With Maryland’s political season set to start up again on Jan. 10 in Annapolis, Jmore recently asked local Jewish politicians about their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
“Maryland’s priorities are at the top of my list, including protecting the Chesapeake Bay, and I monitor the progress we’re making on federal programs for the Chesapeake Bay. I also watch very carefully federal facilities and installations in Maryland. They are important for our national security, whether they are military installations or protection for the National Institutes of Health or food safety. Baltimore city needs special attention. It has a lot of serious issues, including law enforcement and public safety. My delegation and I are working closely with Mayor [Catherine] Pugh to provide a robust federal partnership to deal with the problems of Baltimore.
“For my responsibilities in Congress, I’ve taken on foreign relations issues. As the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, the global protection of human rights, including the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, making sure the sanctions against Russia are applied, and on the nuclear side, dealing with the challenges of North Korea. In 2018, clearly there will be many national security issues involving Russia, North Korea and the Middle East that will be high on my list.
“I have many other priorities, including the global climate change agenda, the tax code and the health code. But I want to make this comment about the Trump administration: the strength of America and the reason my grandparents came here was because they looked at this country as the land in which there were unlimited opportunities for Jews and other minorities. That is being challenged today. Mr. Trump has given legitimacy to hate and intolerance. That weakens our country. Our strength is in our principles.”
Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (D-11th)
“As chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, my top priority is to assist in stemming the violence in Baltimore city. We need a multi-pronged effort for any chance for success that must involve the mayor, the governor and different committees. We must have a wide array of approaches, including expanding drug treatment, taking a look at criminal law in relation to sentencing for crimes committed with guns, funding Safe Streets programs and community schools, as well as witness relocation. We need to take novel approaches to have better prosecution of guns coming into the city.
“The violence in the city affects all of us, not just the victims and their families. The economics of it is hurting the entire region. That will be the major focus of my work in this legislative session.
“I will also be digging into the Wild West of the internet, which is a dangerous place. Our laws are not adequate to deal with cyber defamation and cyberbullying. We must go beyond Grace’s Law [named after a young girl who committed suicide because of online harassment]. Expansion of that law and others like it is long overdue.
“I’m also chairing the Commission on the Future of the Pikesville Armory, and we need funding to have an environmental assessment of any future plans. There are many other issues, including mental health beds for those within the criminal justice system and seeing that police resources are utilized for violent offenders, not for people carrying small amounts of marijuana.”
Sen. James Brochin (D-42nd)
“For the State Senate in 2018, I’ll be focusing on two bills that mean the most to me. The first concerns the juvenile justice system. The violence in Baltimore City has an impact on all of us, and I’m very frustrated with Maryland’s juvenile justice system. We’ve been talking about reforming the juvenile justice program for 10 years. It’s a charade. Recidivism remains exceptionally high.
“So I’m working on a bill for the juvenile justice system, a diversion program that has been successful in three different states. If you’re not accused of a violent crime, you’re eligible for this year-and-a-half diversion program. It includes five hours of education a day, group therapy and different ways to understand the consequences of your actions. If you complete it, there’s also an after-care program with case workers who follow up with you for 18 months. If you violate the program, you go back to a judge and you’re sentenced for your crime. We’ve got to do something to reduce the recidivism rate.
“Another piece of legislation has to do with pharmacy benefit managers. As middlemen between the manufacturers and the dispensers of the drugs, PBMs set the retail prices for drugs. This bill puts PBMs in the gauging bill, which has been passed. Dr. Neal Goldberg, a physician from Pikesville, is a constituent who is working with me on this. Simply put, PBMs won’t be able to gauge prices so much that prescription drugs become unaffordable.”
Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th)
“In this country, student loan debt is the second largest source of debt after mortgages. I want to expand student loan notification, which includes public and private universities, and for-profit and career education. Then those institutions will also need to tell students what their debt level is.
“Another priority is campus sexual assault and the need for campus climate surveys. We started this three years ago, so that campuses began doing the kind of education they need on campus and in the community at large. Now, we need to make sure that the employees at colleges and universities are getting the best training on these issues and the best procedures to adjudicate sexual assaults. …
“There will certainly be other hot issues, including crime in Baltimore city and Baltimore County. For example, we need to bring financial and programmatic resources to the Safe Streets program as well as some of the juvenile justice issues. There, we need appropriate services to hold juveniles accountable and also provide the support they need to make better choices.”
