Last Monday was Crossover Day — the day each Session when a bill that originates in the House must crossover to the Senate to guarantee a bill hearing before the end of Session (and when the Senate sends their bills over to the House!). There is always a flurry of activity leading up to Crossover Day, and I’m happy to report progress on a number of my bills this Session. With only two weeks left before Sine Die on Monday, April 8, there is still so much work left to do, especially related to education funding!
Appropriations & Education Funding
Two weeks ago, over 8,000 teachers, students and public education supporters came to Annapolis to rally for education funding. It was an amazing event and I was thrilled to be able to take the stage with my colleagues to let everyone know we hear them and support them!
Education is a key component of the FY20 Maryland budget that my Committee – Appropriations – worked on. The House has passed our versions of the capital and operating budgets for Maryland and we are now conferring with the Senate over differences. This was not an easy fiscal year. We came into the session expecting a balanced budget and surplus revenues; instead, we had a forecast of downward revenue of the General Fund by $269 million across the 2019 and 2020 budgets.
The budget the House passed is fiscally prudent and socially responsible. It maintains our current commitments to public education and health, makes sound investments in the future, and leaves over $1.2 billion in cash and reserves in the event of economic downturn. We were able to accomplish all of this without raising any taxes or fees. Some key accomplishments in this year’s budget include:
- Providing $320 million to support the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which will provide funds for full-day prekindergarten for 4-year olds, special education programs, teacher salary incentives, and many other needs to transform Maryland’s education institutions into a world-class system.
- $7 billion of support for public schools, the largest budget for our children ever.
- $500 million for school construction, funded through the operating budget and the capital budget
- $80 million to combat the opioid crisis, including services for individuals with mental and behavioral health disorders
- $13 million for crime reduction initiatives that will bolster public safety efforts in Baltimore City and statewide
The Build to Learn Act of 2019: While Maryland invests millions into school construction, repair, and renovation every year, Baltimore City and many counties still have significant unmet needs. Last week, the House of Delegates passed the largest school construction bill in Maryland history, the Build to Learn Act of 2019. Now it’s up to the Senate to act!
This bill will invest an additional $2.2 billion into school construction statewide. This would result in hundreds of millions in additional investment into Baltimore City to continue the momentum of the 21st Century Schools Program. When 21st Century Schools was originally passed, the goal was to build or fully renovate nearly 45 schools. When the program is complete, the Maryland Stadium Authority anticipates completing 27 or 28 schools. The additional investment contained in the Build to Learn Act will fulfill that original promise.
Eight of the bills I introduced this Session were passed by the House and are another step closer to passage this year, as they’re considered in the Senate. These bills include many issues important to Baltimoreans:
Protecting the Environment: I am thrilled to help lead the charge to protect our environment, by being the first state in the country to ban foam food containers. With the help of community organizations like @MDLCV, @sierraclubmd, and @TrashFreeMD, HB 109 passed the House and is a key step to make sure Maryland is foam free. #FoamFreeMD. The house also passed the Natural Resources Protection Program, HB 1194 that creates a whistleblower program to help ensure we are enforcing our natural resources laws.
Creating sustainable bikeways infrastructure and affordable housing: The Maryland Bikeways Program would be a created in statute through the passage of HB 1281, with a mandated minimum level of funding for the program going forward. Another bill, HB 1045, requires that all local governments address the need for affordable housing in their comprehensive plans, including both workforce housing and affordable housing below 60% of the AMI. This planning is essential to meeting the needs of Marylanders who lack opportunity to purchase or rent affordable homes.
Funding for early childhood development: Research shows that the beginning our kids’ lives are the most important for healthy growth and development. HB 520 will help make sure all kids have the tools they need for success, by providing funding for the Thrive by Three Care Coordination program.
Providing legal services and support for those in need: A number of bills I introduced that passed the House this session will provide legal and support services for victims seeking justice and help. First, the Child Sex Trafficking Services & Screening Act, HB 827, protects child victims of sex trafficking and provides services to help those victims recover. Second, HB 665 creates the Family Law Services for Sustained Safety Fund for legal support for victims of domestic violence or child abuse, and to help families in times of crisis to ensure a more stable future. And third, HB 633 creates the Legal Representation Fund for Title IX Proceedings to make sure legal support is available for students involved in Title IX hearings on college campuses. The General Assembly created this legal services program last Session, and this bill provides funding to make sure the services are actually available to those who need them.
As the Vice Chair of the Oversight on Pensions Subcommittee, we are working to make sure prescription drug coverage remains viable for state retirees who depend on it. We recently amended SB 946 to help restore some funding to the Maryland State Retiree Prescription Drug Coverage Program. I will post links and information on my Facebook page with information on the amended bill this week.
UMMS: Review my statement on my Facebook page. The House suspended the rules on Thursday to introduce an emergency bill, HB 1428, to require comprehensive audits of the University of Maryland Medical System. This bill had bipartisan support to address self-dealing and ethical breaches in our government systems.
PIMLICO: The Baltimore City Delegation remains committed to keeping the Preakness in the City. Some legislators and the Stronach Group have proposed legislation to allow money from the racing fund to be bonded to be used to rebuild Laurel into a “super track,” leaving nothing in or for Pimlico. This is unacceptable. Please review the short video here explaining how amazing rebuilding Pimlico could be: www.savepreaknessbaltimore.org. Mayor Pugh filed suit last week against the Stronach Group and the Black Caucus of the General Assembly hosted Mayor Pugh and three former city mayors to discuss how to address this key issue affecting Baltimore City.
