The other side of session

Since the General Assembly session came to a close last week, I’ve received my share of end-of-session wrap-ups from a number of members. But one has stood out because it focused as much on what wasn’t done as it did on the accomplishments. Sometimes keeping bad ideas from becoming law is as much a victory as any bill which is signed.

So when I read Mary Beth Carozza’s assessment of the recent session, I noted that a significant part of her remarks focused on what did not pass.

While serving you here in Annapolis, sometimes the bad legislation we are able to stop is just as important as the bills we are able to pass. This year a number of new tax increases were proposed but did not pass due to our efforts to stop them. Among the worst of this year’s proposed tax increases was the so-called “Chicken Tax,” which would place a 5-cent per chicken tax on every chicken raised in the State of Maryland.

Another agriculture-related tax increase we were able to kill this year was a proposal to repeal the sales and use tax exemption for agricultural products and equipment, such as feed and tractor fuel, that go into producing a final good for sale. The repeal of this exemption would have increased taxes on our state’s farmers by approximately $212 million starting next year and increasing to $251.2 million by 2020.

Other taxes which did not pass this year include the “death tax,” which would have eliminated the “death tax” repeal passed by last year’s General Assembly, a “bottle tax” that places a 5-cent tax on every bottle, a “bag tax” that would ban plastic bags and place a 10-cent fee on paper bags, a $90 million increase in the tobacco tax, and a tax on utility bills for solar and wind that would eventually ramp up to a $566 million annual tax.

Having studied the General Assembly for several years, I can tell you that many of these tax proposals reappear session after session. The “chicken tax” was around last year, a number of Democrats were upset that the death tax repeal passed last year (as they were the ones who voted against it), and the others are proposals which are perennial. The repeal of the agricultural products exemption is a fairly new one to me, though.

To hear Democrats tell it, we need all those new revenue streams for various pet causes. As examples, one version of the “chicken tax” was going to pay for cover crops and to help replace failing septic systems, one previous incarnation of the “bag tax” was intended for stream cleanup through the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and a small portion of the increased tobacco tax was (ironically enough) slated for a smoking cessation fund. (Most was intended for that vast fiscal hole we call the General Fund.)

But taxes weren’t the only thing needing to be stopped:

Members of the Eastern Shore Delegation also were able to kill another bill that would have increased the regulatory burden on farmers known as the “Farmers’ Rights Act.” This bill would have required the Attorney General’s Office to review all livestock production contracts before they are approved. In order to meet the bill’s requirements, the Attorney General’s Office would have had to hire three new, full-time Assistant Attorneys General at an expense of over $200,000 per year. This proposal is another example of an attempt to grow government bureaucracy at the expense of our citizens, especially our farmers.

I also worked closely with the Hogan Administration and local small business owners to pull regulations that would have hurt small arcade businesses in Ocean City and across the State of Maryland. For the last several months, the State Lottery Commission had been attempting to advance a proposal which would regulate these small businesses in the same way the state regulates casinos. I am happy to report that Governor Hogan directed the Lottery Commission to pull these proposed regulations.

These were all well and good, but I remain disappointed by the PMT regulations which will disproportionately affect local farmers, who are the victims of the “good faith negotiations between all stakeholders on this issue.” Remember, the eventual success of these regulations hinges on being able to use the excess chicken manure that local farmers can no longer use. If these schemes of creating energy or other by-products don’t succeed in creating a viable market, the state either has to continue to subsidize these failing enterprises or will simply leave local farmers hanging. Given the usual preference of Annapolis to side with environmental interests over those of farmers, I suspect the latter will eventually be the case, although we may be forced in the meantime to use millions more in taxpayer subsidies as the state tries to goose that manure market along.

I can tell you that I have picked out all the bills I will use for the monoblogue Accountability Project. Over the next few weeks I will be compiling the votes and seeing how all the new Delegates and Senators (as well as the holdovers) did. Will the change to a Republican governor be reflected in a more conservative overall voting pattern? Stay tuned.

Religious Freedom, Childrens’ Rights, Capitalism and Gay Marriage

April 11, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, National politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comment 

By Cathy Keim

Today a friend (hat tip Sam) sent me an article from American Thinker called “The Gay Marriage Wake Up Call,” which tied together a lot of loose ends in my thinking. I certainly recommend that you read Robert Oscar Lopez’s whole article.

As Michael and I mentioned earlier this week, one of the reasons that the Maryland General Assembly should reject HB 838/SB 416 is due to the ethical issues behind paying for IV fertilization procedures for lesbian married women.

Dolce and Gabbana, the gay Italian fashion designers, made a huge stir several weeks ago when they were quoted in The Telegraph:

We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.

Gabbana also stated:

I am opposed to the idea of a child growing up with two gay parents. A child needs a mother and a father. I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from its mother.

The reaction to their statements was vicious, but they stood their ground. One letter of support came from six adult children raised by gay parents. At Life Site News, they said that they “want to thank you for giving voice to something that we learned by experience: Every human being has a mother and a father, and to cut either from a child’s life is to rob the child of dignity, humanity, and equality.”

Here we see that the children need somebody to speak up for them. Usually the discussion is centered on the desires and needs of the adults in a marriage, but for millennia, the main point of a marriage was to produce heirs. With the advent of no-fault divorce, contraception, and the sexual revolution, the main focus of marriage shifted to adult satisfaction and fulfillment. Now with gay marriages being declared legal in several states and the Supreme Court taking up the question, we are potentially going to have gay marriage forced upon the entire nation.

Since a gay couple cannot produce heirs without an outside party, then we are left with many troublesome ethical problems. What are the rights of the sperm or egg donor/surrogate mother? Should the taxpayer have to pay for the technology necessary to produce children for a gay married couple through their health insurance? Is there a problem with designer children – selecting the genetic attributes desired from blue eyes to IQ?

Perhaps most importantly, does a child have a right to a father and a mother? One or the other is missing by necessity in a gay marriage. Do two mothers or two fathers make up for the missing parent?

