News from Annapolis
Delegate Trent Kittleman - District 9A
February 16, 2021
  • Education Part IV: "But we need to spend more money"
  • Welcome to Bizarro World!
  • "But we need to help the poor"
  • The Gun Control Lobby: Why do that hate us?
  • Message from the Gov: Petition to kill the Kirwan Tax
  • Tips on Testifying
  • Kittleman Legislative Scholarship
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"But we need to spend more money on education!"
Last week, we listed a number of "myths" about education that have permeated the minds of the public, put there primarily by strong teachers' unions that fight hard to get their members more money and benefits. Remember, that is the unions' job -- not doing what's best for the kids. And the unions are doing a bang-up job of convincing us that schools and teachers are severely underfunded, when, in Maryland, the opposite is true.

Below are two of the questions asked in the poll conducted in 2020 by Education Next. The first chart asks different groups for their guestimate of how much their own school district spends per pupil. The green bar gives their answers; the blue bar shows what the actual per-pupil expenditure is in their local school district.

Every group dramatically underestimates the per-pupil spending. I am a bit confused by the "Teachers" and the "Union-member public school teachers" underestimating the amount spent by about half; apparently, the union is even effective in convincing teachers that the budgets paying them and providing the schools are only spending half the money they actually are spending. Some feat!
Perhaps the biggest and most prevalent misstatement made in America is "Teachers are underpaid!" It has been said for so long, by so many, and with such passion that no one questions the truth of the statement. Yet the statement clearly is based on false data. Every category of responders underestimates the average teacher salary in their own local school district! Even union teachers.
Until we can disabuse parents and taxpayers that "schools are underfunded" and "teachers are underpaid," we will continue to make bad spending decisions.

Education Next is an education reform publication with offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Stanford, California. The organization publishes a quarterly journal edited by Paul E. Peterson containing peer-reviewed research about educational issues.
Welcome to 'Bizarro' World
In case you haven't noticed, things are a bit different this year in Annapolis, particularly in the House of Delegates. It was clear from the get-go that the House Chamber was completely unusable if we wanted to practice social distancing. The Chamber barely holds all 141 of us; the seating arrangements put us literally shoulder to shoulder.

In order to allow for social distancing, Leadership decided to retrofit two conjoined conference rooms in the House Office building and outfitted it with all the "modern technology" necessary to allow it to function just as the real Chamber functions and in complete concert with the Chamber. The new space is called the "Annex."
Which delegates would be seated where was decided by lottery . . . sort of. Before undertaking the lottery, the speaker, the majority and minority leaders and whips, and all the committee chairs were assigned to the actual Chamber. I was among the “lucky” ones assigned to the Annex, where we have an exciting new experience every day. 
Or, as my good friend, Delegate Moon puts it, “Maryland House members have been split into two ‘Floors.’ There’s the normal House Floor and Bizarro House Floor.”

Unfortunately, the miracles of modern technology failed to live up to their billing.

Here's how things are really working in the Annex.
1.   The persnickety iPad buttons. In order for legislators in the Annex to vote, our desks are supplied with an iPad programmed to allow us to vote. It would have helped had we been given some training, or at least a half-hour to practice!

On the first day, when the Speaker announced a quorum call, we were instructed to "vote" by pressing the green button. Less than half of the members in the Annex were able to record their vote; apparently, they were not familiar with iPads. You must touch the button only once and wait. Instinct tells us to push it again and again until we see the button light up. But on the iPad, a second push undoes the vote. At this point, most of us have become adept at the iPad . . . .
2.   Let Me Speak - Please! Before a legislator can speak on the floor, he or she must be recognized by the chair. In the Chamber, each legislator has a microphone at their desk and can simply stand up and say “Madam Speaker.” In case she doesn’t see us, we can wave our arms and call out once again.

In the Annex, there is only one microphone in the room. It is located in the big plexiglass box in the middle of the room.  In order for us to be recognized, we must push the Blue Button on our iPad. 

The first time I wanted to speak, I dutifully pushed my blue button and saw it light up. I looked up at the Speaker on our big screen waiting for her to acknowledge me. But, no! You can imagine my surprise when the Speaker ignored me and called for the vote. I immediately protested to our Speaker Pro Tem, but once the vote is taken, there is no going back.
I was the first of many legislators – (mostly Republicans; Democrats don't generally oppose their Democrat bills) -- who were not recognized to speak, even after pushing their buttons. 

