Yep, it’s that time of year again. The 2017 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly began on Jan. 11 and will finish up on April 10. Jmore recently spoke to the area’s Jewish political leaders, working in Annapolis and elsewhere, to hear about their plans and agendas for the coming year.
Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (D-11th)
“Here’s a story the media hasn’t told,” says Zirkin. “Last year, Maryland passed the biggest criminal justice reform package in the state’s history, maybe in the nation — the Justice Reinvestment Act. These sweeping changes cleared the Judicial Proceedings Committee, which I chair, 11 to 0.
“But here’s the story — it was done because Democrats and Republicans worked together on this committee, without thinking about party affiliation.”
The same mindset was applied when the bill was brought to the General Assembly, Zirkin says. “This legislation could not have passed without the help of Sen. Mike Hough, a conservative Republican representing Frederick and Carroll counties,” he says. “I asked that he be vice chair temporarily so we could debate together. That’s what enabled this legislation to pass.
“And that’s what drives me to keep doing this,” says Zirkin, having spent eight years in the House and 11 in the Senate. “My committee and I are stubbornly and fiercely non-partisan. I really enjoy making the law, seeing how it affects people and finding ways to do better.”
Among his many priorities for 2017: making any needed modifications to the Justice Reinvestment Act and banning fracking.
“I’ve read the Johns Hopkins studies about the adverse health effects of fracking and am firmly committed to banning fracking throughout the state, not just in Western Maryland,” he says.
An attorney, Zirkin and his wife, Tina, live with their two daughters in Reisterstown and belong to Chizuk Amuno Congregation.
“Senator Zirkin is committed to putting partisan politics aside and working across the aisle if that’s what it takes to help the citizens of Maryland. I have seen this commitment through his work as Chairman in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Given the current political climate, nothing is more important than unifying voices, and I think Senator Zirkin exemplifies that.”
–Bradley Rifkin, government affairs attorney in Annapolis, on Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz
A Democrat, Kamenetz has spent the last 22 years in local government — on the Baltimore County Council for 16, and for the past six years as county executive. He was the county’s first Jewish county executive.
“The time has gone by very fast,” Kamenetz says. “Working in local government, you can help people more effectively and confront important issues, including schools, public safety and tax rates.”
During his remaining two years as county executive, he plans to cover many areas.
“We will continue record investment in school construction, environmental protection, enhanced public safety of police and citizens, building up the economic base throughout the county, maintaining the quality of neighborhoods, increasing jobs, and decreasing unemployment,” Kamenetz says. “At the same time, because we’re at the local level, we also get to work on pothole and stop sign issues.”
Kamenetz made a special point to talk about one of the projects he most looks forward to completing. “At Sparrows Point, Baltimore, we are creating the next generation of investment,” he says.
The former Bethlehem Steel property was once the world’s largest iron, steel and tin producer, employing 30,000 workers and building ships for World War II. Now called Tradepoint Atlantic, the master plan of the 3,100-acre site envisions a world-class hub involving transportation via land, rail and sea, as well as manufacturing and logistics. Plans call for it to include 15 million square feet of new development. FedEx Ground Shipping Services is the anchor tenant, and Under Armour is building a 1.3 million-square-foot distribution center.
A Baltimore native and attorney, Kamenetz and his wife, Jill, have two sons and live in Owings Mills.
Sen. James Brochin (D-42nd)
“There is too much partisanship in government,” says Brochin. “I love public policy, but public policy should be devoid of partisanship.”
A member of the State Senate since 2003, he is a Democrat in a Republican district. “I don’t follow a party line,” Brochin says. “I’m liberal on some issues, such as the environment and same-sex marriage. But I’m a conservative on others, such as living within your means.”
Brochin is chair of the Baltimore County Senate delegation and a member of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and the Executive Nominations Committee.
For legislation in 2017, he has four priorities:
- Bad acts legislation, which allows the courts to admit evidence of sexually assaultive behavior if a court finds the evidence is being offered to prove lack of consent or other specified allegations.
- Requiring seat belts on every new school bus.
- If the Motor Vehicle Administration suspends a bus driver’s license, the MVA should notify the last known employer. “Otherwise, we’re relying on good faith from the driver to tell someone their license is/was suspended,” Brochin says.