These six adult children of gays (COG) do not think so. It does not take a lot of imagination to decide that two mothers or two fathers does not bring the same experience to a child as being raised by a mother and a father. The world is made up of both men and women and the home should be the first place that the child learns to interact with a male father and a female mother.

We know that adopted children long to know their biological parents, so why would children of gay parents not long to know their missing biological parent?

The necessity of IV fertilization to produce a child for a lesbian couple and the need for a surrogate mother to produce a child for a gay couple leads us to the capitalism part of the discussion. These are very expensive medical procedures and there is money to be made from opening up a new market of wealthy gay clients.

The “synthetic children” comment by Gabbana also involves a lucrative money making potential. This is already occurring, but with the legalization of gay marriage and the implicit right to children that that implies, then the market for choosing your child’s traits will increase and that will spill over into the heterosexual married population. Why should a heterosexual couple just have a “normal” child when everybody else is having genetically “superior” children? You can envision the liabilities involved in having your children the old fashioned way and having to accept whatever child you create. Why not stack the odds in your favor by choosing to modify the genes?

With no theological background to stay the tide, then this market will be huge and very profitable.

The COGs that are speaking up for the rights of all the voiceless children now and to come that are being or will be raised by gay parents have a powerful point to make. They have filed friend of the court briefs with the Supreme Court for the upcoming gay marriage case. That along with new studies that show that COGs have more emotional problems, lower graduation rates, etc. makes for a powerful testimony against gay marriage being the same as marriage as we have traditionally understood it.

Now it becomes clear why the sudden attack on the RFRA laws. This is a trick to get people to not focus on the rights of children to have a mother and a father, but rather to say that religious bigots are causing troubles for poor discriminated against loving gay couples. This amounts to let’s change the subject to an easier topic to score points.

Christians as a group are increasingly being marginalized and stigmatized in our culture. The gay lobby would much rather turn the focus to adult Christian “bigots” than to the concerns of a child’s right to a mother and a father.

The largely secular elite has already decided that sexual freedom is more important than religious freedom and now they are going to exhibit their power.

The Democrat Party has completely thrown in with the sexual freedom at all costs group. The Republican Party elites are tied to corporate interests and unfettered capitalism. They will pretend to be against gay marriage to pacify their base, but they really don’t care. They would prefer that the issue go away just as they have always wanted to ignore social issues for economic ones.

The conservative base is all that has kept the Republican Party afloat for many years now, but their leaders keep folding anytime anybody sneezes at them.

Even liberal churches are choosing to change with the times by dropping “outdated” creeds for newer, more culturally friendly ones. The number of people standing up for marriage between one man and one woman is shrinking daily.

Should the Supreme Court decide in favor of gay marriage, then our country is on a collision course between the rights of the sexual freedom group and the religious freedom of orthodox believers. At this point it looks like the Christians had better know their core beliefs because they are going to need to stand firm in the face of increasing cultural ostracism.

Redefining marriage wasn’t enough. Now some in Maryland want to redefine birth.

By Cathy Keim and Michael Swartz

The twin byline is present because Cathy came to me with her thoughts on these bills, writing up a post quoting Delegate Parrott at some length along with some of her thoughts. I liked the direction of the piece, but thought I could add more and she was amenable to the changes. So here you go.

Recently Delegate Neil Parrott sent out a newsletter that had some information about two “shockingly bad bills” that are about to pass in the General Assembly. We had both heard from Robert Broadus with Protect Marriage Maryland about the first bill, but Delegate Parrott alerted us both to the second bill. Both have more or less passed under the radar in a session which has focused more on the budget, gubernatorial appointments, and environmental regulations.

In his message to constituents and other interested observers, Delegate Parrott stated:

Two shockingly-bad bills…are on their way to passing.

(snip)

HB 838/SB 416 is going to cause your health insurance rates to go up, when Maryland already has some of the highest health insurance premiums in the nation. This bill forces Maryland insurance companies to cover the cost of expensive In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatments ($12,500 each time) for same-sex married couples.

Our high insurance costs in Maryland are primarily due to the great number of insurance mandate laws already in effect, and this new bill will simply make the problem worse. Governor Hogan and I both support leading Maryland towards more fiscally-responsible laws and policies, and the voters overwhelmingly agreed in the last election. However, the majority of Delegates and Senators still voted to create more complex and unnecessary insurance mandates in our flawed health system.

(snip)

Under current Maryland law, a husband and wife must donate their own sperm and egg to be eligible to receive insurance benefits for IVF treatments. If the couple requires a donation of an egg or sperm, IVF treatments would not be covered under current Maryland law. Under this new law, a same-sex couple would obviously need to get a sperm donor to have a child. This is a very unequal situation.

Same-sex couples have been allowed to adopt or have children, but many studies have been done that confirm that children born into a family with a mother and a father do the best in all measures – economic, social, educational, and emotional. Not only does this law create an unequal and less-stringent requirement for same-sex couples, but our insurance premiums will also be paying to have a child brought into the world to a situation where they will most likely be statistically worse off than other children. By passing this law, we are intentionally putting a child into a “family” where a father will knowingly be absent.

This sort of social engineering and fiscally-irresponsible law-making, solely for the pleasure of adults without any regard for the children that will grow up in these situations, is reprehensible. What homosexuals cannot do naturally, the General Assembly has now mandated must be provided by all insurance plans, creating a false sense of equality, with little to no regard for the children who will be negatively affected.

This leads to the concern of what could come next if this bill is passed. Will the General Assembly pass a mandate requiring insurance companies to cover the costs of hiring a surrogate to carry the child for male, same-sex marriages? (Emphasis in original.)

As Cathy wrote Sunday, our culture is under attack to redefine and destroy every institution that has sustained us as a nation since our founding. Marriage and our families are worth defending. The progressives only exist to tear down. We are the ones that believe in ideals that are true and good and have stood the test of time. When this country is a faint memory, the family will still exist. They may destroy our culture, but they cannot destroy truth. The family is the basic building block of society. Despite the malice and ridicule heaped upon the traditional family with a father, mother and children living and growing together in love, the family will still survive.