We finally learned the source of the problem: there is a "slight delay" between our button-pushing and the Speaker seeing it light up. Unfortunately, no one seemed to have a solution . . .  
3.   The Penalty Box. If we are lucky enough to be recognized by the Speaker, standing up is only the first leg of our journey. We must then traverse the room until we come upon the plexiglass telephone booth that ice hockey fans refer to as the “Penalty Box.” Upon opening the door and entering, we must locate the on/off switch in order to be heard.

After we exit the Penalty Box, a staff member goes in and wipes down all the walls, the mike, and any other surface we may have touched . . . which occasions yet another delay . . .
4.   Can you hear me nowDespite alerting the Speaker Pro Tem, in advance, that he was planning to speak on the next bill, Delegate Chris Adams was, once again, ignored by the Speaker. After a lot of jockeying upfront, Chris went into the Box and began to give his testimony. We could hear him just fine. We noticed, however, on the screen, that the Speaker seemed to be talking as well. In the Annex, we could not hear her -- and no one in the Chamber was able to hear Chris. The techies made a passing effort to rectify the chaos but soon gave up. We then turned off the Annex microphone and could once again hear the legislators in the Chamber. So much for equal protection of the Annex foundlings.
5.   Locked Out. Yet another glitch almost caused me to miss casting my "no” vote against the tax veto override. I had an excused absence for the Thursday morning Session but came in Thursday afternoon. When I tried to register my presence by voting green on the quorum call, my button wouldn't light up!
This problem baffled the IT guys. They tried restarts and other common fixes. Finally, they realized that my morning absence had caused the system to lock me out (so no one else could vote my desk), which was preventing me from voting. The cure, he said, was to call or text the Speaker’s chief of staff (Alex Hughes) who could unlock me. Unfortunately, I did not have Alex’s phone number so I had to text our minority leader and ask him to text Alex to tell her my problem. As you might imagine, this process took time . . . and during that time, the vote to override HB-732, the Digital Advertising Tax bill, was taken -- and I missed it.  (For the record, my vote against the override was later recorded.)
6.   I DON’T Consent! Other COVID-inspired restrictions implemented by the majority are: (1) not holding Session during the first six weeks of the 90-day session, and (2) limiting the length of any session to just two hours. As a result, the time for getting things done is significantly shorter than usual. So instead of limiting the bills this session only to ones that were critical or even important, the super-majority leadership has chosen instead to speed up the process by eliminating discussion on about half of the bills. 

Any bill approved unanimously by the committee that heard it (one of six committees) is put on a “consent calendar,” and the list of bills in the calendar are voted upon collectively. This happens both on second reader (when amendments can be offered) and on third reader (when we take a final vote).  In the House of Delegates, you are now being governed by just one-sixth of the 141 Delegates!
What could have been done differently?
It is reasonable to ask that despite all of the issues being experienced by the legislators in the Annex, could anything have been done differently? With respect to all of the physical changes, probably not. With respect to the process -- a lot.

From the beginning, the super-majority leadership told the minority that this session, they were only going to consider bills of significant importance. They shortened the bill processing due dates to limit the number of bills and have more time to deal with the ones that were filed.

Unfortunately, notwithstanding (1) their promise to consider only important bills, (2) the fact that the public has almost no access to the legislators, and (3) the reality that half of the House delegation has only limited ability to speak or vote on the bills, the Democrat Leadership has treated the work of this session exactly as it would a normal session. They have permitted every bill a delegate chose to file, regardless of its importance.

The General Assembly has only one constitutional duty: to pass a budget. One suggestion was to come together, pass the budget, and leave the rest of the proposed legislation until next year when the public could be included in the process. Or the agenda could have included votes on the veto override without seriously infringing on the rights of the public since hearings on these bills had already taken place last year.

The unnecessarily large number of bills filed creates the need to rush the process and ride roughshod over the rights of the Republican minority and the public!
But we need to help the poor
Every year the legislature passes bills to create more programs to provide more benefits to the poor and disabled. This year, HB 101, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance "Heat and Eat" Program, came before our Committee, to "increase food benefits for some of the state's neediest citizens."
This benefit would allow residents already receiving SNAP benefits (formerly Food Stamps) who also qualify for assistance paying their energy bills to get additional food assistance. A good idea. Certainly, we want every Marylander to be able to feed themselves and their families.

According to witnesses, the cost of this additional benefit is either $22,656,000 a year, or $361,501,000 a year. But, wait. It won't cost Marylanders anything. . . the federal government funds the program. The last time I looked, I paid a whole lot more federal tax than state tax!

Underlying the supporters of this and other similar bills is the belief that there are Marylanders who have no income, or income at a poverty level, and that we must help them. Of course we must.

