The 435th Session of the Maryland General Assembly ended at midnight on April 13. During the 90-day legislative session, the Senate and the House of Delegates considered more than 2,200 bills. Below is a recap of actions taken by the General Assembly that impact Maryland’s independent colleges and universities.
On January 23, Governor Larry Hogan introduced a fiscal 2016 operating budget bill and a Budget Reconciliation and Financing Act (BRFA). These companion pieces of legislation eliminated the State’s structural budget deficit and closed a $714 million projected budget shortfall for fiscal 2016. The Governor’s budget plan provided $41.4 million for the Sellinger Program.
On April 13, the General Assembly passed the operating budget bill and the BRFA with numerous amendments. The General Assembly trimmed the State’s General Fund spending by about $450 million, a significant reduction in expenditures, but less than the amount proposed by the Governor. The legislature restored funding to several priority areas, including education.
The final budget plan enacted by the General Assembly provides $42.8 million for the Sellinger Program, a 3.4% increase over the prior fiscal year.
Governor Hogan’s capital budget bill provided $8 million for three projects at MICUA member institutions—$2.4 million for Johns Hopkins University to renovate labs at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, $3.2 million for Notre Dame of Maryland University to renovate Gibbons Hall, and $2.4 million for Washington Adventist University to renovate and expand the Health Sciences building. The Maryland General Assembly increased the MICUA Capital Grant Program to $9.6 million providing $3.2 million for Johns Hopkins, $3.2 million for Notre Dame, and $3.2 for Washington Adventist University.
- Sexual Assault
As a result of numerous high profile news accounts over the past year, the General Assembly debated a number of bills related to sexual assault, each with very different ideas about the causes and best practices required to deter sexual assault on college campuses. The bill that passed ultimately focused on sexual assault climate surveys and agreements with rape crisis centers. MHEC must establish the survey guidelines, and campuses must survey the student body every two years about the climate on campus as it relates to sexual assault and then report the results to MHEC. The first survey will take place in March 2016. The law also requires campuses to pursue formalized agreements with Maryland’s rape crisis centers.
- Higher Education Policy
We are happy to report that distance learning in Maryland has taken a big step forward. The General Assembly passed legislation allowing Maryland to join the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement SARA. This is a long fought victory and a result of very a successful collaboration between all of the segments of higher education. The legislation permits MHEC to join SARA. If MHEC elects to do so, Maryland’s colleges and universities may participate in SARA. Participating institutions are authorized to offer distance education programs in other participating states.
After three years and numerous amendments and debate, the body adopted a bill to prohibit an educational institution from requiring a student to grant access to their individual personal electronic account.
Maryland likely has a new regional higher education center, The Frederick Center for Research and Education in Science and Technology. MHEC must approve CREST before it officially becomes a regional higher education center in the State.
The General Assembly considered several bills focusing on the cost of tuition as well as identifying and targeting high achieving low-income students. In addition, language was adopted by the budget committees requiring MHEC to work with the segments of higher education to expand access for low-income students.
On Sine Die, the General Assembly passed a bill to create a Higher Education Outreach and College Access Pilot Program. The bill was designed to work with non-profit organizations to expand higher education opportunities for low-income students. Originally the bill established a $500,000 State fund to assist with these efforts. As passed, the bill requires no State funds, but creates a pilot program with reporting requirements to MHEC on efforts to increase college enrollments for low income students.
Also on Sine Die, the General Assembly passed a bill that prohibits the sale of powdered alcohol for the next two years.
The General Assembly passed a Flexible Leave bill that prevents discrimination against an employee that has requested leave with pay due to an illness of a family member in the employee’s immediate family.
A bill also passed that extends prohibitions against discrimination against interns and gives interns the same rights against discrimination as other employees working in the same organization.