The Maryland General Assembly concluded Monday passing legislation to enhance schools and strengthen school safety, as well as priorities to benefit Calvert County, to include passage of $50 million in bonding authority.
Strengthening schools, safety
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller J. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) said the biggest accomplishment of the year for the General Assembly was education.
“We’ve increased funding for schools. We’ve increased funding for community colleges,” Miller said.
Lawmakers approved $400 million for school construction and to upgrade existing facilities. Miller was a strong proponent of using casino revenues for this purpose. The House passed an amendment that will leave the decision up to Marylanders in the fall.
“Without a doubt, the biggest success is all the school safety work that we did,” Sen. Steve Waugh (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) said.
Waugh orchestrated a plan and built a bipartisan coalition, which included Miller, to introduce a quartet of school safety bills that addressed: prevention, by ensuring accurate, up-to-date background checks are done before a firearm can be purchased; anticipation, by establishing threat assessment teams to identify, assess and mitigate risks and red flags; and deterrence, by arming school resource officers (sworn deputies or police) to be a visible deterrent and for protection. Protection, by securing classroom doors and areas of safe refuge as a last line of defense, was also addressed.
The latter, formally named the Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018 with primary sponsor Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore), passed and was signed into law.
The new school safety law includes increased funding for the Maryland Center for School Safety, requires standardized training and certification for all school resource officers and a subcabinet to develop a model policy for building assessment teams in school systems, and aids local jurisdictions with resources and training for both parents and students to identify unhealthy relationships.
“To have been walking in that direction, when [the shooting at] Great Mills High School happened, was fortunate for the state. If we had been in a standstill when Great Mills happened,” Waugh said, thinking there might not have been enough time left to get legislation through in the time remaining, after he introduced the bills in early March. “I’d like to think my work put us a month ahead of where we are.”
“I fully support the bill … it sets the expectation that parents will have a school resource officer in every school,” Calvert Commissioners’ President Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said, acknowledging that it is a phased-in approach starting with high schools. “We won’t immediately benefit. We already have [them] in all four high schools.”
Slaughenhoupt said the county needs to have a better sense of safety in all of its schools and hopes to devise a game plan working with the school system, sheriff and state police.
Right now, Slaughenhoupt does not see any possibility that the county could hire enough new deputies to be in all 23 schools in the county, citing expenses and challenges with recruiting. However, he said in the interim the sheriff’s office could possibly enhance some of the patrols with periodic visits to schools.
“There has to be a practical implementation for this process,” he said.
Wins for delegates
“I think we’ve had a pretty good session. We were able to put the budget to bed and it was a balanced budget,” Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) said.
Clark was pleased with the governor’s “record” $6.5 billion in funding for K-12 schools, plus $30 million in school safety and $8.2 million to replace the state police vehicle fleet.
Locally, he was pleased with the passage of a bill that designates the Calvert Marine Museum as the State Paleontology Collection and Research Center. The request came to the Calvert delegation from the Calvert County commissioners.
A personal success for Clark was the passage of his Deer Management Permits bill, which authorizes individuals with deer management permits in Calvert County to use a shotgun or breech loading center fired rifle approved by the Department of Natural Resources to hunt deer throughout the year.
“There was an existing bill from two years ago for St. Mary’s and Charles [counties]. We just amended it,” Clark said.
Clark had hoped to see passage of his income tax modification bill for retired volunteer fire, rescue and emergency management personnel, but was unsuccessful.
“They would have income subtraction from the age 60 to 65 and no longer be able to accrue [Length of Service Award Program] points,” Clark said, hoping to have an opportunity to reintroduce it next session, if re-elected.
“You don’t get everything. When you can affect policy and move it in the right direction and get things that are really important, that’s what you got to do,” Clark said. “It’s a bit of a give and take.”
Del. Michael Jackson (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) saw a significant amount of success in getting bills passed this session, to include tax relief on the retirement income of correctional officers, establishment of a commission to advance 911 technology in the state and establishment of a $2 million fund for the Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission. Jackson was appointed as an advisory member to the commission, which was created last session.
“There are two bills that I am proud to be a sponsor of. One is the Lt. Richard Collins III Leadership Scholarship,” Jackson said, of the program in honor of the Bowie State University student and Calvert County native slain at the University of Maryland, College Park campus in 2017.
The other bill is a cyber warrior certification program with $2.5 million in funding for all five of the state’s historically black colleges that Jackson said will “level the playing field.”
Jackson introduced a statewide LOSAP bill that will get rid of the provision that requires volunteer public safety officers to start all over when they leave one Maryland county to work in another.
