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We backed an impressive docket of bills this session and made some inroads all around!
Kicking it all off with our colorful, care team-led Lobby Day in Annapolis, we here at Health Care for the Homeless had a full and successful legislative session in 2017! As always, ours was a unique voice in the sea of issues and advocates: championing issues spanning health care, housing and incomes, and daring to get lawmakers thinking about bold solutions to the inequities so many Marylanders face every day.
Staff, client and community partner meetings with lawmakers, signs and rally chants, testimony, calls and emails throughout the session made a difference – we’ll tell you specifically how below – and to all, very big thanks.
On Lobby Day, and as a member of the Job Opportunities Task Force (JOTF), Health Care for the Homeless backed the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act, which would improve the lives of more than 750,000 Marylanders. If HB 1 – which passed the legislature – is approved by Gov. Larry Hogan, it would require employers with 15 or more employees to allow employees to earn at least 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works. Smaller employers would be required to provide employees with 1 hour of unpaid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works.
Despite its significant support in the legislature, Governor Hogan vetoed Paid Sick Leave on May 26. Health Care for the Homeless joined our partners at the Working Matters Coalition in expressing disappointment for this decision. We're committed to ensuring the legislature overturns it once they return in January 2018.
The General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the HOPE Act, HB 1329 / SB 967, an omnibus bill bundling various measures to address our state’s opioid use crisis. With a 216% increase in opioid-related overdose deaths between 2010 and 2015, opioid use was a front-burner issue this session.
Some HOPE Act highlights:
Health Care for the Homeless Chief Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman spoke before the House of Delegates group that reviewed this bill, met with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene about revisions to the bill, and advocated directly with lawmakers. Perhaps the most significant contribution by our agency was successfully advocating for the insertion of language emphasizing the importance of chronic pain in the opioid prescribing guidelines. Director of Government Relations Eric Colchamiro, with our partners at the Maryland Behavioral Health Coalition and government officials from the Baltimore City Health Department and the state legislature, joined Governor Hogan on May 25 to see the HOPE Act signed into law.
The Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act, HB 172/SB 728, was another big bill for us this session—again. And this year, it advanced further than it has in years past, thanks in part to your and our clients’ steady advocacy. The bill would prohibit landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants based on their legal source of income. It would give people with public subsidies – who are low-income and often have disabilities – greater opportunity to live near family, friends and other support networks, and access to the resources they need to thrive.
In addition to our Lobby Day advocacy on the bill, Health Care for the Homeless worked closely with the HOME Act Coalition, a group of more than 60 members. Supportive Housing Coordinator Kim Riopelle and client Joseph Funn met with Del. Pamela Beidle and with staff for Del. Tony Knotts (Prince George’s County), Del. Andrew Cassilly (Cecil and Harford counties) and Del. Marvin Holmes (Prince George’s County) on the bill. And Director of Housing Lawanda Williams also met with legislators, including Del. Cory McCray (Baltimore City), to advocate in support of the legislation.
The legislature has considered the HOME Act for many years, but the bill made important headway this year, getting out of the House for the first time in more than a decade. Though it died in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, this particular issue of housing equity is far from dead. We’ll be keeping an eye on what happens with the HOPE Act in Baltimore County where, as part of a federal settlement, the county council is required to introduce the bill in 2018 and beyond.
Safe consumption sites are proven to improve health outcomes by reducing the spread of infectious diseases, including HIV and Hepatitis C, helping drug users receive addiction treatment and preventing drug overdose. The House Health and Government Operations Committee held a hearing on HB 519, at which Dr. Kalyanaraman and Addictions Counselor Terry Clark testified, but ultimately the bill did not make it out of committee.
Dental care is health care and dental coverage for adults in Maryland is long overdue. HB 1158 would have authorized the state of Maryland to create a dental Medicaid benefit for adults with household incomes at or below 133 percent of the poverty level. Thank you, Director of Dental Services Tom Stack, for your testimony on this important bill, and to Dental Assistant Shannon Lake, who was all ready to testify, but got idled by our one snow day of the year! While this bill itself never made it past the House, the legislature did include it as part of SB 169, which requires the Maryland Dental Action Coalition to conduct a study on the annual cost of emergency room visits to treat dental conditions of adult Medicaid enrollees. We expect the results of the study, due December 2017, to be important fuel for a continued fight for dental Medicaid benefits in 2018.
Our state budget advocacy, in partnership with the Maryland Alliance for the Poor, helped the legislature formally recommend an increase in the Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP) benefit by $10 per person, per month. Now, it’s up to the Governor to approve this budget increase. We’re closely monitoring the Department of Human Services, so the regulations necessary to put this increase into place are issued. This would be the first TDAP funding increase in 15 years and a small but important step forward for Marylanders. Thanks to our own Vanessa Borotz for her work organizing and compiling client statements about what this added benefit would mean to them.
Bail reform was another hot-button issue this session. Despite a couple bills designed to unravel ongoing bail reform efforts, a Maryland Judiciary rule requiring district court commissioners and judges to pursue alternatives to bail when imposing conditions of release on defendants to ensure their appearance at trial will go into effect July 1.
While the 2017 State legislative session has ended, our advocacy continues, as our agency will: