News roundup: Gun and health care bills move along, Butler nomination remains in limbo, Reznik retires from House and more
Legislation to restrict the carrying of handguns in Maryland is moving through both the House of Delegates and the Senate, albeit in different formats.
The Senate voted 31-16 Monday to approve a bill that would prohibit a person from knowingly carrying a firearm at public places or onto someone else’s property without the owner’s permission.
Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) and Baltimore City Democrats Antonio Hayes and Cory McCray were the only Democrats to vote with the 13 Republicans.
The bill now heads over the House of Delegates, where House Judiciary Chair Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City) is sponsoring that chamber’s response to a summer U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down Maryland’s requirement that concealed carry permits could only be obtained by individuals with a special safety need.
While the Senate bill focuses on place-based restrictions for carrying guns, Clippinger’s would expand which people would be disqualified from possession.
House Bill 824 was debated in the chamber Tuesday.
Clippinger’s bill would add additional disqualifications to state law and, among other new requirements, prohibit possession of a regulated firearm by a person who is younger than 21, someone who suffers from a “mental disorder” and has a history of violent behavior, or who has been involuntarily admitted for more than 30 consecutive days to a facility for treatment of a mental disorder.
The bill would also double fees for a wear-and-carry permit ($75 to $150), a renewal or subsequent application ($50 to $100) and a duplicate or modified permit ($10 to $20).
Clippinger said those fees haven’t been increased since 1992.
Minority Whip Jesse Pippy (R-Frederick) offered two amendments Tuesday, including one addressing the fees.
After debate on the floor about whether the amendment would do away with the fee entirely, or just strip the proposed increase from the bill, debate was postponed to continue Wednesday.
A second amendment related to instructional curriculum for certified gun instructors was rejected 95-36 after Clippinger said state police already address the issue.
Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery), sponsor of the Senate bill, expressed hope that the two chambers will come together before the end of session on April 10 on a response to the Supreme Court decision.
“We sent a bat signal to the House by adopting their licensing language, which was not only an effort to pass good policy, but also an effort to show the House that we want to work with them to pass a strong and constitutionally defensive [bill],” he said.
Health bills receive preliminary approval
Two pieces of legislation focused on health are one step away from final approval in the House of Delegates.
House Bill 333 seeks to reimburse patients who paid an out-of-pocket expense of $25 or more for hospital services, but may have qualified for free care. However, services must’ve been provided between 2017 and 2021.
According to the bill, a patient would receive reimbursement by the state comptroller’s office would determine whether a patient’s family income was at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.
Three other state agencies, the Assessments and Taxation, Human Services or Education departments, would determine if patients could be reimbursed if they received Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) benefits; benefits through the state’s energy assistance program; benefits through the federal special supplemental food program for women, infants and children; or lived in a household with children enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.
The other measure — House Bill 588 labeled “Access to Care Act” — would make it so any resident, regardless of immigration status, could enroll in the state’s Health Benefit Exchange. The new Qualified Resident Enrollment Program would benefit un-incarcerated residents who aren’t eligible for a federal premium tax credit, Medicare, or the state’s children’s health plan.
A fiscal note say the plan must be approved by the U.S. secretaries of Health and Human Services and the Treasury for a federal state innovation waiver application by July 1, 2024.
An estimated total of 275,000 undocumented and uninsured residents live in Maryland and pay federal and local taxes, said Ninfa Amador-Hernandez, a research and policy analyst with CASA.
“What [undocumented residents] are doing right now is just waiting until they’re extremely ill and they…go to the emergency department and those visits are way more expensive than going for regular checkups,” said Amador-Hernandez. “We will widen up the pool of individuals in the insurance market with more healthier individuals that will drive down costs for everyone.”
Butler nomination remains in limbo
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said the fate of Gov. Wes Moore’s pick to lead the Maryland State Police remains in limbo.
“I wouldn’t want to prejudge on behalf of what the Senate will do,” said Ferguson. It’s a very, very important role.”
Moore (D) tapped Lt. Col. Roland Butler Jr. to lead the embattled agency. If confirmed, Butler would become the first Black man to head the agency.
“I had a very good conversation with him two or three weeks ago,” said Ferguson. “Since then, there have been several concerns I’ve been made aware of. I have a subsequent conversation planned with him.”
Confirmation is not yet certain as Black senators raised concerns about Butler’s time at the agency during a time when Black state troopers complained of how they were disciplined and lodged complaints of racism within the department.
“I think that he has the capacity to do it,” he said. “And it’s important to make sure that he has the right team around him that can demonstrate the important leadership skills that are necessary to reform a division that really needs a deep dive review.”
The agency is now the subject of both an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and a lawsuit filed by some officers.
“I think there are senators who have wanted to have extended conversations about some of the past issues that have happened in the state police and make sure that Lieutenant Colonel Butler is the right person right now to lead and reform the division,” said Ferguson, adding he is “proud that senators are doing their due diligence to make sure that he’s the right person at the right time.”
Moore announced Butler’s nomination in February but has yet to send the Senate an official letter. Ferguson said he expects that to happen this week.
Meanwhile, the governor’s staff is trying to shore up the nominee, meeting with senators in an effort to address concerns. The Legislative Black Caucus could also discuss the nomination again later in the week.
Comptroller can process tax returns again
A computer system responsible for processing state tax returns is up and running again after a crash a week ago hobbled the Office of the State Comptroller.
Maryland’s top tax collector issued a statement Tuesday announcing that the system failure that occurred more than a week ago had been fixed.
“Our staff is processing tax returns, refund requests, and direct debit requests and is working expeditiously through the week-long backlog,” Comptroller Brooke Lierman (D) said in a statement. “We expect to be fully up-to-date in processing requests by Wednesday, March 22. We pride ourselves on providing timely service and apologize for the inconvenience the service outage caused.”
The March 6 outage was announced on the comptroller’s website.
A spokesman for the agency attributed the failure to aging software and said there had been no cyber-attack or malicious intrusion.
As a result, taxpayers were able to file returns, but the comptroller’s office was unable to process those filings or any refunds or payments.
Initially, officials said they hoped to begin processing returns again by last Friday.
As of a week ago, the agency had processed about 1 million returns. It typically receives about 3.1 million returns annually.
Reznik retires from House
Montgomery County Democrats will have to fill yet another vacancy.
Del. Kirill Reznik, a 15-year veteran of the House of Delegates, announced he will retire effective March 21. He will join the Gov. Wes Moore (D) administration as the new assistant secretary for inter-departmental data integration at the Department of Human Services.
Reznik, the first Ukranian-born state legislator in the country, was appointed to the House of Delegates in October 2007 to fill a vacancy created by Nancy King, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Maryland Senate. He then went on to win four elections.
“I am eternally grateful for the privilege of having served the residents of District 39 over the last 15 years. Their faith and trust has allowed me the unique experience of being their state delegate. I want to impart my thanks to my District-mates for their friendship and collegiality. I am especially grateful to Speaker Adrienne Jones for her leadership and friendship, and the late Speaker Michael Busch. Both helped me to become an effective and caring legislator. I am also grateful to Chairman Ben Barnes for his support, as well as my former Chairs, Maggie McIntosh and Peter Hammen for their mentorship.”
Reznik’s departure marks the fourth vacancy this year for the Montgomery County delegation and the third vacancy for the county’s House delegation.
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct the vote total on Senate Bill 1 and the number of terms Del. Kirill Reznik won election.