Monday, May 30, 2016

Advocacy Part II - What happens after a bill is passed?

Even after hardworking advocates are successful in getting a bill through the General Assembly, there is still another step or two in the process before the bill becomes law.

In Maryland, once the General Assembly acts to pass a piece of legislation, the governor has three options.
  • the governor can sign the bill into law
  • the governor can veto the bill (the General Assembly then has the option of attempting to override the veto - override requires a three-fifths vote of the elected membership of both the House and Senate) 
  • the governor can do nothing --- you may have heard a staffer, lobbyist or legislator say the governor 'put it in a drawer' - in which case the bill goes into effect the same as if it were signed, just without the governor's imprimatur.
The vast majority of bills passed in any General Assembly session are passed in the final weeks... the final days are a flurry of floor votes, conference committees, and concurrences. The governor is authorized to act on any piece of legislation as soon as the bill is passed - which means the governor can sign or veto a bill during session.  It is relatively rare for the governor to veto a bill during session, because as soon as the governor vetoes, the legislature can attempt an override.  In the 2016 General Assembly session there were several vetoes during session this year, immediately overridden.  Here's an article discussing some:

Because so much happens at the end of the legislative session, usually the governor's office is presented with a large volume of passed legislation in a short space of time. The governor and his staff then have a maximum of 50 days to determine what action to take on each bill. Things generally take a pretty well-known path.

Even before the end of the legislative session, the governor's office announces multiple official post-session bill signing ceremonies --- there are usually about five or six of them. Then, after the governor's office is presented with the list of passed bills, the staff go through the list to determine which bills the governor will sign, and then assign each of those bills to one of the pre-determined bill signing ceremonies.

The bill signing ceremonies provide an opportunity for hardworking legislators and advocates to be present, be recognized, have a nice official photo op. with the governor etc. -- I'm sure you've all seen some of those photos - the governor, the speaker, the Senate president at the dais with a line of legislators and advocates behind.

You'd think that would be a pretty straightforward, transparent process -- but really not so much.  Sometimes, the governor's office notifies primary bill sponsors of the date on which their bill will be signed well in advance, but often there is little notice.  Many times the governor's office will release a list of bills to be signed only a day or two before the relevant signing ceremony.

Practically speaking, the Speaker's office and Senate president's office maintain a list of bills passed during session, and monitor the bill signing announcements that come out of the governor's office -- -checking bills off as they go. After the last bill signing ceremony a list of unsigned bills remains. Usually - and this year is no exception - the last bill signing ceremony takes place about a week before the final deadline for gubernatorial action on session legislation.  So then, you literally just wait to see what will happen with the remaining bills. 

Bills vetoed after the end of the General Assembly session have to wait til the General Assembly convenes again to attempt veto overrides.... and that's more than seven months.  Effectively that means when the governor vetoes a bill passed by the General Assembly with a veto-proof majority, the veto isn't the death of the bill, just a delay.  Which begs the question.... if you know the bill will eventually be enacted, why thwart the work of the General Assembly?  But it happens.....

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Follow-up - Bills of special interest to students.... and more work to do!

This set of bills, that I thought might be of specific interest to students, fared pretty well in the General Assembly --- with one notable exception. The bills related to issues as diverse as voting rights for Montgomery County's Student Member of the Board of Education, creation of an anonymous text-messaging system for students to use to report bullying, and protecting the First Amendment rights of student journalists.

Here's a quick summary:

HB 41 Anonymous two-way text messaging tip programs – sponsor Del. Arentz
This bill would amend the Safe Schools Reporting Act to expand the model policy developed by the State Board of Education for reporting bullying, investigating reports of bullying, and disciplining students who have violated school bullying policies. The bill would require local boards of education to create and publicize two-way anonymous text messaging programs for use by students and others involved in or witnessing bullying to anonymously report the incidents.

Here is a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

The 2016 General Assembly session was the second go around for this bill, and once again it died in committee. A little editorializing here.  I think this is a really good bill that aims to create a real, meaningful resource for students - allowing them to utilize technology they already use routinely (what does the latest research show -- the average US teenager sends over 100 texts/day??) to anonymously report concerns about their school environment and experience -- troubles on their bus, bullying, cheating, broken water fountains, etc. etc.

I talked to several members of our Delegation to get their thoughts on the bill -- it looked good to me, but maybe I was missing something???  Why was the bill struggling so much? What I heard was that yes, this is a good bill --- that could benefit from more coordinated advocacy.  I'm hoping to work with students, bill sponsors, school administrators and others interested in school safety issues over the summer to build a more robust advocacy effort around establishing this type of resource for students. If anyone is interested --- just let me know!!

