With the 2020 General Session in Annapolis just around the corner, The Recorder checked in with local state legislators to share some of the bills they plan to support or monitor this year, including keeping an eye on changes to state education funding, creating stiffer penalties for stealing firearms and increased punishments for sexual abuse.
Funding education is at the top of the list of things the General Assembly will be tackling when it convenes today.
That’s the word from Del. Michael A. Jackson (D), who represents Calvert and Prince Georges counties.
Funding recommendations from the Kirwan Commission will include policies and processes for the next 10 years, he said, calling them “a pretty heavy lift.”
People and companies consider the quality of a place’s education as either the first or second priorities when choosing where to locate, he said.
“This is going to be a pretty good year,” but “’21 and ‘22 are going to be tough fiscal years,” said Jackson, who sits on the House Appropriations committee.
“We have to find the happy medium to make sure no jurisdiction is carrying undue weight,” he said.
Jackson noted that, in 2019, the Legislature passed SB 1030 to provide for three years of increased funding for pre-kindergarten, special education, teachers’ salaries and other programs.
“I’m fortunate to be a part of this,” which he said is “setting the stage for the next 10 years.”
Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. (R) and his administration have expressed concerns over the revenue impacts, i.e., tax increases, related to the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations.
In addition to strengthening education, Jackson said transportation and making sure the state pension system stays solvent will be other areas of focus.
During an interview, Sen. Jack Bailey (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) agreed that one of the “biggest hurdles this legislative session is accountability and fairness with the Kirwan Commission” as he says there is “no sense to throwing money without accountability” and that if not handled carefully, could turn out to be a disaster.
He said he is also interested in changing an existing law to protect children from sexual predators. According to Bailey, as of now, if a child is above the age of 13 when becoming a victim of sexual abuse, there are less severe penalties for the abuser than if the child were 12 or younger.
“Whether the act is against a 12-year-old or a 13-year-old, [the perpetrator] needs to be on the lifetime sexual offender registry,” the senator said.
Bailey specified the rise of opioid overdose deaths in the state as another significant issue.
“Obviously a problem we have locally is the opioid crisis. We have to look at how we can work together as a legislature to help the community deal with this,” and currently different ideas are in the works, Bailey said.
When asked about proposals brought forth by St. Mary’s County commissioners last October, including changes to relax the county’s open meetings act, the decoupling of the county government’s debt from the St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission debt, and an increase in the public accommodation tax, the senator told The Enterprise that the delegation will be meeting next week to make a collective decision on how to treat the dozen and a half proposed bills.
“Southern Maryland and District 29 are important to Maryland,” Bailey said, assuring that the delegation will work hard to accurately represent the people of the region.
Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert) said in a phone interview that it’s hard to say whether he will support certain bills because of how much they change during the General Assembly.
“I would support a bill that would improve education without real significant tax implications on citizens, especially in Calvert and St. Mary’s County,” Clark said of the Kirwan Commission, adding that he would prefer not to see revenue from those counties be sent elsewhere in the state, but rather keep the money local.
“I want to keep government out of my constituents’ pockets and support schools and students,” he said.
Clark mentioned that during last year’s legislative session, he voted against an assisted suicide bill that would give certain terminally ill Marylanders access to medication that would end their lives.
He said he would look at the bill again if brought forward this year and make a new decision based on any changes made.
When it comes to penalties for stolen firearms, the delegate said, adding that a more severe penalty for people who have stolen firearms would be “the right thing to do,” but in reality, Clark said, he isn’t sure if the state’s Democrats, who hold a strong majority in the state legislature, would go along with it, as they’ve worked toward less severe penalties for those individuals in the past.
“It seems to me if you’ve been convicted [of stealing a firearm], there needs to be more severe penalties,” Clark said.
Several phone calls and an email to state Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D) and state Del. Mark Fisher (R) for comment were not returned.