Legislative priorities to support military veterans and access to healthcare [Commentary]

One of a series of weekly commentaries from Harford County state legislators regarding the 2018 Maryland General Assembly session.

This week the State of Maryland mourns the loss of my colleague and friend, Sen, Wayne Norman of Harford County. Wayne was a passionate advocate for his district and was a welcoming and kindhearted individual who was pleasure to know. His presence in Annapolis and here in Harford County will be greatly missed.

I want to take this opportunity to update the community on some of my key legislative priorities for the 2018 legislative session as we enter the final weeks. From the initial announcement of a Freestanding Medical Facility several years ago, I have been a vocal proponent for access to health care for the surrounding communities in Harford and Cecil counties most affected by the impending closure of Harford Memorial Hospital. Since that time I have watched this proposal develop and have been in continual contact with community leaders, the leadership at the Maryland Hospital Association, Upper Chesapeake Health and the University of Maryland Medical System in order to advocate for a full service hospital. I continue to have concerns and demand that the process be open and transparent to all concerned citizens and stakeholders. In response to the planned closing of Harford Memorial Hospital I have introduced a package of bills in order to address the situation. If enacted, HB 614 would require hospitals that close or downsize be assessed a minor fee to pay for the retraining and job placement of those resulting displaced employees. This will protect the more than 700 jobs at Harford Memorial Hospital will insure that health care professionals are better prepared for career advancement in an ever changing industry. The total estimated assessment fund is $1.5 million in training and it will come from .01 percent of the Maryland Hospital Association's estimated $15 billion last report revenue.

HB 1540 requires the Maryland Health Care Commission to publish a notice of the proposed closing or partial closing of a health care facility within 10 days after receiving the notice from the facility to all elected representative in the service area. The commission will be required to ensure that the proposed plan is available to the public for review. In addition, the commission will be required to publish the notice in a locally circulated paper for two weeks in the region of the proposed closure and provide a written/mailed notice of any informal meetings or public hearing. Notice will also be required to be posted at the health care facility and public facilities in the geographical area.

The final bill is HB 1621. If enacted, this legislation would direct the Department of Commerce to conduct a study along with community, city, county and hospital stakeholders on the economic impact of the closure of Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace, and the transfer of its services to another location. It also requires the department to develop a revitalization plan for the city and report all its findings to members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Economic Matter Committee. The closure of Harford Memorial, which covers 9 acres of downtown Havre de Grace, has a direct impact on our residents, businesses and greater tax base of the city, therefore I believe this study will be an important tool as to how we move forward after the hospital downtown closes.

Exempting military retirement from state tax is another priority therefore I am honored to be working with a former Marine, Del. Pat Young from Baltimore County to make military retirement income tax free for our veterans. HB 327 would phase in over multiple years until 2021, the limitation of military retirement income that may be subtracted from federal adjusted gross income for Maryland tax purposes. We have a second bill HB 1048 that begins the exemption immediately and a funding bill. We are working closely with our Senate colleagues to support of troops. We believe the time has come for us to put deeds over words.

Please don't hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions or concerns regarding legislation or how I can assist you. We can be reached at maryann.lisanti@house.state.md.us or by calling 410-841-3331. It's a great privilege to serve the people of Harford County and I always appreciate hearing from you while serving in Annapolis.

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