facing Marylanders. The agenda included the “Lowering Prescription Drug Costs For All Marylanders Now Act” (HB0340), which seeks to empower the Prescription Drug Affordability Board with authority for upper payment limits and funding. We also reviewed the “Access to Care Act” (HB0728), proposing a Qualified Resident Enrollment Program for health insurance, and considered the establishment of the Maryland Pathway to Nursing Program and Advisory Committee (HB0354). Our discussions extended to tackling discrimination by places of public accommodation (HB0368), streamlining application requirements for the State Emergency Medical Services Board (HB0380), and addressing illegal dumping in Baltimore City through the Public Information Act (HB0387). Furthermore, we evaluated proposed alterations to grant applications and reporting processes (HB0418), contemplated joining the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Compact (HB0425), and discussed renaming the Department of Veterans Affairs and creating a Deputy Secretary of Military Family Policy and Programs position (HB0431). These hearings underscore our committee’s dedication to enhancing healthcare, education, and public services for the benefit of all Maryland residents.

We are thankful for all the citizens who dedicated their time to testifying for each of these important causes, where they provide their personal experience as to each pressing issue. We value your voice and encourage all citizens to use it to better the legislative process. 

Bills Advancing Through the Health and Government Operations Committee

In an exciting week of legislative progress, the Health and Government Operations Committee has passed a series of transformative bills, many of which I had the honor of co-sponsoring and wholeheartedly supported with my vote. Among the passed legislation was the Homecare Worker Rights Act of 2024 (HB0039), a testament to our commitment to homecare workers’ rights and fair compensation. We also advanced the public health landscape with revisions to services and protections (HB0042), streamlined the process for families during their time of loss with easier access to death certificates (HB0230), promoted fairness in state contracts (HB0289), initiated a focused Workgroup on Health and Wellness in Prince George’s County (HB0358), and celebrated our history through the renaming of the Commission on African American History and Culture’s museum (HB0390). These bills underscores our collective dedication to creating a more equitable, healthy, and inclusive Maryland for all.

Happy Lunar New Year

Happy Lunar New Year to all who celebrate! As we usher in the Year of the Dragon, I wish you prosperity, good health, and joy. AAPI caucus welcomed AAPI leaders in Annapolis and fostered stronger collaborations for a brighter future. It’s occasions like these that underscore our collective efforts towards unity, success, and positively impacting our communities. May this Lunar New Year be the beginning of a year filled with happiness and significant achievements. 

 In the District: Baltimore County

A significant vote is on the horizon, as the County Council prepares to deliberate on County Council Bill 3-24. This pivotal legislation is aimed at rejuvenating the landscape by mixed-use development, which  blends residential and commercial spaces within the same framework. The spotlight shines on specific zones, notably the York Road corridor that stretches from the Beltway all the way to Hunt Valley Town Center, earmarked for this transformative development.

Curious about which areas are marked for change? Click here to discover the designated locations.

Mark your calendars! The bill’s implications will be thoroughly examined at the County Council’s Work Session scheduled for Tuesday, February 13, 2024, at 4 pm. This is a golden opportunity for community members to engage and seek clarity on how this legislation impacts them. If you’re uncertain about who represents you at the county level or wish to voice your thoughts, click here to find and contact your County Councilpersons.

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/

QUESTIONS: Please call Sadikcha Basnet, Scholarship Coordinator, in my office with any questions PRIOR to filling out the form; harry.bhandari@house.state.md.us or (410) 841-3526

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.

use the link below to download the pdf version of this newsletter.

https://delegatebhandari.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Newsletter-W5.pdf

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