Del. Dan K. Morhaim (D-11th)
“Eighty-five to 90 percent of crime is drug-related, from petty crime to violent crime and drug wars. There are about 30,000 hardcore users in the greater Baltimore area, each spending a daily average of $50 to feed their drug habit. That totals some $1.5 million daily just to buy the drugs, of which heroin is a significant percentage. Where does that money come from? Legitimate society. And where does that money go? To drug cartels and terrorists overseas. There’s a catastrophic ripple effect from this drug epidemic to the economy, employment, public safety and families. That’s why we need to use successful harm-reduction strategies.
“One result of the 2017 legislative session is that hospitals will have drug counselors in the ERs, enabling substance abusers to be immediately directed to treatment. When that happens, crime, illness and trauma, which we all pay for, is reduced. Supervised consumption facilities are another effective tool. Their impact reduces crime, discarded needles and disease, and increases people getting into treatment. Other strategies include more long-term treatment centers, funding for addiction services and drug prevention education in schools.
“The Procurement Modernization Commission, on which I served, enacted major changes to statewide procurement policy. This leads to huge savings while providing greater opportunities for Maryland businesses to compete for government contracts, all without raising taxes or cutting programs. Here’s one example that I hope will come to pass: The State of Maryland buys health insurance for its 250,000 employees. Meanwhile, counties and public schools throughout the state separately buy health insurance. Combining these for 400,000 people would leverage purchasing power, reduce administrative costs and save vast sums of money.”
Also see: Q&A with Dr. Dan K. Morhaim
Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th)
“I serve on the Climate Change Commission, so my first priority is to have Maryland join the U.S. Climate Alliance of more than one dozen states to further U.S. goals under the accord, which Mr. Trump has withdrawn. My bill is a legislative priority in the House. My second priority is to ban chlorpyrifos in Maryland. The EPA was on track to ban it nationally, but in March 2017 Scott Pruitt [the new EPA administrator] reversed the ban. My bill would prohibit the use of chlorpyrifos in Maryland.
“In terms of education, I want to reintroduce a bill I put in last session so that candidates for teaching K-5 would need to pass a test of reading instruction to be allowed to teach elementary school. This would, in turn, encourage colleges to strengthen their reading programs.
“My fourth priority is also climate-change related. Florida, Louisiana and then Maryland are the states most vulnerable to rising sea levels. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has published maps indicating that by 2050, almost 5 percent of the state, 283,900 acres, will be permanently under up to two feet of sea level rise. By 2100, 2 to 5 feet of sea water will inundate an additional 165,300 acres. My bill will require the state to think ahead of time about relocation of residents and state and local facilities that would be underwater.”
Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st)
“The [Pimlico] race track [is] my number one priority for the coming legislative session. It’s far more than just Preakness Day; it’s also reinvesting in city neighborhoods, as well as the neighborhoods to the south. … My top priority for moving us forward is for the Stadium Authority to conduct a study of the viability of the Preakness site to make it a part of the community that is open and used 365 days of the year. Then we will make the case for public dollars and private dollars.
“I’m also working on a hate crimes bill that extends the current law to include willfully and knowingly intending to commit a hate crime. So threats and attempts, not just completed acts, would be crimes if directed against certain groups of people.
“My third priority is to make sure funding is available if Attorney General Brian Frosh needs more money in the budget. In 2018, there are likely to be actions that the Trump administration will take that the state attorney general would want to protect the interests of Maryland citizens, such as the suing the Environmental Protection Agency. As of the 2017 legislative session, the attorney general can take legal action without the approval of the governor, who no longer has veto power.”
Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen (D-1st)
“I’m proud to have supported and now launched City Council President Jack Young’s $12 million Baltimore Youth Fund. It will be controlled by the community to provide grants to community organizations that work with young people.
“Another way I’m working to help young people is rebuilding the pipelines into college and careers. There’s a profound disconnect between our young people and the emerging industries. We’ve gone from blue color jobs to a knowledge-based economy. So we must adapt, we must prepare our young people for this growing economy. To do this, we must reignite and engage the private sector, work with some of our anchor institutions, and expand the college preparatory programs.