Delegate Parrott has made the case, as Cathy has before, that children do best when raised in a home with a married mother and father. Why should the state pay to circumvent this?

Senator Jim Mathias and Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes both voted for this bill. When somebody says the Eastern Shore is conservative, just remember to check how Senator Mathias and Delegate Sample-Hughes vote.

The second bill that Delegate Parrott wrote about was HB862/SB743, which as Delegate Parrott notes:

…allows people to rewrite history. It would allow someone who gets a note from their doctor saying they are transitioning from male to female or from female to male to literally change the gender on their birth certificate. The new birth certificate would not even indicate that it has been “Amended,” as is the case when an individual decides to legally change their name. The change would not require that the individual has had a sex-change operation, but just relies on hormone therapy and how the person feels at the time. The change caused many of the legislators who work in law enforcement to question how they could even solve crimes given these false records. For example, suppose they are looking for the DNA of a male, but all they have is a female suspect.

Changing factual birth records without leaving a record of the change could have significant and harmful consequences for our society and is simply irresponsible policy.

Senator Mathias also voted for this bill as did Delegates Carl Anderton, Jr. and Sample-Hughes. Needless to say, we’re both disappointed with Delegate Anderton’s vote as he represents us in Annapolis. We would have expected this out of his predecessor, but Carl was supposed to be different.

At this point in time these bills are on their final step to passage, and it seems like the skids are being greased as the House versions of the Senate bills are passing without any amendments – this is important because no conference would be necessary.

Yet besides the many objections Delegate Parrott raised, both bills also raise a number of ethical questions about child rearing. Regardless of who has to pay for in vitro fertilization, there’s also the ongoing concern about the rights of the third party which needs to be involved with any same-sex attempt at creating progeny – either the surrogate mother for a gay couple or the sperm donor for the lesbian pair.

And much like the Hobby Lobby situation with abortifacient drugs, there’s a legitimate question of whether a religiously conscientious business should be forced to cover this procedure since it involves two partners of the same gender. It’s a situation which becomes quite complicated and I feel this is needlessly so.

As for the birth certificate bill, it would be more palatable if there was a notation of amendment. A law such as this may open the door to parents who are trying to raise a child as if it were the opposite gender (such as this recent case) to amend his or her birth certificate as a minor.

We believe that gender is not a mistake, nor was it an error that a person of each gender was required to create a new life. Even with in vitro fertilization, there’s no escaping the need for a male to do his part and a female to be the willing host for the embryo.

While there is an element of humanity in the selection of gender, I think I speak for Cathy when I say we believe that it was our Creator who made the ultimate decision as to whether we were male or female. Taking hormones, undergoing genital mutilation surgery, and identifying as someone of the opposite gender doesn’t change the fact one was born with the chromosomes and genitalia of a particular gender in all but a few extremely rare cases. It’s what the birth certificate should reflect.

However, it’s likely these bills will pass the General Assembly, so we call on Governor Hogan to use his veto pen on these ill-considered measures. And it’s all but certain these votes will be among those I use for the monoblogue Accountability Project later this spring.

Splitting the difference

April 1, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

A couple weeks back I alerted you to an issue brought to the fore by Delegate Christopher Adams, a situation which would leave a large number of Medicare patients with long drives to a pharmacy as opposed to perhaps being able to use a more convenient hometown outlet.

While the deadline has come as of today, Adams has introduced and advanced a bill, HB1290, that would halve the distance prescribed by the state. Recall that:

According to a source in the know, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sets the criteria for considering a patient to be “covered” and it depends on their location, stating,”as long as pharmacies are within 10 miles in urban, 20 miles in suburban and 30 miles of patients in rural communities the standards for access to care are met.”

HB1290 would simply cut those distances in half, meaning no one in the state would have to travel more than 15 miles to a covered pharmacy.

Oddly enough, HB1290 is the second-to-last introduced House bill, with the final one (HB1291) also dealing with the subject and introduced by Democratic Delegate Eric Bromwell. His bill would ensure that “an enrollee may elect to receive pharmacy services at a site in the pharmacy provider network of any managed care organization.” Bromwell’s bill was introduced four days after the Adams bill, perhaps as an effort for House Democrats to secure some credit for solving the problem. (Bromwell is on the committee that will deal with both HB1290 and HB1291.)

In a release today, Adams noted that:

This bill originates from a very real problem on the Eastern Shore where pharmaceutical services are not readily available. And under the existing 30 mile rule, it would have made existing pharmaceutical services beyond the reach of many senior citizens. This is just another example of the unintended consequences of the State of Maryland’s early embracement of Obamacare. HB1290 is a reasoned response that will make pharmaceutical services more accessible to senior citizens on the Eastern Shore, as well as save hundreds of pharmacies from going out of business throughout Maryland.

Adams also quotes local pharmacy owner Jeff Sherr:

I am encouraged that small businesses like ours will continue to be able to serve our patients. This bill addresses not only issues with access to care, it is also a protection for businesses that serve our rural Eastern Shore communities and employ our local citizens.

The fact that Adams’s bill got a quick hearing (on tap for tomorrow) is an encouraging sign that the General Assembly may address this problem before it goes home in a couple weeks. While it’s hard for late introduction bills to make it through the process, it has been done before – the gas tax we were saddled with in 2013 was a similar late introduction.

When it comes to services in rural areas, it’s often up to small providers to handle the diminished volume of business that may come from a little community like Snow Hill, Crisfield, or Hurlock. While some may have a larger chain, for the most part they depend on family-owned outlets that may not have the lowest price but are far more convenient.

We’re always told family-owned small businesses are the backbone of the community, so if we can lend them a little support with a common-sense law it should be encouraged. Hopefully Adams will have the legislation to his credit once the session is over.

The noisy, tiny minority wins again

March 27, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

It’s concession time in Annapolis: for another year, the will of Wicomico County voters will be thwarted by a group refusing to accept that the answer to the elected school board question should be decided by the voters, not a small group who’s worried that their power base may be threatened.

Today I received a press release from my Delegate, Carl Anderton, admitting the bill is defeated for the session. In it, Anderton noted that:

This delay affords us the opportunity to have an inclusive year-long dialogue about the issue. It will give everyone more time to weigh in and reassure anyone with concerns that next year’s bill is reflective of community input.

Yet if the “dialogue” is in the tone and tenor of the testimony offered by Jim Ireton, there’s no use in conducting the discussion. In fact, he said at the hearing, “I think the discussion should end now.” After all, according to Jim, an elected school board would “debilitate our public schools.”

And if there are public hearing with a number of proponents speaking, I’m sure Ireton would echo his charge about a “sparsely attended public hearing” attended by only proponents. It’s the “small band of supporters” who also gerrymandered the county, placed us under a “crippling revenue cap” and “refuses to be responsible.” These are all quotes from his testimony before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. (He comes on at the 4:00 mark.)

Here is the dirty little secret Carl will eventually learn – there is no amount of dialogue which will satisfy them. For whatever reason, the appointed status quo satisfies their desire to have a malleable board that has generally been selected with the approval of the teachers’ union. Since the Democrats have occupied the governor’s office for much of the last forty years, the appointments were made with that interest group in mind. The only accountability was to the sponsors who backed them, and as long as a couple of those “yes-men” were from a minority group, all was peachy keen in their world.

To them, an elected school board is scary because accountability may be introduced. Again, consider what Ireton thought about the voters of the county which chose to install a revenue cap and would prefer an elected school board.

They are scared. But we’ll give them the public hearings, and for that I better damn well see Jim Mathias as a co-sponsor. I honestly think his not sponsoring the bill is what prevented it from going forward.

As the old Brooklyn Dodgers fans used to say, “wait ’til next year.” No more excuses.

WCRC meeting – March 2015

Those members who attended last night’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting got a somewhat different perspective on the Annapolis political arena. Instead of hearing from one of our representatives – who were sort of busy at the moment, seeing that Monday nights are session nights in our state’s capital – we instead gained the perspective of Pat Schrawder, the district representative for Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who brought “mostly good news from Annapolis.”

She explained that not all members of the General Assembly have a district representative, but given Mary Beth’s “frenetic” schedule as a member of the Appropriations Committee, she thought it was prudent to have someone back home. (Appropriations meets five days a week, according to Pat.) As it turned out, though, the Eastern Shore delegation “is running very well” in Schrawder’s opinion, in part because those on it represent all the key committees, and they have met with “most of” the large groups.

The good news was that the “chicken tax” and a “farmer’s bill of rights” had both been killed, and a “full-court press” was being placed on the Pinsky bill to instill the PMT regulations. (This may be a moot point, as Pinsky placed a hold on his regulations pending acceptance of a deal between stakeholders which would put a revised version in place.) Schrawder pointed out regulations are more flexible than legislation, which was an advantage for the agricultural community.

Pat also relayed that the Hogan budget, which was in balance as submitted, was still a better deal than the O’Malley budgets as most of the structural deficit had been eliminated.

And while Delegate Carozza was “working as hard, if not harder, than anyone else up there,” Pat added that Mary Beth was still interested in hearing from her constituents, and happy to receive the correspondence. Moreover, one goal they had was to have as strong a link to Wicomico County as they had to Worcester County.

Schrawder also announced that a legislative scholarship was available to a student in her district, with the application deadline coming up on April 15.

Turning to Central Committee news, we learned that our Lincoln Day Dinner would be put on hold until this fall as the preferred speaker, some governor named Larry Hogan, wasn’t going to be doing speaking engagements until then. We may need to change the venue because of this. Mark McIver also noted the upcoming state convention in Ocean City, encouraging those at the meeting to attend and see how a convention is run.

I also reminded the group that we had sent the names of prospective Wicomico County Board of Education applicants to the state.

Speaking on behalf of County Council, John Cannon noted that the “Evo bill” had passed the House of Delegates and Senate, although there was a minor difference between the two versions to work out. County Council was also watching the PMT regulations, the original version of which they opposed. Also, they had finished the Capital Improvement Plan and were now working on portions of the budget.

Cannon also commented that MACO (the Maryland Association of Counties) was “staying relatively conservative” with its actions this session.

John also explained some of the process behind the elected school board bill, conceding that “we rushed it through” but noting that the hybrid option was placed to appease the cries for “diversity” and to avoid the prospect of turning over the entire board in one election and eliminating all the institutional knowledge.

However, he believed the struggle to get this through the General Assembly would be “an uphill battle” because opponents wanted more public hearings. I made the case that the bill had the deck stacked against it early on when it received a late hearing date. If there needs to be a re-introduction next year it should be pre-filed as there was no one to do so this session.

At this point, the new officers were sworn in. Incoming president Shawn Jester said that “this club did more to make Wicomico County a Republican county” than anyone else and hoped the good work could continue.

That good work will be celebrated next on April 27, with a speaker to be announced.

Landlines, anyone?

March 23, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

By Cathy Keim

Two or three weeks ago I was asked on a phone survey if I thought that landlines were still important or if I would prefer to allow the telecommunications companies to invest in newer technology rather than continuing with outdated landline maintenance. The question seemed deliberately skewed so I assumed that the phone company was behind the survey – but I did not get a clear answer when I asked.

I had two more phone calls about phone service that culminated today in a paid phone caller requesting that I call Senator Mathias and tell him that I wanted SB577 passed. I was not prepared to call Senator Mathias with so little information, so I decided to look the bill up and see what it was about. SB577 is the Public Utilities – Telecommunications Law – Modernization sponsored by Senator Catherine Pugh of Baltimore City and cross-filed with HB1166 sponsored by Delegate Dereck Davis of Prince George’s County. The summary states:

Providing that a telephone company is not required to file with the Public Service Commission a specified tariff schedule except under specified circumstances; limiting the type of services in which a telephone company may not establish a new rate under specified circumstances; allowing a telephone company to discontinue or abandon a specified service under specified circumstances; providing that a specified prior authorization is not required for specified transactions; etc.