HB87 – Student Member of the Board (SMOB) Voting – Montgomery County Delegation
This is a Montgomery County local bill (meaning its provisions would apply only in Montgomery County) to extend the voting rights and Board participation of the Student Member of the Board of Education.

Here is a link to the HB87 bill page on the GA website:

This bill is almost the dictionary definition of  legislation that takes a marathon, not a sprint!  This was at least the 4th time the MoCo SMOB voting rights bill was filed in the General Assembly.  Several years back it got close --- with near unanimous support of our Montgomery County Delegation -- but certain committee chairs killed it in committee.  This year it moved forward with complete support - every member of our Montgomery County delegation supported it - and it finally passed!

One interesting thing for fellow legislative nerds.  Every year in the Maryland General Assembly, every county's delegation puts forward a variety of local bills -- legislation with purely local impact that, for one reason or another, must be approved by the General Assembly. Now, you would think that - as a courtesy if nothing else - when a local bill moves forward with the unanimous support of its Delegation - all other members of the General Assembly would defer to the will of the local jurisdiction to regulate itself.  But if you click on the link above, and go to the "history" section of the bill page, you'll see yet another instance of legislators voting against bills that they have absolutely no interest in. 

Eight members of the House, and four members of the Senate, voted against the MoCo SMOB voting rights bill.  Why on earth electeds like Sen. Hershey of Queen Anne County, or Delegate Kittleman of Carroll County voted against this bill, or even thought it was appropriate to vote against a bill of purely local effect in Montgomery County, eludes me.  But that sort of thing happens all the time.....

HB115/SB582 - Public School Robotics Club Grant Program -  sponsor Del. Reznik/Sen. King
This bill created a grant program, administered by the State Dept. of Education, to support and expand robotics clubs in public schools.  The bill would require the governor to provide at least $500,000 to seed the program. 

Here’s a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

This bill passed easily, but the governor opted not to sign it.  I doubt very much he'll veto it

HB708/SB781 – Maryland Seal of Biliteracy – Del. Gutierrez
A little bit of history. This bill was back for the third time this year - it failed even to get a vote in the House Ways and Means committee last year – even though it sailed through committee on the Senate side, and was unanimously approved in the Senate.

The bill establishes a Maryland Seal of Biliteracy Program to recognize public high school graduates, beginning with the graduating class of 2017, who have attained proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing one or more languages in addition to English. The purpose of the program is to promote linguistic proficiency and cultural literacy in one or more languages in addition to English and to provide recognition of the attainment of those skills by affixing a Seal of Biliteracy to the student’s diploma or transcript at graduation. Participation in the program by a local school system is voluntary; however, if a local school system chooses to participate, an individual school may not opt out.

Here is a link to the bill’s page on the General Assembly website:

The third time was the charm --- the Maryland Seal of Biliteracy was unanimously passed by both the House and Senate, and was signed by the governor on April 26.  Congratulations to D18 Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez for the persistence and passion!

SB764 – Student Journalists – Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press – Sen. Raskin
This bill – to ensure student journalists enjoy the Constitutionally protected Freedoms of Speech and the Press, was sponsored by Senator Jamie Raskin.  In his other life, Senator Raskin is a nationally recognized Constitutional Law scholar, and a professor of Constitutional Law at American University.  In other words, he knows the subject.

And - if you talk to Sen. Raskin, he'll tell you that part of his motivation for sponsoring this legislation was an experience he had several years ago at Montgomery Blair HS.

In 2009, a student organization at Blair was producing a program debating the merits of marriage equality, in a fairly traditional debate format - proposition, with pro/con debate -  two speakers supporting each side of the question. The students videotaped their debate, but school administration refused to let them air the video stating that the subject was too controversial.  The students and their advisor reached out to Sen. Raskin to help them argue against the school's censorship of their work.

Here’s a link to the bill’s page on the General Assembly website:

This was one of my favorite bills this year. It was filed a bit late (but before the filing deadline), and didn't have a crossfile.  But the bill succeeded, and now Maryland's student journalists enjoy full First Amendment protection.  The governor signed it on April 26.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Post-session summary of Special Education and Mental Health bills

Aside from some of the (in my opinion really important and necessary) testing bills, this was a fairly good year for student-focused bills -- and D14 Del. Eric Luedtke --- whose street cred. as a long-time MCPS teacher is always on display in Annapolis -- had a pretty good year!

There are three successes here, and one bill that didn't succeed.  One commonality in those that made it through - they were each straightforward, clear --- and frankly, embodied commonsense. Some of you commented on some of these bills, in essence saying 'we don't already do this?????'

HB85 – Children with Disabilities – Parental Notice -  sponsor Del. Luedtke
The bill would add to existing law the requirement that schools provide to parents of children with disabilities written information explaining available early intervention and special education family support services, with information on how to contact the providers of those services.  That information is to be provided at the first IEP meeting to discuss interventions for the child, and the information must be provided in the language in which the parents are most fluent.

