Annapolis Insights: Legislative Newsletter – Week 7

As we approach this Saturday, it’s astounding to realize we are already at the midpoint of the 2023 legislative session, now completed week 7. The time has flown by, filled with significant activity and progress.

This week has been particularly busy. I’ve had the privilege of presenting and testifying on multiple bills, engaging in deep collaboration with my colleagues on a range of issues. Despite the demands of spending extensive hours on the house floor and in committee meetings, I’ve also managed to meet with several constituents. These meetings are invaluable as they provide direct feedback on various bills that are slated to come before the HGO committee, among others.

As we continue through the session, I want to emphasize the importance of your engagement. Your feedback and input are crucial to our work. Please keep reaching out to my office to make your voices heard. Your perspectives help shape our priorities and actions.

Collaborative Efforts to Address Maryland’s Emergency Department Wait TimesLast year, Senator Lewis Young and I spearheaded a legislative initiative by sponsoring a task force bill, which led to the formation of an informal work group under the guidance of Senator Melony G. Griffith, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, and Delegate Joseline A. Pena-Melnyk, Chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee. The Maryland Hospital Association took the lead in this effort. This initiative was in response to the critical challenge of prolonged emergency department wait times in Maryland, the longest in the nation according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Our aim was to assemble a diverse coalition of stakeholders, including healthcare professionals, patient advocates, and representatives from both the Maryland Health Department and the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission. This collaboration focused on identifying the root causes of the delays and formulating effective strategies to address them. The insights gained have informed our legislative efforts this session, including the introduction of bills HB0784 and HB1143. This week, I had conversations with the Maryland Health Department, the Maryland Health Services Cost Review Commission, and the Maryland Hospital Association. These discussions are a key component of our comprehensive approach to healthcare reform in the state, aligning with legislative efforts aimed at improving emergency department operations and patient care.

Key Bills from Health and Government Operations Committee Progress to Senate

Three  important bills, originated  from the Health and Government Operations Committee, advanced from the House to the Senate.

The Access to Care Act (HB0728) :This bill aims to provide 112,400 Maryland residents with the opportunity to purchase health insurance, offers access to insurance information in 200 languages six days a week, and seeks to reduce Emergency Room wait times across the state. It aims to assist immigrant families in Maryland by improving their access to health insurance without requiring state subsidies. Additionally, the bill is expected to save Maryland between $120-$170 million annually in uncompensated care costs. This development represents a significant step forward in efforts to enhance healthcare accessibility and efficiency in Maryland.

HB0034: Interstate Social Work Licensure Compact: Facilitating cross-state practice for social workers, this bill aims to streamline the licensing process, address workforce shortages, and expand mental health services to underserved areas, benefiting both professionals and communities.

HB189: Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Personal Care Aides – Wage Reports: Mandating annual wage reports for personal care aides, this legislation seeks to enhance wage transparency and equity. Backed by AARP Maryland, it promotes fair wages and quality care through consistent Medicaid reimbursement rate evaluations. These advancements mark significant progress in our efforts to strengthen healthcare support and accessibility in Maryland, as they move from the House to the Senate for further consideration.

Maryland Health Association: The Maryland Health Association convened to address pressing concerns regarding emergency room (ER) wait times across the state. As a collective body representing healthcare institutions and professionals, the association recognizes the critical importance of timely access to emergency care for all Maryland residents. During the discussion, stakeholders examined factors contributing to prolonged wait times, such as staffing shortages and capacity constraints.

Leading the Charge: Advancing Public Safety and Professional Standards in Optometry : I had the pleasure of serving as the House floor leader in the passage of HB 381, a bill that mandates criminal background checks for optometry licensees and introduces the FBI’s RAP Back program for continuous monitoring. This legislation intelligently integrates with the Board’s renewal cycle, eliminating the need for repetitive checks for licensees. It aligns with the standards of most state medical boards, enhancing public trust and safety in the optometry profession. The bill includes confidentiality safeguards and a process for contesting criminal history records, demonstrating our dedication to upholding the highest standards of healthcare professionalism in Maryland. Now, the bill moves to the Senate for further consideration, marking a significant step towards its enactment.

