April 20, 2022

Policy change for better health

While Howard County is continuing to work on finalizing its FY 2023 budget, the Maryland General Assembly just wrapped up its annual legislative session. The Howard County State Delegation and other legislative leaders have been hard at work and we are thrilled to see several key public health initiatives approved by the legislature. We also thank our partners and grantees for their tireless energy in advocating for these policies and their commitment to improving health for all Marylanders.

Here are some big legislative wins at the state level:

  • Mental Health: Starting in July, 988 will become the official crisis number for mental health and substance use emergencies, and Maryland has approved $10.5 million in funding to help support 24/7 crisis call center operations. Behavioral Health System Baltimore – a Horizon Foundation grantee and partner – waged a strong campaign to achieve this major win for Maryland residents. The legislature also appropriated an extra $2 million for the Greater Baltimore Regional Integrated Crisis System (GBRICS), the behavioral health crisis network in Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County and Howard County, and commissioned a $500,000 study to assess gaps in the state’s current crisis system and funding solutions. We are especially thankful to behavioral health champion Senator Guy Guzzone for his dedicated leadership and for truly showing that mental health matters.
  • Healthy Babies Equity Act: Along with Horizon Foundation grantee, CASA, and other partners, the Foundation advocated for HB 1080/SB 778, which passed the Maryland General Assembly and become law without the Governor’s signature. This bill provides prenatal and postnatal care for uninsured pregnant women through Medicaid and will provide sustainable funding for prenatal/postnatal care in future years.
  • Protecting Local Health Officers: The General Assembly enacted HB 609/SB 548 (via veto override) to prevent politically motivated dismissals of local health officers. We must continue to support and protect our local health officers in order to address the persistent health and safety needs in our community. Special thanks to Senator Clarence Lam, one of the bill sponsors.
  • Advance Care Planning: The General Assembly passed HB 1073/SB 824 to make it easier for people to name their health care agent. Foundation grantees and partners, including the Honoring Choices Coalition, strongly advocated for this bill to normalize advance care planning as a routine part of every person’s health care. This legislation will also enable the effective completion and storage of advance care planning documents, improving the quality of care provided and ensuring that care aligns with a patient’s treatment wishes. And special thanks to retiring Delegate Shane Pendergrass, one of the bill sponsors.

There is a lot to keep an eye on here in Howard County as well. The FY 2023 budget proposed by County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball includes critical funding for public health. The budget includes:

  • Funding to help expand enhanced school-based mental health supports to ALL Howard County schools over the next two years.
  • $1.3 million in funding to establish a maternity partnership that will give at-risk women of color the supports they need to deliver healthy babies.
  • Over $8 million, a new record, for safer and better streets, sidewalks, paths and bike lanes for people who walk, bike and use wheelchairs.

The Foundation (and hopefully you!) will continue to advocate for full funding for these initiatives – many of which a recent poll found to be widely popular among Howard County likely voters. You can learn more about the poll here. The County Council will vote on the budget in the coming months.