Here is a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

This bill sailed through both Chambers with broad bi-partisan support, and was signed by the governor on April 26.

HB86/SB421 – Translation of IEP and family service plans – sponsor Del. Luedtke/Sen. Ramirez
Authorizing the parents of a child with a completed individualized education program (IEP) or a completed individualized family service plan to request translation of the document into the parents' native language.

Here is a link to the HB86 bill page on the GA website:

This bill too made it through both the House and Senate easily, and was signed by the governor on April 26.
HB 142 – Emotional Health Awareness Programs in Schools -  sponsor Del. Hixson
The bill would require local school systems to implement programs of emotional suffering awareness, and also programs for middle and high school coaches and athletes focused on creating a character building culture in youth sports programs.

Here is the link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

 This was a mental health bill inculcating programs championed by the Campaign to Change Direction and the Positive Coaching Alliance.  It didn't go anywhere this year, though I think the intent was good, and the need for programs to increase mental health awareness, decrease bullying, and destigmatize mental and behavioral health is great.

I think this bill could be back, and with a better chance, particularly if the citizen advocates really get organized, and make a concerted effort to reach out to electeds and folks like us who care deeply about public education, and supporting all our students.

HB713/SB494 – School Behavioral Health Accountability Act –Del. Luedtke/Sen. Nathan-Pulliam
This bill would require the State Dept. of Education and local school boards and departments of health to develop and implement a standardized reporting system to determine the effectiveness of community-partnered school behavioral health services programs.

Here’s the link to the bill page on the General Assembly webpage:

This was another win for Del. Luedtke -- a legislative hat-trick of bills supporting some of our most vulnerable students! The bill made it through both the House and Senate easily, and was signed by the governor on April 26.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Child Health and Safety bills --- post-session summary

A variety of bills involving child health and safety were filed in the General Assembly this year. From a variant of Erin's Law (requiring the development of age-appropriate curricula focusing on sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention), to legislation specifying penalties for youth sports coaches who fail to follow concussion awareness and prevention protocols,  and even a bill requiring elementary students to get more physical activity during school hours!

The Student Diabetes Management Program bill was also back this year - a bill to allow students with diabetes more autonomy to manage their diabetes in school, and would also provide the opportunity for school staff who volunteer to be trained to assist diabetic students.

Here is a summary of the fate of the child health and safety bills I blogged about in February:

HB29  Youth Sports Programs - Concussion prevention – coaching – sponsor Del. Chang
This bill would expand current law on concussion prevention in youth sports programs by requiring the suspension of coaches who violate concussion protocols by allowing an athlete to return to play or practice after a suspected concussion injury without adequate medical clearance. For school sports programs the Act would require the State Board of Education to establish this policy; and all local boards of education to follow it.  The Act also requires non-school based youth sports programs to institute and follow this policy.

Of interest, the fiscal note cites MCPS policy as state-wide best practices that already embody the substance of this bill.

Here is a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

I thought this bill embodied some pretty good, evidence-based policy --- but it went nowhere this year -- didn't even get a vote in committee.  Hopefully it will be back next year, with more vigorous advocacy.  Sometimes making good law is a marathon, not a sprint! 

HB72 Sexual Abuse and Assault Awareness and Prevention Program - sponsor Del. Luedtke
The bill would require the State Board of Education and specified nonpublic schools to develop and implement a program of age-appropriate education relating to the awareness and prevention of sexual abuse and assault.  This information would be incorporated into the health curriculum and taught by teachers specially trained to deliver the content.

Here is a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

This bill was back after having a tough road in 2015 - but second time was a charm, and the bill passed both the House and Senate.  As of yet the governor hasn't signed it, but he won't veto it either ---- and if the governor takes no action on a bill passed by the General Assembly, it goes into effect the same as if the governor signed it.
HB198 – School Resource Officers -   sponsor Del. Cluster
The bill would require every school district to hire and staff a School Resource Officer for every Maryland public school.

Here is a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

This is one of those bills that reasonable minds can seriously differ about, and that local school systems really chafe at on 'local control' and budgetary grounds.  Not all counties are as adept at sharing services between entities as Montgomery.  Here, different government agencies and offices often work together to provide services -- in the schools we see that with community partners like DHHS providing social and wrap-around services in some schools, and the police department providing SROs in high schools.

But I digress.  This bill went nowhere this year.

HB 245/SB310 – Child Abuse and Neglect – Failure to Report -  Del. Dumais
The bill specifies penalties when, during the course of an investigation into a case of suspected child abuse or neglect, an investigating agency suspects that an individual or organization legally required to report suspected abuse failed to do so.

