Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives start their sessions on Jan. 3 in Washington, D.C., while the Maryland General Assembly convenes on Jan. 9 in Annapolis.
Jmore recently asked 15 politicians of particular interest to the local Jewish community to discuss what they will focus on in 2019.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.)
“In 2019, I plan to advance bipartisan progress on several key issues: elevating women’s rights by finally passing the Equal Rights Amendment; fully upholding the voting rights of all Americans; identifying compassionate, commonsense reforms to our immigration system; promoting true tax reform that actually benefits the middle class; strengthening our investments in the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and renewable energy technologies; and advancing significant new gun safety measures.
“I will continue to fight for resources to better address the opioid addiction epidemic, which has affected every community in our state, and guaranteeing access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans. I will be working to promote the growth of our small businesses across Maryland and the spirit of entrepreneurship across the county, while advocating a return to the protection of human rights as the bedrock of our interactions in the international arena.
“In 2019, I also will seek ways to amplify a tenor of civility in the public debate to help address the growing frequency of hate speech and actions that have become all too frequent. Lastly, I think we must expand our efforts to ensure that our elections are completely free from illegal and/or foreign interference.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)
“I’ve worked to protect programs that safeguard the Chesapeake Bay, modernize our infrastructure, invest in public safety and implement criminal justice reforms. I’m also committed to protecting the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Any efforts to undermine these programs will be met with fierce opposition.
“And as we see an increase in violent, hateful actions and rhetoric, I will continue working to combat hate and anti-Semitism at every turn. I will also keep urging my colleagues to take meaningful action to reduce gun violence.
“In the new Congress, we must do more to grow the economy from the middle out, make sure that the tax code rewards work over wealth and ensure all Americans have the opportunity to obtain a good-paying job. I will continue working across the aisle to propose common-sense solutions to issues that our nation faces – from protecting our national security to investing in care for veterans, life-saving medical research and resources to fight the opioid epidemic.
“My number one priority is listening to Marylanders’ thoughts and concerns, and representing their interests in the Senate.”
Rep. John Sarbanes (D-3rd)
“At the polls in November, the American people sent us a clear message. They want to end the culture of corruption in Trump’s Washington, hold elected officials accountable and make government more responsive to the people. And Democrats plan to deliver.
“On the first day of the new Congress, I will introduce a bold and sweeping democracy reform package that will end the dominance of big money in our politics, ensure that public servants behave in Washington and make it easier, not harder, to vote. Democratic Leadership is committed to advancing this reform package right out of the gate in the new Congress.
“This reform package will be strongly backed by the new Democratic House majority, which is built on a diverse class of freshmen who are unified in their promise to restore our democracy, along with a new coalition of nearly 100 grassroots organizations that want to get this reform package over the finish line. Passing this reform agenda in the House will send a powerful message to the public: Democrats will lift up the voices of hardworking Americans and put them back in charge of our democracy.”
Gov. Larry Hogan
“In 2019, our administration will build upon the incredible progress we have made over the past four years, and I will continue to be a governor for all Marylanders. We remain steadfastly committed to creating an environment of trust and cooperation in Annapolis where the best ideas rise to the top based upon their merit, regardless of which side of the political aisle they come from.
“Education remains our top priority. As we expand on our historic investments in Maryland schools, we will keep pushing for the much-needed accountability that taxpayers, parents, teachers, and students deserve. We will also continue thinking outside the box by expanding the innovative P-TECH schools program, supporting the BOOST scholarship program, and enhancing computer science and STEM educational opportunities across the state to ensure that all children in Maryland have access to a world-class education, regardless of what neighborhood they happen to grow up in.
“This year, we will forge an even stronger economy to make living in our state more affordable for all Marylanders. We have already added 120,000 new jobs, grown our private sector, and lowered taxes, tolls, and fees by $1.2 billion. Maryland is Open for Business, and we will work hard to continue to grow our economy, create more jobs, and provide further tax relief to hardworking families, retirees, and small businesses.
“We will also further our commitment to safeguard our environment and protect the Chesapeake Bay, invest in our transportation infrastructure, and fight for free and fair elections.”
Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin (D-11th)
“This is my 21st year in the General Assembly and fifth as chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee. Our committee tackles issues in criminal law and procedure, civil law, family law, estates and trusts, corporate law, real property, and vehicular law. We work on issues such as drunk driving, domestic violence, gun crimes, and sex offenses, as well as adoption and divorce, civil litigation, protective and peace orders, and so much more.
“This session, our committee is once again poised to pass ground-breaking legislation to try to stop the epidemic of cyber-bullying and cyber-harassment of children. We will again focus on the issue of drug addiction and the opioid epidemic. We will dig into issues in our nascent medical marijuana industry, including its impact on workers compensation, contracts, and the like.
“After the successful Justice Reinvestment Act, we are working on a similar data-driven review of the juvenile justice system and we will focus significant efforts on prison re-entry issues including housing, employment, and transportation to insure those re-entering society are fully prepared to turn their lives around. In short, our committee has a busy agenda, and we are ready for an extremely challenging and rewarding session, tackling these important issues in a bipartisan manner and working toward our common good, the way politics is supposed to function.”
Also see: Sen. Bobby Zirkin: ‘Citizen Legislator’
Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen (D-1st)
“In my first year as a dad, the work of ensuring that every child receives an excellent education has become even more important to me. As chair of the City Council’s Education and Youth Committee and as a former public school teacher, I will advocate for the resources our students in Baltimore and across the state deserve with my colleagues at the state and local level. I will ensure that our young people continue to have a seat at the table, too.
“In 2018, I sponsored the Transparency in Lobbying Act, which recently became law. It puts Baltimore at the forefront of pro-transparency reform and is a testament to the tireless work of community organizations, advocates, and students who helped make it happen. In the year ahead, I will build on this progress to make the political process more accessible and accountable to all Baltimoreans.
“Violence in our city has to end. This year, community members across the 1st District, the Southeastern Police District, and other stakeholders came together in a Public Safety Task Force to address community concerns in a holistic, proactive way. That work continues. I also fundamentally believe that we must invest in human potential, particularly of our youth, if we are to end the violence.
“The council supported my resolution to expand YouthWorks to a year-round, youth-led jobs initiative. That work will be a major priority in the year ahead. Investing in opportunities for our young people has the potential to change lives and reduce violence.”
Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D-5th)
“In the coming year, my staff and I will continue to work on everything from public safety to potholes. We are a well-rounded office and work to help all of our constituents with their individual needs.
“Unifying the district is something we have worked on since day one, two years ago, and we will continue to do so with our ‘community cabinet’ meetings. We bring together community association presidents and board members from every neighborhood in the district to each community and discuss different strategies and collaboration ideas that are working in their respective communities.
“Our leaders always enjoy the meetings and have gained valuable knowledge and insight from outside of their own neighborhood. Having a tight-knit district where people trust and look out for one another will benefit us all.”
Baltimore County Councilman Israel C. “Izzy” Patoka (D-2nd)
Public safety is my top priority. I plan to work closely with the Pikesville, Franklin, Towson and Cockeysville Police District Community Relations Councils. I also plan to work closely with the leadership of Baltimore City and with the command staff of Northwestern and Northern Police Districts in Baltimore City. This is particularly important since much of the 2nd District borders along the City-County line. My public safety agenda also includes pedestrian safety and vehicular safety, especially speeding.
I will also work to have a robust capital budget for county schools. For the first time, Baltimore County has a hybrid school board that includes elected members from each council district. I look forward to working with the 2nd District School Board member, Cheryl Pastuer, to help improve our schools. I will also work with our state legislative partners to increase school funding to improve education, including pre-K, attracting highly qualified teachers who are compensated appropriately, effective technical education and resources for at-risk students.
In addition, the 2nd District has great beauty in its urban and rural character. Development needs to be done right — with respect to the environment, with respect to the community and with respect to the small business community (Main Streets). I plan on keeping the integrity of the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line, which was established in 1967. Inside the URDL is higher density development. Outside the URDL is much lower density.
My vision is to see a Pikesville Main Street and a Reisterstown Main Street that is full of vitality and jobs. There is also a great opportunity to grow the Pikesville commercial area by transforming the former Pikesville Armory into a use that strengthens all of Pikesville and areas beyond.
I will work to create recreational resources for all ages (including a turf field for Pikesville High School) and implement Aging in Place programs for older adults.