Since the summary didn’t reveal much, I then called Senator Pugh’s office and spoke with a very friendly staffer. She said that the purpose of the bill was threefold.

  1. Currently telecommunication companies cannot discontinue a service or change their rates unless they ask the Public Service Commission (PSC) each time they wish to make a change. They pay a tariff to the PSC for this service. The new bill would remove this requirement.
  2. Change the franchising rules so that the current provisions do not apply to any transaction between a telephone company and another entity (that is not a gas company or an electric company) if a common parent entity directly or indirectly controls more than 50% of both the telephone company and the other entity.
  3. Change the securities rules so that the current provisions do not apply to any transaction between a telephone company and another entity (that is not a gas company or an electric company) if a common parent entity directly or indirectly controls more than 50% of both the telephone company and the other entity.

Since her boss, Senator Pugh, is sponsoring the bill, she had a very positive opinion of the legislation.

Next I called Senator Mathias’ office and spoke with his very pleasant staffer. She said that they had been getting several phone calls asking the senator to support SB 577, but that the callers did not seem to know anything about the bill. I suppose that they had received the same phone solicitation that I had received.

She had a much less positive view of the bill. She said that the bill would allow the telecommunications companies to abandon services, limit services, and establish new rates without authorization from the PSC. She indicated that the bill was still in committee, but if it made it to the floor, she doubted that Senator Mathias would support it in its current form.

For a more detailed comparison of the current law vs. the proposed law you can go to the Fiscal and Policy Note.

This statement in the Technology section made me wonder if this referred to the dropping of copper landlines in favor of the fiber optic system.

PSC or any other State unit or a unit of local government may not restrict, through an order, a regulation, a rule, a resolution, or an ordinance or in any other manner, a telephone company’s choices to use any otherwise lawful technology or facility to provide its services. A telephone company may satisfy its statutory and regulatory obligations through the use of any lawful technology or facility of its choosing.

Articles like “How Verizon lets its copper network decay to force phone customers onto fiber. Fiber is fast, but copper is reliable – even during multi-week power outages” paint an unflattering portrait of an evil corporation that is up to no good.

The lengthy article accuses Verizon of preferring the fiber optic system because it is cheaper to maintain, but it cannot be used without electricity so it is worthless in a power outage of a week or two like those that happen due to hurricanes. The cell phones are also worthless if the cell towers are down or out of power.

This brings us back to the argument for government regulation of utilities because we are dependent upon the utilities for society to function. Our dependency on electricity, gas, and communication systems is increasing each year. Most people no longer have the ability to survive for long without electricity. We no longer have backup systems like a fireplace for heat or if we do, the large woodpile to get us through a major power outage. Without electricity you cannot pump gas at the gas station. Food doesn’t get delivered to the stores. Without electricity your phone doesn’t work unless you have an old fashioned landline.

Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group. posted a letter to the Senate Finance Committee that concluded:

Maryland’s communications networks allow its citizens to conduct business, contact loved ones, and call for help in emergency situations. These services are too vital to the economic and social health of the state to prohibit the Maryland Public Service Commission from acting to protect consumers, especially in the face of impending technological and political changes. As Maryland legislators continue to deliberate on the future of its networks, Public Interest Advocates urge the Senate Finance Committee to ensure Maryland’s communications networks serve five core values: service to all, consumer protection, network reliability, competition and interconnection, and public safety. These values have served our phone network well for decades and have created one of the most successful communications platforms in the world. Maryland must continue to defend these values and resist ill-advised deregulatory pressures to ensure that the phone network continues to be a network that Maryland residents can rely on.

From what I can tell about SB577, I would say that it is poorly written and its passage would result in a lot of confusion. I am for limited government and concerned with the excess of government regulations that make it difficult for companies to innovate. However, the potential impact on our citizenry for their defense and public safety makes me place this discussion in the “needs to be under the government oversight” category for now, particularly since this is being discussed at the state level, which is exactly where this discussion belongs.

The state budget shell game

March 20, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

By Cathy Keim

Governor Hogan was elected because voters had had enough of the O’Malley spending spree. Before Hogan was sworn in, the budget shortfall of $1.2 billion over the next eighteen months was already public knowledge. Everybody knew that cuts were coming; only the particulars were uncertain.

Because Maryland has a strong executive branch, the General Assembly can only cut the budget or move money around. It cannot increase spending. The House is squandering many hours debating how to find the money to undo cuts that Hogan made, particularly to schools and the state employees’ COLAs.

Last July, Martin O’Malley gave the state employees a cost of living increase of 2% despite knowing that the budget was not in good shape. I would like to point out that employees in the private sector are not seeing cost of living increases. Why the state employees deserve a taxpayer-funded pay increase when the taxpayers are not getting their salaries increased is hard to justify. Governor Hogan rescinded that increase in his budget because the state did not have the funds to support it.

He also declined to fund the schools to the level they desired. Yet his budget gave a 1.3% increase to education over last year’s budget, so it is hard to make the case that he cut the budget drastically. One might have expected a 0% increase when we are facing a $1.2 billion deficit in the upcoming months. That sort of deficit on a smaller scale is what causes taxpayers to choose ground beef over steak. But then we have to actually balance our checkbooks rather than use creative accounting to get the job done.

Let’s take a moment for some background information. Despite our budget shortfall, Moody’s just gave Maryland an AAA rating once again.

Why is this AAA Bond rating so important? “Retention of the AAA ratings affirms the strength and stability of Maryland bonds during difficult and volatile times,” said state Treasurer Nancy Kopp. “This achievement allows us to continue to invest in our communities’ schools, libraries, and hospitals while saving taxpayers millions of dollars thanks to the lower interest rates that follow from these ratings.” (Emphasis mine.)

