Sunday, January 15, 2017

Legislative Session Starts

The legislative session started on Wednesday.  It lasts for 90 days.  All bills have to be drafted, introduced, reviewed at a public hearing, voted on by both the House of Delegates and Senate, and signed by the Governor, to become law in Maryland.  In the next few weeks the Governor will be presenting his proposed budget, and in his State of the State address he will outline his legislative initiatives.  We all also be reacting to what happens with the new Administration in Washington and how it affects us in Maryland.  The Democratic leadership in the General Assembly will also be laying out its legislative goals.  As we move into session I will try and update people on the issues being debated and my views on these topics.  I will, as always, be interested on your opinions.  Right now I am continuing to put forward legislation that I believe will make a difference for the people of our District and our state.

Preparing a Progressive Agenda for Annapolis – Part 3

Filling Vacancies for the General Assembly by Special Election

In Maryland when someone leaves the General Assembly because of retirement, death or taking another position, the position is filled by an appointment by the Governor based on a recommendation from the Central Committee of the political party to which the person leaving belongs.  This means the replacement can be appointed for up to four years without an election.  I believe this is very undemocratic.  I personally believe that there should be a special election as soon as possible so the voters can decide who shall represent them.  Because some people feel a special election would be too expensive, my legislation (similar to a bill introduced by Delegate Moon last year) is a compromise.  The bill would still allow the Central Committee of the party to recommend to the Governor someone to fill the position, but only until the next November election.  This avoids additional cost to the taxpayers but still allows voters to have a voice on who should represent them in the General Assembly.

Rights of Public Workers to Have Collective Bargaining    

Municipal and county employees in many local jurisdictions do not have collective bargaining rights.  Maryland is one of only three states that has an opt-in structure of collective bargaining statutes.  Each local jurisdiction has to decide whether its employees have the right to collective bargaining.   Many municipalities and counties do not have a law that allows their employees to form a union and collectively bargain. If the law has not been passed they do not have the right to bargain.        
The right of collective bargaining is internationally recognized as an essential element of the freedom of association.  Jurisdictions that do not allow collective bargaining are depriving Maryland residents of this fundamental right.  I am introducing a bill that requires local jurisdictions with over 20 (non-supervisory) employees to pass a law allowing their employees to have collective bargaining rights.

Digital car registration

This bill means that when stopped by a police officer an individual may present a digital or electronic image of the registration card to the officer.  I don’t like leaving my registration in the car all the time.  This way I can show the officer my registration on my smartphone.

Public Financing of Elections  
We have public financing for the Maryland gubernatorial election, but not for legislative elections. In the last couple of years public financing bills have passed in both Montgomery and Howard Counties.  There are initiatives to pass similar legislation in Prince George’s and Frederick Counties.  We have to do something about the role of big money in elections. My bill is only a start at addressing this issue for candidates for the General Assembly.  The bill would give candidates incentives to stay away from big contributors.  Under this bill, if a candidate agrees not to take contributions above $250 and has raised money from more than 300 different contributors, the state will match 70% of the contributions up to $50,000.

Tax Deduction for Interest on Student Loans 

Student loan debt is crippling many people.  The average student loan debt is $35,000.  The Federal Government and six states allow taxpayers a deduction on the interest on student loans.   This bill would add Maryland to the list of states.  I was happy to hear that Governor Hogan has made this one of his legislative priorities for 2017.  Hopefully we can get it passed!

What do you think about the Prince George’s School Board?  Should all the School Board members be elected?

                One of the local bills (affecting only Prince George’s County) we will be discussing is legislation that would make all the members of the school board elected.  Currently there are nine school board members elected in nine districts, a student member selected by the Regional Association of Student Governments, and four members appointed by the County Executive.  This bill, PG 402-17, would eliminate the four appointed members.  In addition, the bill has the school board electing the Chair and Vice-Chair of the School Board.  Now the Chair and Vice-Chair are appointed by the County Executive.  I have heard arguments both for and against this legislation.  Some people feel that it is important to have expertise on a school board that might not be there as a result of elections.  But many others now feel that the County Executive and the Superintendent of Schools have too much power, and others just feel that it is more democratic to have an elected school board.  In addition, it now takes a two-thirds majority to overturn a decision by the Superintendent; this means that if all the appointed people support him, it is very hard to overturn a decision.  How do you feel?  Click on the following link to let me know:

Some Sad News about Elected Officials in Prince George’s County 

              Most people have probably read about the criminal charges against former Delegate and County Councilman Will Campos.   Campos has pleaded guilty to taking bribes in order to direct county contracts toward certain organizations and businesses. In addition, another Delegate  has resigned amidst accusations about elected officials accepting bribes in order to influence the passage of legislation favorable to some liquor store owners.

                I knew Will both as a County Councilman when I was a City Councilman in Mount Rainier and later as a colleague in the General Assembly.  I felt he was an effective advocate for people in our District.  I was saddened and very surprised to hear about his illegal activities.  I believe that most people understand that the overwhelming majority of people in elected office work hard and try to do the right thing and do not take on public service to gain money.  But I also think we as policy makers have to look at the lack of oversight that makes these kinds of problems occur not just in our County but throughout the State.  This includes how the County awards grants and contracts and also the workings of the State Liquor Board.  We may not be able to stop some individuals from doing the wrong thing, but we have to make sure that it is more difficult for government officials to get involved in illegal behavior.