However, what they never consider is the value of the State assistance programs that are already available to families -- not to mention the value of the local and federal assistance programs.

During the hearing on HB-101, I asked the sponsors if they had looked at the DLS 2020 edition of "Public Benefits for Children  and Families."  Using a sample family comprised of a mother with two children, ages seven and three, the Report computes the amount of monetary and in-kind benefits available from each of the Maryland assistance programs and considers the value of those benefits to reach an income value.

The Report then compares the value of these benefits to a family with no income, a family with income equal to the poverty level, and a family with income equal to 200% of the poverty level. These data "were selected because they allow for analysis of the advantages/disadvantages of working versus simply receiving assistance benefits." The Report provides this analysis for each Maryland jurisdiction. Below are the tables for Howard County and for Baltimore City.
The Gun Control Lobby: Why do they hate us?
I recently spent a good half hour talking with a number of the Moms Demand Action members in a virtual meeting. I was impressed with the women I spoke with. Some owned guns themselves and yet were supporting strong gun control.

They were aware that I am not a proponent of gun control bills, and I appreciated their willingness to talk with me. Gun control is one of the most highly charged issues we deal with, so it was impressive to find people willing and capable of engaging in civil discourse on the subject. The bill at issue this term was HB-004 from 2020. Vetoed by the Governor, the legislature voted to override his veto this past week. After re-reading the bill, I realized that I am disturbed not just by the controls being placed on the Second Amendment, but by the manner in which it is done. It always feels like the sponsors think that gun owners are bad people.

What the bill does. This law brings rifles and shotguns into the firearm regulatory scheme and applies the rules to private transfers (sales and leases) of rifles and shotguns. It makes it a criminal act to transfer ownership of a long gun to another without having a Licensed Dealer facilitate the transfer.

How it does it. This bill creates an unnecessary and cumbersome process for otherwise law-abiding citizens who have a tradition of selling and trading firearms. These are people who may not be aware of the new law. Nonetheless, if they violate the law—even unintentionally--the penalties are extreme, imposing anywhere from 6 months to five years of jail time and/or a fine of between $5,000 and $10,000. These penalties are higher than the penalty for stealing a firearm worth less than $1,500. The process requires the parties to the transaction to engage a Licensed Firearms Dealer to do a complete background check through NCIS (the federal database) including the paperwork documenting the inventory and record-keeping. The bill also authorizes the Dealer to charge a "reasonable" fee.

Will it work? There is absolutely no data to suggest that this legislation will do anything to curb gun violence and murders in our urban areas. It is rare for gun violence to be committed by someone with a long gun obtained through a private sale even though they were prohibited from owning one.

Why???? What I find so offensive about this law, and others like it, is that it rejects a much simpler way to achieve the same ends in favor of imposing cumbersome regulations on law-abiding citizens. The law should have begun by authorizing the transfer of a rifle or shotgun to any person with an up-to-date license for any other firearm. Anyone owning a handgun, for example, has passed all of the requirements in this bill, and more. It is not uncommon for someone interested in procuring a rifle or shotgun to own other guns and thus be appropriately licensed. Why in the world should a seller (transferor) have to go through the same process again, before the transfer can take place?!?

If it is deemed by the majority that it is necessary to regulate rifles and shotguns, The requirements in this bill should apply only if the transferee does not have a current firearm license.  
Message from the Governor:
Petition to ditch the Kirwan Tax Hike Plan
Six years ago, you elected me governor because the people of Maryland were sick and tired of dozens of consecutive tax hikes with nothing to show for it. Since then, together, we have proven that we can cut taxes while making government work better.
Yesterday, the legislature forced through their Kirwan Tax Hike Plan that takes us back to the failures of the past at the worst imaginable time. This plan will impose crippling tax hikes on Marylanders who are already struggling from this pandemic.
It gets worse though: their plan has no funding mechanism, no real accountability measures, and it CANNOT guarantee any REAL results for our kids. All it guarantees is MORE TAXES.
This is not the end of this fight. This is only the beginning.  
The Kirwan Tax Hike Plan cannot and will not stand. Everyone knows that it is fatally flawed. 
Together, we will win this fight. Sign here to Ditch & Fix the Kirwan Tax Hike Plan.
Legislative Scholarship
District 9-A Residents
High school seniors, current undergraduate students at a 4-year college, a community college, or a private career school are eligible to apply for a Legislative Scholarship.
If possible, please EMAIL your applications to [email protected]

For questions regarding the application process, call my Annapolis office and speak with Chelsea Leigh Murphy, my Legislative Aide, at 410-841-3556.
District 9A
District News will return next week.