Guns in Schools: I voted against a measure to arm school resource officers in Baltimore City schools. This is a controversial, charged issue within our city, and I understand that our disagreement stems from our passion to keep all students, teachers, staff, and community members within our schools safe. I voted against this proposal, because was just as likely, if not more likely, to jeopardize the safety of our kids, rather than make schools safer. When tragedy strikes, it’s natural to want to act, and we should be taking steps to ensure school safety. However, we must take care not to put our children in harm’s way again with poorly planned policies that jeopardize their safety. Armed officers can make schools less safe for our kids, and also disintegrate the educational atmosphere necessary for students to thrive. Research has found that security guards are consistently ineffective at protecting students and are associated with more incidents of school crime, and higher levels of disorder in schools. Data also show that access to firearms is associated with an increased risk of firearm-related death and injury. This is a risk my colleagues and I in the legislature, who voted against arming officers in Baltimore City schools, are unwilling to take. There is also little empirical evidence that fortifying schools with increased security measures like metal detectors, surveillance cameras, or lockdown procedures are effective to prevent attacks. These additions in schools may put our minds at ease, but students at schools like Columbine and Sandy Hook were not saved by these measures. A study conducted by the Safe School Initiative reported by U.S. Secret Service recommends training for teachers and administrators to make threat assessments and recognize behaviors that are linked to violent outburst. More guns do not equal more safety. Instead, creating trusting environments where students, teachers, and administrators feel comfortable identifying and responding to at-risk behaviors can help to ensure safe schools.
Johns Hopkins Security: Johns Hopkins’ proposal seeking state approval to replace off-duty Baltimore police officers that currently patrol the campuses with JHU’s own sworn officers has also been a contentious issue. This proposal is not about guns – Hopkins already has 65+ armed officers patrolling – it is about Hopkins having the ability to train its employees and give them limited arrest powers. Although I could not have supported the bill as introduced, I believe the amendments make the bill one that that will provide for safeguards for the community, more oversight into what Hopkins is doing (i.e. they already are using armed guards with no oversight at all – and could hire an unlimited number if this legislation isn’t passed), and although I am still concerned about the idea of giving a private entity this police power, I believe it is a fair compromise.
Several of the amendments make it a very different bill than that as introduced. (1) As introduced, the police force would have been able to patrol neighborhoods. As amended, it is limited to just the campus and adjacent sidewalks/parking lots. In addition, there is a geographically defined area so that even if Hopkins were to purchase land elsewhere, it could not extend its police there. (For those wondering, Hopkins police will not patrol the Bayview campus.) (2) The grant of authority to Hopkins will expire in ten years. (3) There are three layers of accountability – the accountability board, whose members now must be confirmed by the State Senate to ensure they are a fair representation, the civilian review board, and trial boards. While I recognize the imperfection of these latter two methods as they exist now, I will continue to push for reforms. (4) The ultimate accountability – the ability to sue – will exist for plaintiffs. Hopkins will be fully liable (with no public/sovereign immunity) for any violations. (5) The Public Information Act, as imperfect as it is, will apply to these officers. I will continue to push for that law to be stronger and more meaningful as well. I have been very impressed with Commissioner Harrison as well and believe that his experience in NOLA will help him to craft a good MOU with JHU.
I heard from many people opposed to this bill and many people in favor of it. I even heard from some people who were originally opposed to the bill, but supported it after they learned about the amendments. I was incredibly impressed by the thoughtful organizing of many of the medical students who were opposed to the bill and I kept in touch with them and connected several of them to a community president who was looking for another viewpoint from Hopkins – I think it is important to have full engagement with all views on these complex policy questions. I tried to be very transparent and honest with everyone I talked to about how I was deliberating on the bill. There are challenging issues that confront us these days and I try to bring the best thinking I can as I confront them.
TODAY: there will be an Expungement Clinic hosted at Cherry Hill Elementary School at 801 Bridgeview Road in Brooklyn, Maryland. At this clinic, individuals with a criminal history will be able to receive advice from legal professionals about how to approach getting a record expunged, from determining eligibility to steps forward. Registration through Eventbrite is encouraged, but it is not required for attendance. The Expungement Clinic is hosted by the Port Covington Development Impact Team in partnership with Maryland Legal Aid and Out for Justice.
Join ACLU of Maryland’s Legislative Counsel for Education, Sonja Santelises on Thursday March 28 from 6-8 pm for a community conversation about achieving equity in Baltimore City’s schools. Join in for dinner and conversation at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School – 1400 Orleans Street, Baltimore, MD 21231. RVSP and more info here.
The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance is now accepting applications for its Transportation 101 workshops! Transportation 101 is a 7-week class in which participants meet to learn from local experts and leaders, meet other interested residents and ultimately put what they learn into action. Candidates can learn more and may apply through April 10 here: https://www.cmtalliance.org/transportation-101/
In the News
This important Sun Editorial on funding for education is well worth a read: https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-0318-kirwan-20190315-story.html?fbclid=IwAR3jr0GgoEzYmyXUXnJexTmPv2tcexBrh3idQsUVyF-kFHTiDjQzPrV-0kw
The efforts to make Maryland foam free has garnered national attention, and we are excited to be another step closer to banning expanded polystyrene foam in our state.
I am grateful to be recognized alongside so many other fantastic women leaders in Maryland as a part of The Daily Record’s Top 100 Maryland Women.
Thank you for reading! Please keep in touch during session – and feel free to come visit! My phone number is 410-841-3319 and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.