When the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland held an all-day public hearing this fall in Annapolis, it discussed a myriad of proposed policies for the upcoming four-month General Assembly that reconvenes Wednesday, Jan. 10.
A host of visitors that include officials, lobbyists and activists to visit the state’s capitol to ensure their agendas are heard on taxes, the environment and other topics.
Although the state remains largely Democratic, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan remains popular among polls with thousands of voters who view him and his policies down the middle.
“I think Gov. Hogan is doing a phenomenal job,” said former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, a Republican and and current MSNBC political contributor. “It’s not just what’s reflected in the polls, but also what people say about him when you talk to them on the street. I think that’s something that speaks well about the governor and his ability to recognize … this is a state 2-to-1 Democrat, but that’s not an obstacle and I think he’s made the most of it.”
However, the majority-Democratic legislature may override Hogan’s veto made in May regarding paid sick leave. The vetoed version required employers with 15 or more workers paid sick leave and family crises such as domestic violence.
Hogan’s office released a draft “compromise” in November that would allow businesses to offer paid sick leave in increments — businesses with 50 or more employees this year, 40 or more in 2019; and 25 or more in 2020.
Delegate Diana Fennell (D-District 47A) of Colmar Manor said she expects lawmakers to shoot down Hogan’s proposed paid sick leave legislation.
“I expect an override of the governor’s veto,” she said. “I am looking forward to the upcoming session.”
One major piece of legislation Fennell and other Black lawmakers want to ensure Hogan signs into law deals with medical marijuana that guarantee Blacks, other minorities and women are included in the approval process to grow, dispense and process marijuana.
In addition, only two African-Americans serve on the 15-member state’s Medical Cannabis Commission.
State Department of Health spokeswoman Brittany Fowler said Friday that a specific date hasn’t been determined for completion of a long-anticipated disparity study.
“We expect this legislation to be a top priority and to be taken up early in the session,” Delegate Erek Barron (D-District 25) of Mitchellville said in a Dec. 26 email.
Barron and other lawmakers from Prince George’s County plan to not only fight the medical marijuana disparity, but review other proposed policies that could affect the second-largest jurisdiction in the state.
Elected School Board
The county’s school system has received major criticism since 2016 after a former teacher’s aide was convicted of child and sexual abuse and the school system got stripped of more than $6 million after allegations of child abuse and neglect from children in Head Start.
Last month, officials responded to a state audit after it determined high school seniors received grade changes. In addition, a letter in May noted an internal audit noted 72 violations occurred between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2015, at various schools where student records couldn’t be located, files were disorganized and documents were on the floor.
Some state and county officials, parents and residents say the dysfunction stems from a lack of accountability on the school board.
The teacher’s union proposed the state approve for the school board to have all 13 members elected.
The current structure, approved by the legislature in 2012, allows for the county executive to appoint three members and County Council one person. The 14th member represents a high school student and doesn’t vote on budgets, school closings and personnel items.
In addition, there must be a two-thirds vote to adopt policies and other matters, or at least nine members instead of not a simple majority.
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III presented the proposal passed by the state. He maintains the current structure not only provides knowledgeable officials in respective fields, but also provides more accountability to officials.
State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-District 26) of Accokeek disagrees and proposed legislation last year for an all-elected school board, but it didn’t make it through the session. He helped lead community meetings last year to gather information and package it into legislation for this year’s session.
Muse couldn’t be reached for comment.
Delegate Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Landover said an all-elected school board brings accountability and oversight parents and taxpayers demand.
“A fully-elected board can get us there,” he said.
Metro has been one of the highest-profile agencies for more than a year in the D.C. area, especially when its board of directors represent officials from Maryland, D.C., Virginia and the federal government.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld presented a proposed $3.1 billion fiscal year 2019 budget that includes a $165 million increase from the three jurisdictions. The amount includes $136 million, or 21 percent, increase in the capital investments and another $29 million, or 3 percent, increase toward operating expenses.
Weidefeld based the budget on three priorities: safety, service and financial responsibilities.
In Annapolis, Maryland, Barron and Delegate Marc Korman of Montgomery County lead a Metro workgroup and plan to introduce legislation for not only more Metro funding, but also reform to the current Metro board of directors and require “a strengthened inspector general.”
“Metro requires greater oversight and accountability before we can trust it with our money,” Barron said.
Prince George’s houses 15 Metro stations and Montgomery County with 11.
Officials throughout the D.C. region continue to discuss a report released Dec. 7 by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on how to fix Metro.
Some of the noted recommendations included the possibility to raise employee pension contributions from 3 percent to the national average of 7 percent, and cut some Metrobus routes and raise the fare by 10 cents to $2.10.
The most controversial proposal stems from decreasing the 16-member board of directors to five. The current board structure has four people appointed from the three jurisdictions and the federal government.
LaHood suggests the new board have no elected officials that could be characterized “as dual fiduciaries.”
“I agree with the LaHood study. There needs to be more accountability,” Lewis said. “Metro needs dedicated funding. No one can run a business, or any type of operation, if you can’t anticipate your revenue. That has been one of the causes that has lead us to the current situation of the system being so unreliable.”