What We’re Watching in the 2018 Legislative Session

January 10, 2018 by Ellen Hutton in 2018 Session, Blog
Maryland State House

Photo by K Whiteford

As the 2018 General Assembly session begins today, policymakers will be facing decisions that will have significant consequences for working families in Maryland. Topping the list, lawmakers will strive to protect Marylanders from the negative effects of federal actions, advance priorities that didn’t make it through last year’s session, and begin to address long-term funding needs in education.

Here is a quick look at a few of the top issues we’re watching this year.

Guaranteeing Earned Sick Leave

The Healthy Working Families Act would grant 700,000 the ability to earn sick leave to take care of themselves and family members when they are ill. The Maryland General Assembly passed the bill last year, but Governor Hogan chose to veto it, leaving many Marylanders forced to choose between a paycheck or their health. Overturning the veto will be a top priority for legislators this session, and a vote is expected within weeks.

Responding to Federal Tax Changes

Congress closed out 2017 by passing a tax bill that provides massive tax breaks for profitable corporations and wealthy individuals while causing 270,000 Marylanders to lose health insurance and potentially forcing massive cuts in health care, food assistance, transportation, scientific research, and more.

Maryland policymakers are now left to deal with the new costs that will shift to the state and its taxpayers. Any response should ensure Maryland has the resources necessary to maintain state services and continue to improve Marylanders’ quality of life. During session, lawmakers will need to weigh proposed changes to state and local tax systems with the need to defend against federal threats.

Expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit

Maryland’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a powerful anti-poverty tool, but many low-income Marylanders are still unable to benefit from it. Taxpayers who don’t claim dependents receive little benefit from the current EITC, and those who are under 25 are completely excluded from it. These low-wage workers are taxed further into poverty because they don’t qualify for meaningful tax breaks.   Expanding the EITC to allow more Marylanders to benefit from it will be an important issue during this legislative session.

Ensuring a Fair Wage

In 2014, Maryland enacted an incremental minimum wage increase to reach $10.10 by July 1, 2018. Even with these increases, full-time minimum wage workers still aren’t making enough to afford the basic costs of living anywhere in Maryland. With the final increase fast approaching, lawmakers must continue forward progress and work toward a living wage for all Maryland workers.

Keeping Prescription Drugs Affordable

Last year, Maryland enacted landmark legislation to put a stop to the skyrocketing costs of generic prescription drugs. However, there is still more that lawmakers can do to keep prescription drugs affordable for all Marylanders. Lawmakers should build on the existing legislation by requiring prescription drug corporations to provide notice of new, expensive drugs, or large

price increases of older drugs, along with the justification for the higher prices. Additional tools proposed by Health Care for All that would help control drug costs include creating a commission to set payment rates for expensive drugs and preventing practices that ban pharmacists from sharing information on lower-cost prescription options with patients.

Giving More Low-Income Students Access to Free School Meals

The Maryland Cares for Kids Act would allow students who currently qualify for reduced-priced school meals to receive free meals instead. A family of four with an annual income of $31,591 makes too much for the children to qualify for free meals, but paying for school meals, even at a reduced price, would be a challenge with so little income. Providing free school meals to children from low-income families helps those families make ends meet and improves learning outcomes for students who might otherwise go hungry.