Maryland is one of only 10 states that has the AAA bond rating from all three firms that assign ratings, Moody’s Investors, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings. Moody’s included the following warning when assigning the AAA rating:

WHAT COULD MAKE THE RATING GO DOWN

  • Economic and financial deterioration that results in deficits and continued draw downs of reserves without a plan for near-term replenishment
  • Failure to adhere to the state’s tradition of conservative fiscal management, including failure to take actions to reverse its negative fund balance
  • A state economy that does not rebound in tandem with the rest of the country
  • Failure to adhere to plans to address low pension funded ratios (emphasis mine)
  • Downgrade of the US government

Why does Maryland have low pension funded ratios? Because all that pension money just waiting there for the retired employees is too tempting for the politicians. They have dipped into the fund before. In 2011 as a corrective measure, Martin O’Malley reached an agreement with state employees that if they would increase their contributions to the retirement fund from 2% to 7%, then the state would put in $300 million annually to fund the pensions at an 80% level by 2023. That would still leave the pension fund $20 billion short, but that would be an improvement. The state employees have been putting in their extra 5%, but the state has not been putting in the entire $300 million. They find other ways to spend that money.

Now we are finished with the history and back to the present. The House debated for hours yesterday whether to fund the pension plan with the full $300 million or to take a portion of the money to continue the 2% increase in state employee’s wages and increase school funding. As I write, it is uncertain how the issue will be determined and whatever the House decides will still have to be reconciled with what the Senate produces.

Politicians seem to prefer to pay their supporters now and to let the future take care of itself since they will probably not still be in office when that bill comes due. It is a pleasing shell game. The politicians appropriate raises and perks for their constituents who then pay union dues, and then the unions donate money to the politicians –  lather, rinse, repeat.

According to the Washington Post, those public servants/union members might want to take note that:

In an effort to block relatively modest budget cuts proposed by Mr. Hogan, mainly to schools and public employees’ wages, Democratic lawmakers in Annapolis are pushing a plan to revamp the formula for scheduled contributions. According to Comptroller Peter Franchot, one of the few prominent Democrats who opposes the scheme, it would shift $2 billion into the general budget over the next decade, then cost the state $4.5 billion in the following dozen years — meaning Maryland would face a net $2.5 billion in additional costs over time in order to keep its pension promises.

Additionally, even if the state did put all the funds into the pension plan that they promised, the pension fund would still be underfunded by $20 billion in 2023. Since over 382,000 current and former employees are covered in this plan, it would seem to be a rather important item for the state to fully fund the pension program.

So our esteemed politicians in Annapolis are willing to risk our credit rating which could lead to increased interest payments when borrowing funds, underfund the pension program that thousands depend on, and incur $2.5 billion in additional costs to finally keep its pension promises, just so that they can override Governor Hogan’s budget.

While that may be a winning hand for the politicians, their constituents that get the 2% cost of living increase, and the unions, it is not a winner for the taxpayers.

Will Maryland join a Convention of States or an Article V Convention?

By Cathy Keim

The push for an Article V Convention is growing nationwide, and it is coming from both sides of the political spectrum. The citizens are aware that they are not being heard and they are looking for ways to correct this.

An Article V Convention or Convention of the States is one of two ways to amend the Constitution of the United States. In case you’ve forgotten, here is Article V:

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, (emphasis added) or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate

All previous amendments have been through Congress. However, the Convention of States method has been utilized to put pressure on Congress to act. For example, the states wanted to have direct election of their senators but Congress would not oblige – so the states began the process of calling for a convention of states. Once they got within one state of achieving the two thirds needed, Congress acted rather than losing its prerogative. (This led to the Seventeenth Amendment.)

Maryland has legislation under consideration now which states:

Applying to the U.S. Congress for an amendments convention called under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, on the application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several states, to propose an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that affirms every citizen’s freedom to vote and restores free and fair elections in America.

This bill is filed as HJ2 by Delegate Sheila Hixson and is cross-filed with SJ2 by Senator Paul Pinsky. It was introduced last session also, but did not come to the floor for a vote. (Editor’s note: The Senate version from 2014, however, passed committee 9-2 with all three Republicans on the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee voting yes.)

Reading the bill summary left me perplexed. Who thinks we need an amendment to restore free and fair elections? My mind thought of voter fraud, but who would want to amend the Constitution to fix that issue? After some phone calls to Delegate Hixson and Senator Pinsky’s offices, though, the confusion was cleared up.

This bill is the result of the work of Get Money Out of Maryland (GMOM) and its allies. They claim to be bipartisan, but the groups in the allies list lean distinctly progressive.

The bills have a total of sixty-nine sponsors of which two are Republicans, so I suppose that makes it bipartisan.

GMOM states:

The Citizens United v FEC decision by the Supreme Court opened the floodgates for unlimited campaign expenditures in elections, which corporations and the extremely wealthy have used with devastating impact in the last few elections. This misguided decision reversed decades of campaign finance regulation at the state and federal level, turning our public elections into private auctions. With regard to voting rights, Supreme Court justices in the Bush v Gore decision declared that there is no individual right to vote in the Constitution and in its aftermath, there has been a concerted attack upon the right to vote across the country. These legal travesties require remedy if we are going to preserve representative democracy and create a more perfect union. (Emphasis in original.)

According to Senator Pinsky’s spokesman, the principal point of this amendment is that there is too much money in politics since the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case opened the floodgates. GMOM wants the Citizens United ruling reversed so the only option is to exert pressure on Congress via an Article V Convention to amend the Constitution. Their expectation is that Congress will act if the states approach the two-thirds approval level as happened with the direct election of senators.

GMOM states that Vermont, California, Illinois, and New Jersey have already passed the “Democracy” amendment and several other states, such as Maryland, are considering the bill now.

Working from the opposite side of the political spectrum is the group Citizens for Self-Governance which states:

Citizens concerned for the future of their country, under a federal government that’s increasingly bloated, corrupt, reckless and invasive, have a constitutional option. We can call a Convention of States to return the country to its original vision of a limited federal government that is of, by and for the people.

They also add:

Rather than calling a convention for a specific amendment, Citizens for Self-Governance (CSG) has launched the Convention of the States Project to urge state legislatures to properly use Article V to call a convention for a particular subject—reducing the power of Washington, D.C. It is important to note that a convention for an individual amendment (e.g. a Balanced Budget Amendment) would be limited to that single idea. Requiring a balanced budget is a great idea that CSG fully supports. Congress, however, could comply with a Balanced Budget Amendment by simply raising taxes. We need spending restraints as well. We need restraints on taxation. We need prohibitions against improper federal regulation. We need to stop unfunded mandates.

Both sides of the debate assure their followers that the Article V Convention cannot spiral out of control and rewrite the entire Constitution once they convene. Their main defense against this is that any amendment that comes out of the convention still has to be approved by three quarters of the states, thus giving ample room for rogue amendments to be stopped.

You may want to keep an eye on how Maryland’s effort plays out this legislative session – although from the progressive side, it still illustrates the discontent that is growing as citizens realize that their overlords in DC are not listening to them. It is striking (and terrifying) that the progressives feel that President Obama is not doing enough to reach their goals, while the conservatives feel attacked and denigrated by their weak and ineffective leadership under Speaker Boehner and Senate Leader McConnell.

Perhaps the only people happy with the current system are the politicians that are in power and the wealthy elites and crony capitalists that consort with and fund their campaigns. Outside that narrow group, there is a battle brewing.

‘Death with Dignity’: compassion or dispatch?

March 11, 2015 · Posted in Cathy Keim, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · 3 Comments 

By Cathy Keim

“Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The House Judiciary and Health and Government Operations committees held a joint hearing last Friday on HB1021, the Richard E. Israel and Roger “Pip” Moyer Death with Dignity Act. Yesterday the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee held a hearing on the cross-filed SB676.

The arguments that were offered at the House committee hearing on March 6, 2015, were exactly what were expected. The two sides are clearly divided here. The culture of death has no room for the culture of life. The desire to rule one’s own fate does not leave room for compassion or suffering, which are both elements of the human condition.

The siren call of death takes the guise of “fairness.” It is only “fair” that a person that is terminally ill should be able to end his suffering. Without a doubt, we all tremble at the thought of pain, dependency, loss of mental capacity and/or bodily functions. We all desire to be healthy and happy, but to equate the loss of our health with the right to die is a dire step.

Let’s run through some of the arguments that opponents of the bill put forth.

Maryland has outlawed the death penalty for anyone, no matter his or her crime. However, the same drugs that Maryland will not allow to be used to execute murderers are the drugs that will be prescribed for a person to die with dignity.

Physicians are not trained to kill their patients. It will inevitably change the doctor/patient relationship if the doctor is expected to offer death as an option.

People that are given a diagnosis of a terminal illness with six months to live will most likely respond by being depressed. They could kill themselves in a state of depression because there is no provision for a mental health professional to evaluate them in the current bill.

Physicians cannot tell with accuracy who has six months to live. Plenty of people live for years after they are told they have six months to live, but we will never know if they kill themselves out of despair. Amazingly, about 20% of the people that receive hospice care actually leave the hospice instead of dying.

Palliative care is available for patients in pain. We are not condemning our loved ones to endless, unrelenting pain.

Many of the most poignant cases that are presented as deserving a death with dignity are those afflicted with Alzheimer’s, ALS, or Parkinson’s. However, by the time they would want to die, they would not be able to self administer the drugs, so this bill would not “help” them anyway.

Handicapped people already feel pressured because they are using medical resources at a steeper rate than healthy people. This bill would increase the pressure on the handicapped to not use more than their fair share of medical care.

Do you see how the subtle pressure works? Especially once the government is in control of health care, there will be the pressure to manage care from an organizational, cost-effective perspective, not a personal case-by-case perspective.

An effective way to save on costs is to encourage the elderly, the handicapped, and the sickest patients to stop their suffering (and ours) by removing themselves. It does not even have to be said aloud, but the pressure will build on our weakest, most vulnerable citizens.

It is time now to stop and count the cost of this type of public policy. Our country was established with a Judeo-Christian foundation of which the keystone is that each individual is created in the image of God. This is the concept that gave birth to Western Civilization, which resulted in our Declaration of Independence proclaiming, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Already we are seeing breaches in the wall protecting our weaker brothers. Abortion claims the lives of many babies because they are deemed defective (the vast majority of Downs Syndrome babies are aborted). Sex-selection abortions claim many female babies even here in the United States. Abortions are performed for trivial problems that could be surgically corrected like a cleft palate or even more troubling for the convenience of the mother. The absolutely logical next step after abortion on demand is the removal of the handicapped and elderly.

We are seeing the complete inversion of our thinking. Compassion used to mean caring for those that needed help. Now compassion is making sure that you can have a lethal dose of drugs to end your life. We have moved from compassion to dispatch, but in an Orwellian turn of the phrase, we still call it compassion. Then to keep up the farce, this bill would require the doctor to lie on the death certificate and list as the cause of death whatever terminal illness the patient had rather than suicide by overdose.

This Death with Dignity bill is a lie from start to finish. The true dignity would come from all of us rejecting this manipulation of our emotions and comforting our family and friends when they need comfort, not helping to finish them off.

Once again, I am aware of the pain, emotional and physical, that is present as we watch a loved one or ourselves move towards death, but this is part of the human condition. We do not make ourselves more human by rushing life out the door. We cannot create life, so let us not be over eager to take it away.

Democrats ignore voters, keep rain tax in place

According to published reports, Annapolis Democrats ignored the will of the voters and opted to maintain the state’s dreaded “rain tax.” More formally, the House Environment and Transportation Committee rejected HB481 by a 14-7 vote – all 14 Democrats on the committee voted to kill the bill, while all seven Republicans voted to send the bill to the floor.

Because it was a party line vote, it’s easy to note who voted for and against:

In favor of maintaining the rain tax were Delegates Barve, Beidle, Carr, Fraser-Hidalgo, Frush, Gilchrist, Healey, Holmes, Knotts, Lafferty, Lam, McCray, Shane Robinson, and Stein. Twelve of the fourteen represent some part of Baltimore, Montgomery, or Prince George’s counties, with one from Baltimore City and one from Anne Arundel County. Basically they represent the I-95 corridor.