Rep. Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin (D-8th)
“As a new member of the Democratic leadership team, I will be working every day to advance a big positive agenda for America: strengthened voting rights and campaign finance reform, quality health care for all, prescription drug price reform, investment in medical research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and scientific progress at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], dramatic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to address the global crisis of climate change, investment in our ailing national infrastructure through a Green Deal for America, sweeping gun violence reduction through a universal criminal and mental background check (which is favored by more than nine out of ten Americans), and comprehensive immigration reform, including the Dream Act.
“As a member of the Judiciary Committee and of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, I’ll help guard the Special Counsel investigation against presidential obstruction and harassment, and in general will defend the Constitution and rule of law against the corruption and lawlessness pervading Washington.
“I will work to meet the needs and interests of my constituents, which means protecting the wages and benefits of federal workers, increasing affordable housing, strengthening the middle class, improving the Metro [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority], lessening traffic, defending civil rights and civil liberties, bringing Broadband to my rural constituents, reducing airplane noise, and reviving the Chesapeake Bay and restoring the oyster population.”
Del. Jon S. Cardin (D-11th)
“After four years of personal growth, I am returning to the House of Delegates to confront the issues and threats I focused on for over a decade but that have new meaning in this complex and fragile political environment.
“I spent my three terms fighting racism and bigotry, making our elections safe, keeping our air and water free from crippling pollution, defending vulnerable communities and ensuring the safety of children and families. For example, I fought against anti-gay conversion therapy before it became vogue; I was one of the earliest supporters of renewable energy portfolios; I chaired the most comprehensive campaign finance reform and election safety legislation our state has seen in 50 years; and I leveraged votes amidst unbearable pressure to ensure Developmental Disability Administration funding.
“In 2014, I passed the toughest criminalization of revenge porn and cyber bullying legislation in the country. Last year, Sen. Zirkin and legislatures nationwide improved upon these laws because no one deserves to be bullied. Yet, the fact the progress is fragile and what we built is in jeopardy. I am viscerally motivated to continue to protect our corner of the world. As school shootings increase, identity theft festers and suicides are on the rise, we need to stay ahead of the curve. I plan to use my legal experience and public policy degree to provide innovative leadership and rebuild trust in government.”
Also see: Being a Better Dad
Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th)
“Here are a few of the bills I plan to introduce during the 2019 session. Abuse of Older Adults — I am planning to work with CHANA to address the issue of elder abuse by creating a statewide Maryland Elder Abuse Committee that will enable the variety of organizations and entities that respond to different facets of elder abuse to communicate and coordinate their efforts into a statewide response. Rape Kits — I have been working closely with the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee at the Attorney General’s office and hope to have consensus on a bill to address the testing of rape kits. There have also been reports in the news lately about classifying cases as having been “exceptionally cleared,” making it appear as if rape cases have been solved and closed. I’m looking at a legislative solution to ensure that we have a clearer way that more accurately reflects the case outcomes.
“Protecting Students from predatory practices of certain for-profit schools – Brightwood College [with campuses in Baltimore and Towson] just announced that they were closing and hundreds of Maryland students are being left in the lurch. There is a nationwide trend of for-profit higher educational institutions associating themselves with non-profits in order to better market themselves to students and exploit their predatory practices. We want to ensure that any for-profit school operating in Maryland is doing it for the best interests of the students and not their investors.
“Representation of Women on Boards of Directors – we want to be sure that Maryland companies are making meaningful progress towards ensuring gender diversity on their boards and will be asking them to voluntarily adopt 30 percent goals.
“Maryland Farm and Families Program – my bill from a few years ago created this program in the Department of Agriculture that benefits both local income communities’ purchasing power at local farmers markets and local farmers. Unfortunately, the governor has not permitted the funding we’ve allocated to be spent on the program, so we’re going to introduce a bill to require funding.”
Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th)
“Much of my legislative focus in 2019 will be to improve public safety and public health. Firearm safety is both a public safety and public health issue. In response to shootings in which a minor accessed his parents’ guns, I’ll introduce a bill to strengthen Maryland’s “safe storage” law so that a minor’s ability to access a loaded or unloaded gun will be more difficult.
“Another bill relates to the safety of older adults. I co-chair the Financial Education Commission, which heard testimony that our senior community faces a myriad of financial risks from scam artists and other groups. The commission recommended the establishment of a unit within the Maryland Office of Attorney General that would focus on elder abuse claims. I will introduce a bill that will create such a unit.
“Another safety-related bill that I’ll introduce is a rail freight safety bill, called the “two-man crew” bill. It requires that freight trains have no less than two crew members. Freight trains had more than 2,000 grade-crossing accidents in 2016, and having two crew members has saved lives.
“Last, I’ll be re-introducing a bill to ban chlorpyrifos, a pesticide that damages the developing brains of infants and children. The EPA was about to ban chlorpyrifos in 2017 until the Trump Administration halted the ban.”
Del. Dalya Attar (D-41st)
“The 2019 legislative session will be my first in the General Assembly. Therefore, this session I will focus on observing my colleagues and familiarizing myself with the Maryland legislative process. As I was advised by many seasoned legislators, it is most effective to spend the first session as a new legislator listening and paying close attention.
“In addition, I will be focusing my attention on very important bills and spending time researching them and discussing the pros and cons of those bills, rather than becoming involved with a myriad of legislative issues.
“For example, I will work toward ensuring that horse racing remains at Pimlico Race Course while investing in Park Heights and making Pimlico into a year-round venue that benefits the surrounding communities in my district. This is one of the extremely important issues that will be discussed this session.
“There are many other important examples, such as funding our schools properly and reforming the juvenile justice system. At this time, I am awaiting my committee assignment, which will play a significant role in the issues I will be focused on this session.”
Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st)
“Pimlico Race Course should become a year-round attraction for residents of Northwest Baltimore and the metropolitan region. We now have a blueprint for this development in the final report of the Maryland Stadium Authority on Pimlico’s future. Running the Preakness here every year on the third Saturday in May is a benefit for our economy similar to hosting the Super Bowl every year. We should not abandon Pimlico now that we have a blueprint for its renaissance.
“Four bomb threats were called in to the Park Heights JCC last year. They were not a hate crime because our law does not include a threat to commit a felony based on someone’s religion. Sen. Zirkin and I introduced legislation to fix this gap in the law. We will be reintroducing our legislation. The tragedy at the Tree of Life synagogue has me searching for additional ways to address this problem.
“Our children’s future is our society’s future. We must provide a public education that enables students to prosper in the 21st-century economy. The Kirwan Commission will recommend an increase in funding for pre-K-12th grade, coupled with proven accountability standards. This is the most far reaching and important issue before the General Assembly.”
Baltimore County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski
“As a former teacher, my years in the classroom will always drive my decisions, and I remain focused on investing in our people and our infrastructure. From expanding access to early education to continuing support for our community college, we will remove barriers to education so that we also remove barriers to opportunity. We’ll also take on the challenge of rebuilding our aging schools, working to create a coalition to get the job done.
“We will also strive to ensure every family has the opportunity to achieve economic stability by fostering job creation, leveraging anchor institutions, and doing more to attract and retain local talent.
“Lastly, I remain focused on reforming county government so that it becomes more transparent, open and connected — because government works best when people drive the conversation. An open and connected government could not be more important as Baltimore County faces financial challenges in 2019 and beyond. While these challenges are significant, we can meet them together.”
Howard County Executive Calvin B. Ball III
“A pressing issue will be the future of Ellicott City. We can no longer avoid the realities of an ever-changing climate. Steps must be taken to ensure the safety and security of Ellicott City’s citizens, homeowners and business owners to make Ellicott City more sustainable for future generations. While we respect the work done by the Ellicott City Flood Work Group, it is important to analyze and understand all of the data and options available to us to move forward in a comprehensive way that enables Ellicott City to thrive.
“Education should continue to be another major focus in 2019. While our county’s schools are among the best in the country, there are still challenges that must be addressed. Overcrowding and chronic underfunding threatens the success of our students. Every student in Howard County deserves access to a high-quality education, regardless of where in the county they live. Ensuring equity and accessibility for all of Howard County’s children will be a focus of my administration.
“Over the next four years, my administration will also be looking at ways to diversify the county’s tax base to grow the private sector. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. It is critically important that there are resources available to help existing businesses grow and prosper, as well as to support entrepreneurs who are looking to start new businesses.”
Peter Arnold is an Olney, Md.-based freelance writer.