The 441st legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly will convene this Wednesday, Jan. 8, in Annapolis and runs through April 6.
To gauge the issues that will be of most importance to Marylanders, Jmore recently spoke with four local Jewish political leaders — Del. Jon S. Cardin (D-11th), Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th), Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st) and Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th) — as well as Sarah Mersky, deputy director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, about the upcoming session.
Hettleman: ‘When I’m asked what the primary focus of this General Assembly session is likely to be, I say education, education, education. For the past three years, the Kirwan Commission has been charged with examining what investments and reforms are necessary to give every Maryland child access to a world-class education. The recommendations aim investments at increasing teacher salaries, providing new career and tech-ed options for students and offering additional support for kids who need it. This is a vital investment in Maryland’s economic future. It will help attract new businesses and entrepreneurs as our state adapts to an economy increasingly rooted in technological innovation.
“In addition, too many students are learning in environments that are literally crumbling. The Built to Learn Act will provide an additional $2.2 billion in funding for school construction. It is anticipated to bring an additional $400 million for Baltimore County’s school construction needs.”
“We support non-public school funding yet most students, including those
who are Jewish, go to public schools. We are concerned, for example, with some
of the economic injustice involved with education in Baltimore schools. If all of our children are better educated, then
our economy is going to do better. … A very important Jewish value is to care
about yourself but also to care about your neighbors.”
Rosenberg: “Funding for public education is the most important issue for the entire state and for the Jewish community. There will be a discussion about cost because there needs to be accountability for any expenditure of state dollars, particularly one that has potential so significant in terms of both the cost and impact on society. I hope our discussion includes pre-k and teacher salaries.”
Stein: “To me, there is no greater issue affecting our future than climate change. Recent scientific reports have shown that we must do much more to avoid a future of dangerous climate impacts. In response, legislation will be introduced in 2020 that requires Maryland to move to a carbon-neutral future. It will require net-zero emissions by mid-century and will implement significant new measures to reduce emissions from the State and private sector.
“Other environmental legislation that will be introduced includes a bill that would set a deadline for shutting down coal-fired power plants whose pollution harms people with respiratory ailments. Another bill will ban the distribution of plastic bags by retailers.”
Cardin: “I am driven, more than ever, to focus my 2020 legislation session on the practice and modeling of civil and respectful engagement to improve our human and environmental condition.”
Public Safety and Hate Crimes
Rosenberg: “The second most important issue for me is public safety in the 41st District and the future of the Police Academy [training] site. It’s where the Police Academy has been for more than a decade, but the building needs renovation. We must work together to determine the best use for that property, as well as the property where the police station is now on Reisterstown Road.
“We need input from the Jewish and all other communities. What makes sense, both from the standpoint of the police and for neighborhood redevelopment for both sites? I have every reason to believe we can bring a diverse group of people working together to determine those answers and to find the money to do what’s been decided.”
Mersky: “We need level or increased funding for security at schools and child care centers at risk for hate crimes. This year, we are hoping for similar grants for religious institutions and faith-based agencies at risk for hate crimes. More broadly, we’re looking for more policies that combat hate at the state level, and we’re working on this with many different legislators.”
Cardin: “I will resume the movement to make children’s lives safer and less stressful through anti-bullying and anti-cyber harassment legislation. I will also be investigating legislation to alleviate discriminatory practices in the legal process for the LGBTQ community.”
Hettleman: “As hate crimes persist in our community, we need to consider again a bill to create penalties for putting a noose or swastika, with intent to threaten or intimidate, on private property. …
“Domestic violence is about power and control, and one way that Jewish men who are abusive have attempted to maintain control over their wives is to refuse to grant a get, a legal document that will abrogate the marriage under Jewish law. The General Assembly will consider a bill this year that will only enable a civil divorce if a man provides a get to his wife.”
The Future of Pimlico Race Track
Rosenberg: “The proposed Pimlico Plan is crucial for the redevelopment of the site. If we do this right, we will keep the Preakness here and we will redevelop the site so it’s an attraction for all surrounding neighborhoods. That will mean jobs, recreation and housing for the broader community and that will benefit the city and entire the region.
“We will be making what was a barren property 11 months of the year into a jewel for 12 months of the year. There are two bills to accomplish this. One makes this redevelopment possible and a second bill I’m working on will involve neighbors so they have appropriate input into the redevelopment process.”
Hettleman: “The time is ripe for our consideration of a plan to keep the Preakness at Pimlico and spur development at ‘Old Hilltop.’ New leadership in both the House of Delegates and the Senate is expected to bring a fresh approach to the legislative session.”
Mersky: “There are many issues around the aging community, including operating funds for Holocaust survivors, CHAI, elder abuse prevention through CHANA and the affordability of aging in place. We also need an increase from $650 to $1,000 a month for an assisted living subsidy before a person enters a facility. It hasn’t been increased for 20 years, yet the current average cost of assisted living is several thousand dollars a month.”
Hettleman: “Many older adults in our community find assisted living facilities through referral agencies, which are not regulated in Maryland. I will introduce legislation that creates a licensing system for these agencies that will provide transparency to consumers so they know if they are being referred only to agencies that have a financial relationship with the referral group.”
Peter Arnold is a Silver Spring-based freelance writer.