Voting properly to kill it off were Delegates Anderton, Cassilly, Flanagan, Jacobs, O’Donnell, Otto, and Szeliga. Three of these represent the Eastern Shore, two have districts in Harford County, one comes from Howard County, and the other from southern Maryland. (Anderton and Otto represent portions of the Lower Shore.)

Governor Hogan is quoted in the WBAL story by Robert Lang as stating:

No issue resonates as strongly and no tax is as universally detested as the rain tax. Passing a law that forces only a handful of counties to raise taxes on their citizens – against their will – is wrong, unfair, and it needs to end.

Marylanders have spoken loudly and clearly on this issue. The overwhelming majority of voters across the state are strongly opposed to it, and some counties have already taken steps to repeal this burdensome tax. Considering the surge of opposition to the current law, I am confident that the General Assembly will still move forward with a repeal of the Rain Tax.

Apparently there is another measure in the General Assembly which will weaken the rain tax but not suspend it entirely. But this is a blow to a relatively robust Hogan agenda, and shows once again the entitlement mentality Democrats in the General Assembly have as none of them broke ranks to vote in favor of repeal. This despite the fact all fourteen Democrats represent counties which are forced to pay it.

On the other hand, just three of the seven Republicans represent “rain tax” counties, although two communities which have adopted a similar tax, Salisbury and Berlin, lie within the districts of Delegates Anderton and Otto, respectively.

While the Change Maryland group vows “the fight is not over,” it’s fairly likely that no bill repealing the rain tax will be passed this year. And now that we got yet another reminder of how bipartisanship works in Annapolis – it’s a one-way street because only Republicans are expected to be bipartisan, such as on the so-called “death with dignity” bill – perhaps it’s time for Republicans to consider Maryland’s answer to the “nuclear option” and begin to petition administration bills to the House floor.

You see, it’s only political junkies like me who pay much attention to committee votes, and chances are that most people have no idea which committees their particular member of the General Assembly sit on. In most cases, Democrats who control committees determine which bills will get votes and which ones will stay in their desk drawer after a hearing. The more damaging a bill could be to their special interests or to vulnerable members, the greater chance a bill never sees the light of day. Yes, fourteen Democrats had to take a hit on this one but being a Democrat on the Environment and Transportation Committee probably means approval from Radical Green groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation or League of Conservation Voters so they are probably safe from voter wrath in three years.

But if Republicans band together and use their power to petition bills to the floor, things get a little more uncomfortable for the Democrats because they can’t as easily control the process. Seeing this key piece of Hogan’s agenda being defeated, along with the bush-league antics surrounding the Democrats’ reaction to the State of the State address, tells me that it’s time to embarrass the other side into action. Don’t let Democrats get away with painting Larry Hogan as a do-nothing governor without putting them on the spot and making them go on the record.

Stacking the deck by rule?

March 4, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

If you’re not aware of this, the saga of appointing new legislative members in Carroll County came to an inglorious end when the state Court of Appeals ruled it was within the Carroll County Republican Central Committee’s right to send multiple names to Governor Hogan for the selection of a new member of the legislature. Personally I think it should remain as one name, but apparently Larry likes having choices.

But you may not be aware – in fact, I wasn’t either until it was alluded to at Monday night’s Central Committee meeting – that the next state party convention, to be held next month in Ocean City, will feature a push to have counties adopt a standardized policy on filling legislative vacancies.

Indeed, there is logic and sense behind this as a whole. However, if it’s up to each county to make this official I would recommend the Central Committee in Wicomico County adopt this with at least one change. In Section 13, where it reads:

The Chair shall submit one name, however, at the request of the Governor, may submit more than one name.

I would ask the sentence be amended thus:

The Chair shall submit one name.

Here’s the reasoning why we should stay with a one-name approach (and why the Court of Appeals got it wrong.)

It has long been the practice that Central Committees in each county submitted just one name - problems only tended to occur with multi-county districts where more than one name was sent because counties preferred different candidates. (Senate District 36 is a recent example.)

That District 36 situation illustrates the problem with a multiple-name approach. If my memory serves me correctly, two counties selected eventual winner (and then-Delegate) Steve Hershey while the two other ones tabbed former Delegate Michael Smigiel. The choice was eventually made by Martin O’Malley, a Democrat. (Note each of the four counties sent up one name.)

Someday there will be a Democratic governor again who will preside over the selection for filling a vacancy in a conservative Republican district. Based on the language in this prospective amendment, what is to stop this governor from informing the Central Committee that he or she wants ten names rather than just three? Or instead of making a formal selection, the governor simply requested the forwarding of the name of everyone who applied, regardless of merit?

There are not a lot of representative functions for which the local Central Committee is charged – mainly their job is to represent the county at the state conventions. But it does serve at times as the electorate in those situations where it’s not practical to have an election – in recent meetings, the committee I serve with has selected applicants for the Board of Elections and interviewed for vacancies in our Board of Education. In the recent past, our local Central Committees have worked to select members of the General Assembly who died in office - Republicans for Page Elmore in 2010 and Democrats for Bennett Bozman in 2006.

Because Maryland doesn’t have the provision for special elections, we have to take that task seriously as voters won’t be able to correct us for many months or even three-plus years. It’s interesting that Kathy Fuller, who was one of the plaintiffs in the Carroll County case (supporting the submission of just one name) has the idea of prohibiting the selection of a member of the General Assembly for an administration position. With one exception, that’s the root cause of all this commotion.

But I digress. While there are many times we would be satisfied with any of a number of candidates, there is generally one who stands above the others in our estimation; however, there’s no guarantee the Appointments Secretary will feel the same since it’s likely he or she won’t do an in-depth interview.

One name has worked well in the past, and it’s a shame Larry Hogan mucked up the system because he didn’t like the Central Committee’s original choice. That’s what it boils down to. A more stout Central Committee would have stuck with their first choice, so I think we need the rules that will stiffen their collective spines.

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