“It got stalled. [Maryland Association of Counties] opposed the bill. I stripped the bill down,” Jackson said, to no avail.
Del. Mark Fisher (R–Calvert) said his greatest individual achievement this session was the constituent service he delivered to citizens of Calvert County.
“I’m super proud of that because that is not political. It’s based on the needs of people of our county,” Fisher said.
As a co-sponsor, Fisher was also pleased with the passage of Jackson’s bill in honor of Collins. Fisher said his son and Collins attended The Calverton School together and were friends.
Fisher was successful in passing his first bill as a primary sponsor since being elected to represent Calvert in 2010. The bill will extend from 5 feet to 10 feet the distance from certain piers, wharves or other structures in certain counties within which the owner has exclusive use of the area for growing oysters in a certain manner.
Critical of The Calvert Recorder’s reporting of his individual legislative record, Fisher said he should be given credit for bills passed that are sponsored by the Calvert Delegation, of which he is chair.
Miller attributes his success to his education and wants to ensure others have the same opportunity. He cites one of his biggest disappointments this session was not getting a bill passed in the House authorizing tuition-free community college.
“It required everybody to have some skin in the game. You pay for your books, you pay for the fees, but it would be tuition free,” Miller said.
The $30 million price tag was a deterrent for some legislators who wanted to go with a much smaller initiative, he said.
Waugh expressed great disappointment in his Veteran Suicide Prevention bill not getting passed in the House, despite its success in the Senate.
“I’m usually proud of this place, but vets will literally die for lack of a plan. Not our best work,” Waugh said.
Fisher said Miller has been a prohibitor of his legislation getting through, showing email correspondences, from the last week and half of session, where he requested assistance in getting three crossed over in the Senate.
“Miller even reaches over to the House to kill a bill. He has that kind of gravitas,” Fisher said.
“That’s nonsense,” Miller argues, stressing that he is not involved in delegates’ bills. “I suggest he look in the mirror. It has absolutely nothing to do with me. He has not spoken to me personally about his bills.”
Miller said not all his own bills are successful and it takes hard work to get bills passed. He said Fisher has been difficult to work with in the state house and locally and showed the Recorder letters from Slaughenhoupt and Commissioners’ Vice President Tom Hejl (R) citing that Fisher has a “horrible reputation in Annapolis” and has alienated “many in his own party.”
The correspondences were precipitated by Fisher’s unilateral decision as delegation chair to reduce the commissioners’ bonding authority request bill from $50 million to $7 million without consulting delegation members Jackson and Clark.
The bonding bill was amended to the full amount and passed, despite Fisher’s objections and opposition to the county going deeper in debt to, in part, finance a county administration building.
“I am not a go-along, get-along Republican,” said Fisher, who takes pride in preventing “bad bills” from being passed.
“It was battle and we came out on top,” Slaughenhoupt said, referring to the effort to get the bonding bill amended, noting citizens will benefit from the consolidation of county services in one location.
“We worked well with Del. Jackson and Sen. Miller,” Slaughenhoupt said. “It’s not partisan politics at the local level. It’s locals that focus on local issues.”
Calvert’s legislation moves forward
In addition to the bonding authority and the state designation for the marine museum, the delegation introduced 16 bills on behalf of Calvert County. The commissioners requested 21.
“Every bill the House has moved over, we’ve passed,” Clark said, except a bill increasing from $100,000 to $150,000 the threshold for triggering a hearing on a change to an adopted budget.
Slaughenhoupt said overall he was pleased with the 2018 legislative session that extends LOSAP benefits to family of fire and rescue volunteers, gives reciprocal preference for resident bidders on county contracts and yields pay increases next year for certain county elected officials, to include the commissioners.
The board president was also pleased with passage of a bill that will recalibrate the distribution of highway user revenue to the counties, which means more funds for road repairs.
Slaughenhoupt said they will try again next year with a proposal that allows breathalyzer testing of county employees, if reasonable cause exists and following any incident of damage to persons or property, giving employees the ability to opt out within an allotted two-hour limit.
A measure limiting the county’s future superintendents’ benefits upon retirement or dismissal did not move forward, as well as a bill for bingo licenses.
Two of six Calvert priorities not introduced this session were a request to create testing and concussion protocols for law enforcement personnel having suffered a head injury while on duty, and a request exempting disabled law enforcement officers from a certain percentage of local property taxes.
Slaughenhoupt said on May 1 the county will review the status of all of the legislative priorities, as well as the school safety bill that Waugh was the architect of, to see what gaps the county needs to fill.