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State reps hear community priorities

By AMANDA HARRISON

Staff writer

Community and advocacy groups had the opportunity to bring their views and priorities for the upcoming Maryland legislative session to the county’s state representatives Wednesday night.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s), Del. Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) and Del. James Proctor Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) attended the League of Women Voters of Calvert County’s annual legislative evening.

“This is my 23rd legislative session. And, I think this one will be a little easier than the last five or six,” Proctor said, noting that the funding gap has “closed quite a bit. It’s still there, but it’s quite small now.”

But the community groups still had their say about what they’d like from the county’s state representatives.

Judy MacWilliams, representing the Calvert County Republican Central Committee, said the committee “strongly [urges] the General Assembly to tighten up on spending.

“Please don’t pile on additional costs on counties. ... Please don’t pile on additional taxes,” MacWilliams told the representatives.

She said the central committee also requested that the state “purge the voter rolls” of those who have moved out of the state or who have died.

“They do need to be cleaned up,” Proctor said, adding that he would get the Maryland Board of Elections involved. “You have my word.”

The Commission for Women, represented by Margaret Dunkle, requested the county’s state representatives to identify issues that are coming up that affect women and girls, including various education, employment, health and domestic violence matters.

Because Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Calvert, Prince George's) was not in attendance, Proctor told Dunkle he would pass the comments about domestic violence to Vallario, as a committee Vallario is on deals with domestic violence.

Susan Rork, executive director of the Calvert Community Mediation Center, said “Maryland has the finest alternative dispute resolution program in the United States.”

“We are a tremendous resource for you guys and your constituents,” she said, adding that the mediation centers across the state are there to help. “Use us; we’re looking for trouble,” she laughed.

Calvert Hospice, represented by Brenda Laughhunn, thanked Miller for his support in protecting hometown hospices when they were threatened earlier this year with the prospect of “Walmart-type programs that are national, large programs that are coming into our counties.”

She told the representatives, “We need your continued support ... in sustaining this house. We need the funds.”

Joyce Freeland, representing the NAACP Calvert County branch, presented the Maryland NAACP 2013 legislative priorities.

Those include, she said, the funding of the Thorton education formula enacted by the Bridge to Excellence Act of 2002, opposing the shift of state pension costs to local school systems and county governments, raising the compulsory age of school attendance from 16 to 18 and working for legislation that would address the disparity of services and programs for girls while they are in the juvenile justice system, among many others.

“There was one that struck me right away,” and that was the disparity of services and programs for girls in the juvenile justice system, said Proctor.

Barbara Fetterhoff, representing the American Association of University Women Patuxent River branch, explained to the state representatives that the AAUW belongs to the Maryland Legislative Agenda for Women, which has been working on its own list of priority issues. Those issues include the confiscating of assets to help victims, a non-cigarette tobacco tax increase, a criminal law to include strangulation that qualifies as a first degree assault and a felony and private fundraising for a Harriet Tubman statue in the nation’s capital.

Veronica Alston, executive administrator and founder of Ruth’s Miracle Group Home, which addresses homelessness and the concerns of physical and substance abuse that exists in the lives of women who have suffered from domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and/or incarceration, told the state representatives, “I will be knocking on your door.”

She also said, “I hope one of my delegates will cut that ribbon,” when she has the home’s grand opening.

Fisher said, after the groups were finished, that “a lot of the issues were crossed over” and “many of these issues interconnected one key thing, and that is economic opportunity and economic power.

“The single issue that unites us, and that is the way we want each family and generation to have an opportunity that is better than the one before it ... that should be our priority in Annapolis,” Fisher said.

Miller said the issues brought up in Calvert are “not anything like the issues in the other jurisdictions I go to in terms of crime, in terms of schools, in terms of sewage and garbage, stuff picked up.

“The state really is in great shape ... but a crisis is just around the corner, unless our federal people can come together and solve this very important issue,” regarding the federal budget, Miller said.

aharrison@somdnews.com