-The following article was submitted by Delegate Bob Long of the 6th District-
The 2023 Legislative Session ended on April 10 th , 2023. It has been a pleasure to serve the residents of the Sixth Legislative District. This year was more challenging than my first eight years as we have a new Democratic Governor. I had many good bills that never even got out of committee. Those bills related to election laws, tax credits, school safety and the wastewater treatment plant.
I believe that our election laws are critical to the functioning of our democracy. Free and fair elections are the cornerstone of a healthy and just society, and it is our responsibility as lawmakers to ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote and that their vote is counted. There is a lack of trust in the election process, which I tried to address with my bills.
House Bill 22 focuses on absentee ballot signature requirements and verification. If passed, this bill will prohibit local boards of elections from removing an absentee ballot from its return envelope or counting the ballot unless the envelope is signed by the voter and, under most circumstances, a witness. I am concerned about the validity of these absentee ballots. Election races are determined now more than ever by absentee votes. These votes are not in line with traditional in-person voting results. One candidate might have a clear lead with in-person voting, but when absentee votes are counted, another candidate may win. Now we need to ensure the transparency of the absentee ballot process. You can even request a ballot to be printed from your computer. The voting machines are not equipped to count these ballots as staff from the Board of Elections transcribes these votes to a traditional ballot. I have a major problem with this. If the technology isn’t available to count these ballots by machine, there shouldn’t be an option to print a ballot by computer. There could also be multiple ballots printed. Ever since COVID, these ballots have become too easy to get. I don’t want any duplicate or fraudulent
ballot to cancel out any legitimate vote.
House Bill 35 requires election judges to establish a voter’s identity by requesting certain proof of identity, such as a voter card or a valid government-issued photo identification. We need to have identification for many things such as driving, registering for school, or even renting a library book. We are even given a voter card, but don’t need to show it to vote. There is something seriously wrong here.
The critics of my bill said that it is more likely to disenfranchise certain voters. My response is that they would be able to vote by provisional ballot. The number of voters in this category is small and it doesn’t make sense to completely remove the requirement of showing identification.
I also proposed House Bill 926, also referred to as the “Voter Privacy Act of 2023.” This legislation aims to protect the privacy and security of voters by allowing them to establish their identity at polling places using specific proofs of identification. This was a commonsense voter bill that was left in committee. It would allow a voter the option to show identification, instead of verbally providing personal identifiable information around multiple people when voting. Identity theft is out there, and we must try to prevent it.
Wastewater Treatment Plant
My bill HB 198 required an independent third party to oversee water quality testing for treatment plants that are experiencing a catastrophic or continuing mechanical failure of operational equipment. The third party would remain onsite until they come up with an action plan to get the treatment plant up to compliance. New wastewater disposal permit guidelines would address my concern. Two public input meetings will be scheduled. I will let you know when these meetings are scheduled.
Even though my bill did not pass, I am cautiously optimistic about the Taskforce HB843 which was passed. It will provide oversight to Back River Wastewater Treatment Plant. I hope that the plant maintenance continues to improve, and we do not experience the effects of the poor maintenance that we did last summer.
School Safety was a concern I addressed through legislation. Students go to school to learn; we need to protect them from violent and disruptive behavior of classmates. Our state pours a lot of money in these schools. We also need to address school safety, which will also help students to succeed.
House Bill 69 This bill aims to address violent and disruptive behavior in public schools. It requires parents and guardians to seek and participate in counseling with their child after receiving notice of such behavior.
House Bill 203 This bill requires law enforcement agencies to report the arrests of students for certain offenses or crimes related to criminal organizations to the Maryland Center for School Safety. This will help schools to monitor students who commit crimes.
Maryland has seen high sales tax revenues with increased inflation. We need to give back to the taxpayer. House Bill 67 aims to alter the sales and use tax rate in Maryland if inflation rates exceed a certain amount. I am sure that everyone has noticed that inflation is still high. From gas to groceries and housing, everything is going up and it is costing the average family too much money. The only good thing about inflation is that the State of Maryland has a surplus. Higher inflation causes more revenue
from sales tax and property tax. While the average working person is struggling to pay their bills or a least must watch their wallet more, our state government is enjoying the extra revenue.
HB 73 is designed to help first-time homebuyers. The bill, also known as the “Homestead Property Tax Credit – Calculation of Credit for Dwelling Purchased by First-Time Homebuyers,” allows them to calculate the homestead property tax credit using a specific method. This bill requires that the credit for a property that includes a newly purchased dwelling be calculated in a certain manner and provides that a homeowner will receive the larger of the homestead property tax credit amounts as calculated using certain methods.
HB 110 requires Baltimore County to provide a property tax credit to supplement the State Homeowners Property Tax Credit. I am seeking a modest increase to qualify for this credit. The income limit has not been increased since 2006. Since the cost of living has gone up, the income limit should also be raised. This would help to relieve the cost of homeownership for lower income homeowners.
War on Guns
The most controversial bill was Senate Bill 1. This bill places bans on the wearing and carrying of a firearm in Maryland. It will probably be signed by the governor. This bill will prohibit carrying a firearm at a private dwelling unless you have permission from the property owner. There are also many other public locations that would be prohibited such as schools and government buildings and amusement parks, stadiums, racetracks, video lottery facilities, museums, and anywhere that serves alcohol
including restaurants. It is very likely that this bill is unconstitutional and will be challenged in the courtsystem. I am against this bill, which takes away Second Amendment rights. The Democrats wanted to pass this bill in the 11 th hour, hoping the Republicans would accept the bill without controversary.
The Republicans came together to propose different amendments that would reduce restrictions on the bill. I proposed amendments that would exempt people who carry large amounts of cash and Realtors. I also proposed to exempt people who had a permit since June 23, 2022. We shouldn’t be punishing the law-abiding citizens that sought to get a permit legally. This is the first bill that was proposed in the Senate, but it was debated on the last day. We have received many emails and phone calls from people against this bill. As of now, we don’t know the future of SB1, but it will likely be challenged in court.
Those were the major highlights of the 2023 Session. I will continue to work on voter integrity, tax credits, school safety and the wastewater treatment plant and other issues that are important to the voters in the 6 th District.