Here is a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

Both the House and Senate versions of this bill passed both the House and Senate, and the governor signed the bill into law on May 10. On the surface not surprising, seems like a pretty straightforward, commonsense bill ---- but, traditionally getting a bill through the House Judiciary committee is no easy thing.... so kudos to Del. Dumais!

HB409/SB564 – Providing alcohol to minors - penalty– Alex and Calvin’s Law Del. Fraser-Hidalgo & Sen. Feldman
This bill increases the penalties for adults who obtain or provide alcohol to minors.
Here’s a link to the bill page on the GA website:

Two MoCo legislators from District 15 sponsored this bill (Del. Fraser-Hidalgo in the House, Sen. Feldman in the Senate) - which arose from a tragedy in the Wootton community last summer.  Advocates in the Wootton cluster very effectively spoke out in favor of this legislation, both versions of which passed both the House and Senate. As yet the governor hasn't signed the bill, but hopefully it will be part of the governor's final 2016 bill signing ceremony next week. 

HB474 – Elementary Schools – Daily Physical Activity – Del. Walker
The bill would require that all elementary school students be provided a daily program of physical activity totaling 150 minutes each week, a minimum of 90 minutes of which must be physical education.
Here’s a link to the bill page on the GA website:

I think everyone agrees physical education, and daily physical activity, are incredibly important for kids --- it helps every aspect of their well-being, and makes it easier for them to do the intellectual work of school.  But -- there's almost always pushback from the local Boards of Education and school systems when the state tries to add something mandatory to school curricula.  This bill didn't even get a vote in committee.

SB71 – Student Diabetes Management Program – Senator Young

This bill requires the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), to establish guidelines for volunteer school employees to become trained diabetes care providers. Each school system would create a Student Diabetes Management Program that includes training volunteers to become diabetes care providers. Students requiring diabetes care at school must provide a Diabetes Medical Management Plan to the school. If a student’s plan states that the student may independently monitor and treat their diabetes while at school, the student may perform the authorized tasks wherever the student considers necessary, and possess and carry any necessary supplies and equipment.

Here is a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

This was the second go-around for this piece of legislation, which had a tough go in 2015.  The Senate version of the bill passed the Senate last year, but didn't even get a vote in the House -- and the House version of the bill didn't even get a vote in committee last year. But - again, second time's a charm --- both the House and Senate versions of the bill passed both chambers, and the bill was signed by the governor on April 26.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Less Testing, More Learning - what happened to these bills in the 2016 General Assembly

Decreasing the sheer number of tests, and volume of time spent preparing for and taking tests, K-12 students take in their school life is a major focus of the Maryland State Education Association(MSEA) these days.  It's "Less Testing, More Learning" initiative successfully partnered with a number of legislators to introduce a package of bills in the General Assembly this year, with mixed results. Here's a link to the MSEA's summary report from its "Less Testing, More Learning" website:

Here is a brief review of the various bills, including how the bill progressed through the General Assembly this year.

HB141/SB407 – Education Accountability Act – Limits on Testing -   sponsor Del. Luedtke

The bill would require the State Board of Education to adopt regulations limiting the total amount of time that may be devoted to federal, State, and locally mandated tests for each grade to 2% of the specified minimum required annual instructional hours.

Here is the link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

The House version of the bill made it through the Ways and Means committee, and was passed unanimously by the House, but the House bill never made it out of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee.  The Senate version of the bill didn't make it out of committee.

HB397 – Education – Best Practices in Administration of Assessments
Dels. M. Washington and Ebersole

The bill would require the State Department of Education to develop a specific set of best practices that the State and local school districts must use when deciding whether to administer an assessment or test to students.
Here is a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

Like HB141, this bill was voted out of the Ways and Means committee, and passed unanimously in the House, but died in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee.

HB412/SB533 – Education -Administration of Assessments – Notice -   Del. Kaiser
The bill would require each county board of education to provide information relating to each assessment administered in a local school system that includes the title, purpose, grade level tested, subject area, testing window, time to complete, loss of instruction time, and accommodations for students with special needs.

Here is a link to the bill’s page on the GA website:

This bill passed both the House and Senate, and was signed by the governor on April 26.
HB657 - Pre-K and Kindergarten Readiness Assessments  -   Del. Shoemaker
This bill would limit administration of state mandated 'school readiness' assessments to a random sampling of Pre-K and Kindergarten students in each local school district.  According to legislators I've spoken to, this bill addresses concerns expressed by a large number of teachers and school administrators concerned about the amount of instructional and interactive class time lost to the process of administering school readiness assessments to every pre-k and kindergarten student.

Here is a link to the bill page on the GA website:

This bill unanimously passed both the House and Senate, and was signed by the governor on April 26.