Busy Saturday: House passes Trans Health Equity Act, advances price hikes and data protections, backs new spirit of state

The Chamber of the House of Delegates. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Maryland’s House of Delegates voted on Saturday to approve the Trans Health Equity Act — a bill that just a year ago disappeared from the chamber’s agenda ahead of a floor vote.

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

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

Kaiser said she thinks it’s important to serve as the voice of the trans community in the bedroom.

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

She congratulated Del. Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery) for defending the bill in the House during floor debates earlier in the week.

House Republicans introduced a few amendments in an attempt to narrow the legislation, but these were defeated.

Although the bill has generated significant debate, it only modestly changes state policy.

The bill would require Maryland Medicaid, beginning January 1, 2024, to provide coverage for additional gender-affirming treatments, which are currently prohibited in the state plan but generally covered by private insurance. Expanded treatments include hormone therapy, hair alteration, voice therapy, physical body alterations, and fertility preservation.

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

The bill does not lift state policies on current requirements to qualify for sex reassignment surgery: Patients must be 18 or older, have a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, follow at least a year ongoing hormone therapy as recommended by a mental health professional and receive two referrals from a mental health professional prior to surgery.

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

Similar legislation is expected to be debated in the Senate on Monday.

Price gouging

Lawmakers are seeking to crack down on price hikes following issues at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The House gave preliminary approval to House Bill 775 which would limit non-seasonal price increases on essential goods and services to 15% 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 such as food and cleaning supplies.

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

Online protections for children

The House has given preliminary approval to a bill that would require social media companies and other apps to assess how children might use or be affected by their online activities.

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

Companies would 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 by the Finance Committee.

Spirit of Maryland

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

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

Before Prohibition, Maryland was the third largest distilling state in the country behind Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

Of the. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery), sponsor of the bill, told the House Health and Government Operations Committee that he envisions an economic boost for the state through the adoption of the state symbol similar to how Kentucky markets Kentucky Bourbon and Bourbon Trail.

“I found Maryland Rye in six different states, not Maryland,” he told the committee. “Now I treat Maryland Rye not produced 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 which is part of our history and heritage and something we need to wrap ourselves for the benefits of economy, tourism and business.

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

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

Not all offered symbols do this.

In 2017, 10-year-old David Shore of Bethesda made an impressive effort to have chromite named the state mineral (he even had a pro bono lobbyist and state geologist testimonial).

There have also been a few failed attempts to have the softshell crab named the official state sandwich.


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