ANNAPOLIS — As family members and supporters of state lawmakers packed the House and Senate chambers Wednesday on the first day of the Maryland General Assembly, the 90-day session will likely show the distinct gulf between both sides of the aisle on education, minimum wage and crime.
The Prince George’s County delegation will push for additional money for education based on some recommendations the ongoing Kirwan Commission that includes expansion of prekindergarten and school construction. Lawmakers from the county have said Prince George’s is underfunded by $550 million a year.
“To me, it is a civil rights issue, it’s an equity issue,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said before the session began. “Funding schools [outlined] in the state constitution is the number one responsibility of state government.”
Alsobrooks stressed that one of the state’s six casinos resides in the county, important since at least half of the revenue from the casinos are shelved for education based on a “lockbox” initiative.
“Those dollars, in our mind, belong to us,” she said. “They belong to our children. The only reason many of our residents voted to allow that casino to open is because there was a promise to help our children fund their education. We shouldn’t have to beg for it.”
The state set aside $200 million last year in anticipation of recommendations from the Kirwan Commission, an advisory group made up of state lawmakers, officials and education experts.
The commission recommended earmarking at least $100 million annually from casino money toward prekindergarten and teacher salaries. However, Gov. Larry Hogan has said the money should be used toward school construction.
Meanwhile, legislation to raise the minimum hourly wage to $15 will also be a point of contention between the Republican governor and the majority-Democrat legislature. Delegate Dianna Fennell (D-District 47A) plans to lead that effort with the goal to implement it by 2022.
Hogan has said higher minimum wages could affect small businesses.
In regard to crime, the governor announced initiatives Tuesday to increase the minimum sentence to 10 years for repeat offenders who use a gun to commit a violent crime. The initiatives also focus on transparency, particularly in providing detailed information for residents on sentencing guidelines and how judges deliberate and rule on court cases regarding violent crimes across the state.
Delegate Alonzo Washington (D-District 22), who represents Prince George’s, said lawmakers will focus on criminal justice reform such as the elimination of the school-to-prison pipeline. As a member of the Kirwan Commission, Washington said the group approved a recommendation to implement restorative practices as a policy objective.
“We’re making sure our teachers are trained on restorative practices,” he said. “We are making sure we pass some good legislation this year on this.”
As for new lawmakers, Del. Julian Ivey is among the nine fresh faces from Prince George’s — seven in the House of Delegates and two in the Senate.
“Now the actual work begins,” Ivey, who will represent District 47A, said while standing next to his father, former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey. “Governing is different from campaigning. I’m ready to get to work for the people in the 47th District, for the people of Prince George’s and the state of Maryland.”