- Require local governments to build in due process so if a business might be padlocked, the issue is to go to court before the padlock goes into effect.
A Baltimore native, Brochin is a medical, dental and long-term disability insurance broker. He was awarded Legislator of the Year by the Maryland State’s Attorneys Association in 2003 and Legislator of the Year by the American Institute of Architects in 2004.
Brochin is single and lives with his teenage daughter in Cockeysville.
Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th)
“I have two different types of first priorities to accomplish in 2017,” says Hettleman. “As a member of the Appropriations Committee, one of the subcommittees I serve on is Education and Economic Development. So in terms of committee membership, I want to see that our education and transportation systems are funded adequately by the state and the Trump administration.
“In terms of legislation, foremost of several priorities is to get legislation passed that standardizes how long rape kits are kept and not destroyed. It should be a minimum of 20 years, and notification should be made to the survivor before the rape kit is destroyed.”
Hettleman’s other legislative priorities include annual notification to students about the amount of their debt to state-funded schools; a bill to enable pharmacists to supply access to contraception; legislation for vulnerable older adults to clarify how health care decisions will be made when they are unable to make them for themselves; and a bail reform bill to tighten instances when people are incarcerated because they are poor.
Hettleman was a delegate at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and is an officer and member of the Chizuk Amuno Congregation board of directors. She is also on the board of the Baltimore Jewish Council.
A Pikesville native, Hettleman lives in the Pikesville area with her husband, Jeff. They have two children.
Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-11th)
The only physician in the Maryland General Assembly, Morhaim is about to enter his 23rd legislative session.
“The 40-plus years I’ve had as an emergency room doctor inform much of what I see as needed social policy changes, so that these and other issues could be better addressed at their root causes,” he says. “So much of what I see in the emergency room has antecedents in social circumstances. For example, I treat people with asthma but that relates to air pollution; violence relates to drugs; unemployed people are impacted by the education system and the economy; seniors face chronic illness and end-of-life care; the adverse impacts of tobacco and alcohol abuse, and so on.”
Morhaim is the House deputy majority leader and serves on five committees. He also co-chairs national bipartisan health care-related organizations.
His goals for this legislative session include:
- Working with constituents and colleagues to improve life, health, economy, education, public safety, environment;
- Instituting long-range energy policy that expands use of clean renewable sources and prevents fracking;
- Continuing to help families better manage illness and end-of-life care;
- Helping to bring an end to the “War on Drugs.”
An Owings Mills resident, Morhaim and his wife, Shelley, have three adult children.
Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st)
Rosenberg has worked in the General Assembly since 1983. Now entering his 35th year in the legislature, he says the work continues to be meaningful to him. “At the state level, you can get many things accomplished,” he says.
Rosenberg has been involved in writing the holding of Roe v. Wade into Maryland law, welfare reform, voter rights protection and extending civil rights laws to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“One of the problems that has meant the most to me is helping to address student debt,” he says. When he graduated from Amherst College and then Columbia Law School, Rosenberg says he had no debt. So he has co-sponsored three bills offering different types of financial aid to students interested in public service.
For the 2017 legislative session, Rosenberg’s priorities include:
- Preserving the Preakness at Pimlico. “I will work with Gov. [Larry] Hogan, Mayor [Catherine] Pugh, the Stadium Authority and the Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico, to secure financing for a new seating facility.”
- The future use of the Northwestern Senior High School site. “I will seek to assure that the process that determines the future use of the building and the site must provide for input from all of the affected parties.”
- The laboratories of democracy. “If the Congress or President Trump take actions that are not in the best interests of Marylanders, and we have the legal authority to undo that misguided action in our budget or laws, I will try to do so. Justice [Louis D.] Brandeis wrote, ‘The states are the laboratories of democracy.’”
Rosenberg teaches legal writing and moot court at the University of Baltimore and legislation at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He lives in Baltimore and is a member of the Bolton Street Synagogue.
Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th)
Stein is the founder and executive director of Civic Works, a nationally recognized “urban Peace Corps” that seeks to transform the lives of young adults through community service. Since 1993, approximately 5,000 young men and women have participated in Civic Works, rehabbing homes, building parks and gardens, mentoring students and making improvements to the homes of senior citizens in Baltimore City and County, as well as Howard County.