“The challenges Baltimore faces are deep and generational. There are no quick, easy answers to what ails children in our city. … In the statewide elections, I’m looking for people who will be champions for Baltimore, who will make the necessary investments in our infrastructure, in transit, in our schools, in services that support young people.”
Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D-5th)
“Public safety is priority number one. I am working closely with my colleagues on the City Council, city and state officials, and the law enforcement community to have more police on the street, to arrest and prosecute more criminals and to find new solutions to lower crime.
“I also want to make Baltimore better for business. We need more quality jobs where people earn their maximum worth instead of a minimum wage, and I don’t want local workers replaced by technology. To help, I am investing in improving public transportation as well as providing programs to train and educate workers with relevant skills. We must improve public schools to better prepare students for college or careers, and I will be watching state activities on universal pre-K and free community college tuition.
“Ultimately, my priority is to improve the quality of life for Baltimore city residents, so people want to remain here or move into the city. To help, I hope to initiate serious conversation to cut property taxes in 2018. …. My resolution for 2018 is to maintain an open door, listening to and resolving the concerns of constituents, and putting a 100 percent effort into making our communities a better place to live.”
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz
“One priority for 2018 is to continue our record $1.3 billion investment in school construction without raising the tax rate. Two new schools will open in September and we’re at the planning stage for the construction of three new elementary schools. We are equipping all elementary and middle school children with iPad technology and half of the high school students. Within 2018, we’ll finish this program with the remaining high school students.
“We’re also moving forward with our environmental initiatives. We own our own recycling center and are operating it so efficiently that we are generating almost $2 million back to the tax roll. In 2018, we are moving ahead with solar panels, identifying rooftops and installing them on county buildings. We hope to generate 21 megawatts of solar power, and decrease our carbon footprint, with the goal of saving $20 million over the next 25 years.
“We will continue our public safety initiatives. Every police car has a laptop that allows a police officer to electronically transmit and store reports, and it will extend to feeds from government buildings and schools. We will also continue with our police camera roll out. In 2018, we will expand our use of technology to deliver government services more efficiently and effectively while saving taxpayer dollars.”
Rep. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin (D-8th)
“My dream priority is to get a serious bipartisan commitment to a national infrastructure investment plan, a green deal for America for highways, mass transit, water systems, ports, cyber security, airports, rail, you name it. But we would do it in a way that uplifts and advances our environmental agenda. We would be at the scale of the New Deal, but we would use it to also help to usher in renewable energy systems, such as wind and solar, that we will need to successfully deal with climate change.
“What makes America extraordinary is our commitment to human rights regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. So my second priority is to restore American leadership in the world for human rights and democracy everywhere. For example, we need bipartisan legislation to call for the release of religious prisoners all over the world and to get America to reclaim its role as the champion of the repressed and downtrodden everyplace.
“Right now, authoritarianism is on the march in Russia, in Hungary, in the Philippines, in Turkey. Unfortunately, Donald Trump seems to be playing on the wrong team a lot of the time. We need to put America back on the side of freedom and human rights.”
Howard County Councilman Jon Weinstein (D-1st)
“My priorities for 2018 include shifting from recovering from the [Ellicott City] flood of 2016 to advancement and improvement. We’re taking Ellicott City to the next level. We’re working hard to support the continued economic development of the historic district, which has been 95 percent restored, and all the restaurants are back. It’s even better than before.
“We will leverage the assets of the new library, senior center and fire station in the Elkridge District that will be open early in 2018. We’re improving the historic Elkridge Landing area, which was a major port years ago. It will be a big square. We’re also improving the infrastructure there to attract businesses, and we’re seeking tax credits so people in the area can improve their homes and buildings.
“In addition, we’re advocating for state and country funding for a new high school, and we’re looking at two sites for it along Route 1. We want to get that built as quickly as possible. And we have an elementary school that will open in August.
“Another priority is to continue fighting the federal bureaucracy, the FAA, to reduce aircraft noise that has plagued eastern Howard County since the introduction of the next gen system. It’s a new air traffic control system resulting in a higher and much louder concentration of aircraft noise over the eastern part of the County. We’re looking at a potential lawsuit as well.”
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.