Busy Saturday: House passes Trans Health Equity Act, pushes for price hikes and data protections, backs new statesmanship

Chamber of the House of Delegates. Photo by Daniel E. Gaines.

The Maryland House of Delegates voted Saturday to approve the Transgender Health Care Equity Act, a bill that just a year ago disappeared from the chamber’s agenda before a vote.

Delegates debated the legislation for about 25 minutes early Saturday afternoon before passing the measure 93-37.

Del. Anne Kaiser (D-Montgomery), the bill’s lead sponsor, was joined by 59 cosponsors this session.

Kaiser said she felt it was important to serve as a voice for the trans community in the chamber.

“What’s being said nationally about trans people are the same lies that were being said about gays and lesbians 20 years ago,” said Kaiser, who was one of the first openly gay members of the General Assembly. “And that’s part of the reason I feel the passion and connection with our trans brothers and sisters.”

She praised del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery) for defending the bill on the floor during debates earlier in the week.

House Republicans introduced several amendments to try to limit the legislation, but they were defeated.

Although the bill generated considerable debate, it changed state policy only modestly.

The bill would require Maryland Medicaid, starting Jan. 1, 2024, to provide coverage for additional gender-affirming treatments that are not currently allowed in the state’s plan but are typically covered by private insurance. Advanced treatments include hormone therapy, hair modification, voice therapy, physical body changes, and fertility preservation.

The state’s Medicaid program already covers treatments, including mental health services, hormone replacement therapy and sex-reassignment surgery.

The bill does not remove state policies on current requirements to be eligible for sex reassignment surgery: patients must be 18 or older, have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, undergo at least one year of continuous hormone therapy when recommended by mental health professional, and receive two referrals from a mental health professional before surgery.

During the 2022 legislative session, similar legislation passed through the Senate chamber and a committee out of the House, but never came up for a floor vote and the committee vote was removed from the bill page.

Similar legislation is expected to come up for debate in the Senate on Monday.

Price gouging

Lawmakers are looking to crack down on price gouging after the problems that arose at the start of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic.

The House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to House Bill 775, which would limit non-seasonal increases in the prices of essential goods and services to 15 percent during a state of emergency. The bill would also give the governor the power during a state of emergency to designate essential goods and services.

The attorney general’s office said it had received hundreds of complaints about price gouging during the pandemic on items including food and cleaning products.

The Senate gave final approval to the Senate bill on Friday.

Online child protection

The House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require social media and other app companies to assess how children may use or be affected by their online activities.

House Bill 901, modeled after similar laws in Europe, would require social media companies operating in Maryland to conduct assessments of how children are likely to use their products. Companies will also be required to assess how they use children’s personal information and how it could potentially expose them to harmful online content.

Companies will also be required to consider how their products affect the privacy, health, safety and mental health of children.

The Senate version of the bill awaits action from the Finance Committee.

The Spirit of Maryland

Marylanders who are fans of the state symbols may soon have a chance to toast the addition of a new one.

The House of Delegates unanimously approved House Bill 178, which would make Maryland Rye whiskey the official state liquor.

Before Prohibition, Maryland was the nation’s third-largest distilling state behind only Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

Del. Cyril Resnik (D-Montgomery), the bill’s sponsor, told the House Health and Government Operations Committee that he envisions an economic boost for the state from adopting the state symbol, similar to how Kentucky markets Kentucky Bourbon and the Trail of Bourbon.

“I found Maryland Rye in six different states, but not in Maryland,” he told the committee. “Now, I treat Maryland Rye that isn’t made in Maryland the same way I treat Maryland-style crab cakes on a restaurant menu outside of Maryland, but it’s a real thing and it’s something that’s part of our history and our heritage and something that we have to take care of for the benefit of the economy, tourism and business.”

There are roughly two dozen official state symbols, including the state crustacean (Blue crab, of course), cat (Calico), dinosaur (astrodon johnstoni), and cake (Smith Island).

There is even an official sport (shooting) and a team sport (lacrosse).

Not every symbol offered does.

In 2017, David Shore, 10, of Bethesda, made an impressive push to name chromite the state mineral (he even had a pro-free lobbyist and a testimonial from the state geologist).

There have also been several failed attempts to have soft-shell crab named the official state sandwich.

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