AAPI Caucus Governor Breakfast

Governor Wes Moore recently hosted a breakfast with the AAPI Caucus, showcasing a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and collaboration within Maryland’s leadership. This gathering provided a platform for meaningful dialogue and exchange of ideas between Governor Moore and members of the AAPI Caucus, highlighting shared priorities and opportunities for collective action. The event underscored the importance of fostering strong partnerships with diverse communities to address pressing issues and promote equitable policies statewide. Through initiatives like this breakfast, Governor Moore reaffirms his dedication to amplifying diverse voices and advancing inclusive governance for all Marylanders.

UMBC Volleyball Championship

The Maryland General Assembly recently honored the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) volleyball team for their outstanding achievement of winning the America East conference championship for the fourth consecutive year. As a UMBC alum, I am immensely proud of their consistent excellence on the court. Their dedication, hard work, and resilience are a true reflection of the spirit of excellence that UMBC athletics embodies. This recognition celebrates their significant accomplishment and highlights UMBC’s dedication to promoting a culture of success and excellence across both academic and athletic endeavors. The team’s steadfast commitment to excellence has rightfully earned pride and accolades for the UMBC community. I extend my congratulations to the UMBC volleyball team on this well-deserved honor and look forward to their continued legacy of success, inspiring future generations of Retrievers.

Advancing Inclusivity: Meeting with The Arc of Baltimore on Legislative Priorities: During a recent meeting with The Arc of Baltimore, we had the opportunity to discuss key legislative priorities concerning individuals with developmental disabilities. Our conversation focused on advocating for policies that promote inclusivity and equity, aligning with The Arc Baltimore’s mission to support fulfilling lives. We explored strategies to ensure fair treatment and meaningful engagement, emphasizing the importance of celebrating differences and embracing authenticity. Together, we are committed to advancing initiatives that uphold these principles and enhance the well-being of our community members with developmental disabilities.

Baltimore County:

This week  Delegate Cathy Forbes and I, had the distinct pleasure of welcoming a group of bright 9th graders from the Law & Public Policy (LPP) magnet program at Towson High School to Annapolis. Witnessing the enthusiasm and potential of these talented BCPS students, who are being nurtured to become the leaders of tomorrow, was truly inspiring. The conversation that followed in the Old House Chamber was immensely rewarding. Their insightful questions and keen interest in public policy and law not only impressed us but also reinforced my belief that we will indeed see some of these young individuals here in Annapolis, leading the way in the years to come. To the future leaders from the LPP program: Your journey is just beginning, and I am eagerly anticipating the impact you will make. Here’s to a bright future ahead!

Multicultural Night at Gun Powder Elementary School.

I was delighted to participate in the Multi-Cultural Night at Gun Powder Elementary School, a celebration that vividly highlighted our community’s rich diversity. It was truly inspiring to see many families share their unique cultural heritages, creating an atmosphere of global unity. Special thanks to Ms. LaPierre and Favour Onyibe for their exceptional organization, and to Principal Wendy Cunningham for her unwavering support and leadership. Additionally, my gratitude extends to all the teachers, parents, and students whose collective efforts made the evening a resounding success. The event’s success has already heightened anticipation for next year’s gathering, and I extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone involved for making the Multi-Cultural Night a memorable experience that strengthened our community’s cultural bonds.

Meeting with Students from AAPI 

I had the pleasure of meeting with members from the Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County (CAPA-HC) during their fifth annual State House visit, coordinated by Delegate Wu. This event underscores the importance of civic engagement, providing an invaluable opportunity for CAPA-HC to understand legislative processes and advocate for their priorities directly with their legislators. I commend Delegate Wu for ensuring  productive visit, and I am inspired by CAPA-HC’s commitment to fostering an informed and active community. Their dedication is a pivotal force in enhancing our democratic dialogue and shaping the future of our community.

Tax Season – Easy Enrollment: Tax season is upon us. You can sign up for health coverage through the Easy Enrollment program this tax season. Check a box on your tax return if you would like the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange to estimate your eligibility for coverage. For the particular enrollment period, file your taxes before April 15, 2024. For more information, CLICK HERE.

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.

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