A bill sponsored by Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) proposes to help kickstart the proposed Southern Maryland light rail line by restoring funding for key studies that the state transportation agency has repeatedly denied.

Senate Bill 845, “Southern Maryland Rapid Transit Project — Requirements and Funding,” would require the Maryland Department of Transportation to “promptly undertake all steps necessary” to begin work on the first round of design, engineering, and environmental studies of the proposed light rail route from the Branch Avenue Metro station in Prince George’s County to White Plains.

In May 2017, the Maryland Transit Administration concluded a three-year study of bus and rail rapid transit options along the Branch Avenue to White Plains corridor. According to the study’s final report, a rapid transit rail system would allow the county’s transportation network to keep pace with proposed residential and commercial development through 2040.

It is also expected to reduce commute times to and from the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area by up to 24 minutes.

The report found that light rail could be expanded more easily than bus transit to meet increased ridership. While the overall costs for a bus system would likely be $500 million less than for rail, the annual operating costs of light rail would be lower by approximately $10 million per year.

However, since the report came out the state capital budget for transportation projects has suspended work on the project until at least 2023, withholding $27 million to fund initial project planning activities.

Ellis’ bill would unlock that $27 million and permit studies required by the National Environmental Policy Act to proceed.

Ten state senators have co-sponsored the bill, including four from Prince George’s County: Sen. Obie Patterson (D), Sen. Douglas J. J. Peters (D), Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D) and Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D), whose district also includes part of Anne Arundel County.

Ellis told the Maryland Independent that his staff has been working hard to win the support of Prince George’s senators as well as delegates for a possible companion bill on the House side.

“It’s not a one-man show,” Ellis said in a phone interview.

The bill had its first reading in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on Monday. The first reading occurs when a bill is introduced and assigned to a standing committee for further review.

Ellis is also sponsoring a bill that would protect people who have been furloughed due to a government shutdown from having their utilities terminated for nonpayment.

The bill, which covers federal, state and local employees, adds language to three sections of the state code to prohibit utility companies from terminating services for up to a week after a furlough ends.

The bill has 35 co-sponsors, including Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince George’s) and Sen. Jack Bailey (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s) as well as Democrats and Republicans in jurisdictions with large populations of federal workers including Montgomery, Baltimore, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.

The bill’s first reading also took place on Monday, before both the Senate’s Finance and Judicial Proceedings committees. Ellis introduced the bill as emergency legislation, which means that it would take effect as soon as it is signed into law by the governor.

Del. Edith Patterson (D-Charles) is the primary sponsor of two pieces of legislation so far this session. One bill would require private and church-run schools to provide information on facility use, accreditation, curricula and courses to the Maryland State Department of Education annually. The second bill proposes changes to the reporting requirements of county school boards.

One of the nine bills introduced so far by Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) during this session would require agencies to conduct background checks on job applicants whose duties will bring them into contact with minors.

Child sexual abuse is an issue that Wilson has championed during his two terms in the House of Delegates. He has supported the passage of legislation that would increase the statute of limitations for reporting childhood sexual abuse, because many victims repress the trauma well into adulthood.

He has also introduced a bill, HB 687, that would eliminate the statute of limitations on reporting child sex abuse. Currently, state law says that victims have 38 years to report such crimes.

Wilson has been candid about having experienced such abuse as an orphan growing up in foster homes.

Del. Debra Davis (D-Charles) has not drafted any bills of her own yet, but she has co-sponsored a number of pieces of legislation related to criminal law reform.

For example, one bill introduced by Del. Emily Shetty (D-Montgomery) would prohibit continued detention of children under the age of 12 for other than violent crimes.

Along with Wilson and Patterson, Davis is also a co-sponsor of an emergency bill that would provide furloughed federal workers with the ability to obtain unemployment insurance in the event of a government shutdown through the state’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund.

With the exception of Wilson, all members of the Charles County delegation to the General Assembly have signed on as co-sponsors of Senate and House bills calling for raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, though Ellis would like to see some changes.

Ellis has said that he would favor the inclusion of tax credits in the bill that would help smaller companies offset the increased expense incurred by the higher minimum wage.

Twitter: @PaulIndyNews

Twitter: @​PaulIndyNews