An attorney, Stein says he has two primary goals for this legislative session.
“The first relates to college affordability, and the second is to improve the state’s response to climate change,” he says. “In Maryland, the average student loan debt is $27,000, while college expenses continue to rise.”
Among the ways Stein says he will address student financial aid issues is to introduce “College Award Displacement” legislation, which would prohibit public four-year colleges from decreasing their award to students when they gain other awards.
Stein is vice chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee. He says he will work to ban fracking outright — the current ban expires this year. “My concerns are the environmental damage fracking causes the environment and the adverse impact on public health, for example, to drinking water,” he says.
Stein and his wife, Margaret, have three children and live in Pikesville.
Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D-5th)
“I’m a problem-solver [and] an entrepreneur,” says Schleifer, noting that he co-founded Raffle Ready, which helps nonprofit organizations raise funds through raffles.
But fighting crime in Baltimore is Schleifer’s primary concern. “Public safety is at the top of my priorities. I want to help make our streets and our families safer,” he says.
As a community leader and small business owner, when Schleifer learned that Baltimore’s crime labs were so understaffed that they seldom dusted homes for fingerprints after being broken into, he appealed to former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. As a result, the crime labs got 10 additional professionals. Now, fingerprints of perpetrators are in the database so when suspects are apprehended for one offense, they can have evidence against them for other alleged crimes.
When discussing violence in Baltimore, Schleifer sees many needs. These include the need for more police walking and riding on their beats, which can deter criminals; building trust among local residents and enabling the police to learn more about the local people and their interests. He also sees the need to provide job training and other alternatives to people who have served time in prison.
Schleifer succeeds City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector, the longest-serving council member at 38 years. At age 27, Schleifer is the youngest City Council member.
A Baltimore native, Schleifer lives in Cheswolde. He and his wife, Lauren, have a daughter, Maxi.
Schleifer belongs to Suburban Orthodox Congregation and is the City Council’s first Orthodox Jew.
Howard County Council Chair Jon Weinstein
Weinstein, a Democrat from Howard’s District 1, has spent 12 years as president of Line of Sight. Co-founded with his wife, Margaret, the consulting firm “seeks to improve the way government works,” he says.
Now, Weinstein says he is applying this expertise to the Howard County Council as its new chairman.
In discussing his plans, Weinstein makes four points. “My top priority is getting increased funding for the continued recovery of Ellicott City from the devastating flood [last summer].
“Second, the Howard County Board of Education needs to reorganize its voting structure so that five of the seven members are elected by districts, the other two are elected at-large.
“Third, we need to pass state laws that support improved flood control in Ellicott City.
“And fourth, I support the continued renewal effort in Elkridge for adding to the new library and fire station, as well as a renewed historic district. We are seeking assistance from the state and county, and also from CSX Rail Service.”
The Weinsteins moved to Howard County 20 years ago and have two sons.
Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen (D-1st)
“I want to rebuild democracy at the local level, particularly among people who are marginalized,” says Cohen. “Through the lens of Jewish justice, tikkun olam [repairing the world], I want to support people who need support and work together with them to build a better Baltimore.”
A native of Northampton, Mass., who came to Baltimore at age 18 to study at Goucher College, Cohen has taught young adults in West and South Baltimore for years. “There’s a disconnect between city government and the people we serve, especially our young people,” he says. “Here and across the country, there’s a crisis of citizenship. We need to get young people involved in local government, so they can create change.”
Cohen pointed to YouthWorks, a temporary summer jobs program sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development. “This is not tzedakah [charity],” he says. “Many of these young adults don’t know to look people in the eye, to shake hands, to show up at the job on time. We must work with them and businesses to prepare young men and women for jobs of the future. This is just one way to help reinvigorate local democracy.”
To address Baltimore’s crime problems, Cohen says, “The violence in our city is a symptom of a sickness that infects us all. We all own it, and we all must choose each day whether to actively participate in dismantling it or maintaining the status quo. It will take all of us to fix it.”
Cohen and his wife, a psychiatrist, live in Canton.
Peter Arnold is an Olney-based freelance writer.
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