Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signed 196 bills into law Tuesday, including one that advocates say will provide “the most comprehensive insurance coverage for contraception in the country.”
Many states have enacted laws addressing some aspects of the bill that Maryland lawmakers approved, Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Heather Ford said. But no other state has a law that includes all the provisions in Maryland’s “Contraceptive Equity Act,” which prohibits insurers from charging co-payments for contraceptive drugs, procedures and devices approved by the federal government.
Among its provisions, the law — which takes effect in January 2018 — eliminates the co-payment for vasectomies. It makes Maryland the first state to require insurance coverage for over-the-counter contraceptive medications, such as the morning-after pill.
“Family planning is essential for women’s rights, and cost is a factor in family planning,” said Del. Ariana B. Kelly (D-Montgomery), the lead sponsor of the bill in the House. “This legislation is going to help eliminate barriers and reduce costs for women and for men.”
The law applies to insurance plans regulated by the state of Maryland — covering about a third of state residents, advocates said — and expands the coverage already provided through Medicaid, the federal-state insurance program for the poor.
It drew bipartisan support in the General Assembly, including from Del. Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County), the minority whip in the House of Delegates and her party’s nominee for Maryland’s open U.S. Senate seat. Szeliga’s Democratic opponent in that race, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, testified in favor of the bill during the 2016 legislative session and attended Tuesday’s news conference.
Hogan called the legislation “a bill worth signing.”
He also signed into law a measure that will launch a state-run retirement-savings program for private businesses that don’t offer such plans. The Maryland Small Business Retirement Savings Board will develop guidelines for how the program will work, including how much employees will be required to pay, how workers can opt out and how it will be administered.
Charly Carter, executive director of Maryland Working Families, called the retirement-savings bill “a huge step in the right direction to provide economic stability to families.” It was backed by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel).
Proponents of the Maryland bill say about 1 million people in the state are older than 60, and many will not be prepared for retirement. By 2030, advocates say, seniors will make up a quarter of the state’s population. A handful of other states, including Illinois and California, are in varying stages of implementing state-run retirement plans for private-sector employees.
Maryland has seen repeated legislative attempts to design a payroll-deduction retirement-savings account.
Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s), who sponsored this year’s bill, said the legislation failed to move in the past because it penalized businesses that did not participate in the savings program. The penalties were not included in this year’s version of the legislation.
Peters and Del. C. William Frick (D-Montgomery), the House sponsor, also added a provision that would eliminate the $300 corporate filing fee required of small businesses that participate in the program. Last year, Hogan pushed to eliminate the filing fee, but the bill never moved out of committee.
Frick said the program could be running by 2018.
Hogan also signed legislation to give Northrop Grumman a $37.5 million tax credit over five years and to reduce the fees charged for birth and death certificates.
The governor hailed the fee reductions as part of his mission to shrink the tax burden in Maryland. He took a jab at Miller and Busch over their inability to agree on a tax-relief plan during the recent legislative session.
“I know President Miller wants to provide across-the-board income tax cuts and provide help for small businesses, and I know that Speaker Busch wants to give tax relief to struggling low-income families,” Hogan said. “And, well, I agree with both of them. So I say, ‘Next year, guys, let’s get them all done.’ ”
Also on Tuesday, Hogan announced that Robert R. Neall, a former Democratic lawmaker who advised the governor during his transition, will join his senior staff to head the newly formed Office of Transformation and Renewal.
Neall’s role will be to revamp state government so it is more efficient and accountable.
Hogan likened the effort to the work done by then-Gov. Marvin Mandel more than 40 years ago to reorganize 250 state agencies into 12 Cabinet-level departments.
“State government, as it stands today, is unwieldy and needs to be fixed,” Hogan said, adding that he hopes the streamlining effort will lead to cost savings and ultimately tax cuts.