A legal batting average and a legal mandate

Maryland’s Attorney General did not have the authority to sue the federal government without the Governor’s approval until we passed the Maryland Defense Act last year.

Since then, Brian Frosh has entered into twenty law suits – on federal actions affecting the environment, health care coverage, immigration, and other issues.

Every Republican member of my committee asked Frosh questions at today’s briefing.

None was favorable.

“What is your batting average for your lawsuits?”

“Aren’t these suits taking away from the other obligations of your office?”

I waited until the end to ask my questions.

Batting last, if you will, which was my position in the batting order most of the time.

“How do you decide whether to participate in a lawsuit?” I asked AG Frosh.

He then listed: Has a law been violated? What is our likelihood of success? Are there extremely important rights at stake? Will there be a big economic impact? How much time can we devote?

The law we passed last year mandated that the Governor include $1 million in the budget to fund five additional attorneys and staff for these legal actions.

Governor Hogan used $1 million of special funds from consumer protection recoveries that support the Attorney General’s Office to fund the mandate.

I will ask the Attorney General’s Office for written advice on the Governor’s action.

Mandating pre-K-12 spending and improving performance

Two visions of education will be considered by the General Assembly this session and next year as well.

Last week, Governor Hogan declared that we needed the Office of the State Education Investigator General to investigate “complaints of unethical, unprofessional, or illegal conduct relating” in our public schools.

At his budget press conference yesterday, the governor stated, “The budget leaves nearly $1 billion in reserves and continues – for the fourth straight year – to fund K-12 education at an all-time record level.”

Our public schools were also the subject of a legislative hearing yesterday.

Brit Kirwan, the former Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, is now chairing the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education.

Before yesterday, if you had asked me what the Commission is studying, I would have told you, “the formula that determines how much money the state provides our 24 local school systems every year.”

It’s that formula, written into law, that mandated Governor Hogan’s record funding for the fourth straight year.

But that’s not all the Kirwan Commission is doing.

Our students are not performing well on assessments of what they’ve learned, Kirwan said.

We must better prepare teachers for the classroom and expand the number of high quality teachers and principals. Schools serving poorer students are underfunded.

Accountability will be crucial to persuading the public to bear these costs, he added.

In the public debate that we will have, will our focus be on improving our students’ performance or penalizing those administrators who have failed?

I’m hoping and betting on the former.

Focusing on Vaping

Responding to constituent emails on your laptop can be a distraction during committee hearings.

But certain issues do catch your attention.

As when a Department of Health official testifies, “We are battling with vaping these days.”

Vaping is smoking electronic cigarettes.

There is a great deal of evidence that this is now the entry point of choice for many youth.

Preventing teenagers (and younger kids) from picking up the deadly habit of smoking cigarettes is one of the priorities of the state’s Cigarette Restitution Fund.

The Fund allocates the money Maryland receives from its share of the settlement from the lawsuit 48 states brought against the tobacco industry. Delegate Pete Rawlings and I were the lead sponsors of the bill that created the Fund.

Last year, the General Assembly passed HB 523, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems and Vaping Liquid – Licensing. It became law without the Governor’s signature.

I’m now concentrating on what we should do next.

AG Sessions and Hippocratic Growth

We had a 2 ½ hour hearing on medical cannabis legislation this afternoon.

I asked one question: How does the directive from Attorney General Sessions regarding federal prosecutions of marijuana offenses affect Maryland’s program?

“We are already studying that question and will share our conclusions with you and the committee,” responded an Assistant Maryland Attorney General.

I also emailed our committee counsel to ask how this year’s bill differs from the legislation that passed the House last year.

Several witnesses asked us to change the law to increase their chance of being awarded a license.

It’s our job to balance making this treatment option available to those who need it in a medically appropriate manner with achieving diversity of ownership within the industry.

But I must admit. I was partial to the testimony of the witnesses from Hippocratic Growth.

Any group that imaginative in naming itself must know what it’s doing.

A bipartisan compromise between different parties

We’re going to hear the word bipartisan quite often this session.

And well we should.

The public wants the two parties to work together, and we should try to do so.

Today we had an example of bipartisanship between labor and business.

The issue was the Governor’s veto of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act

The bill would require businesses with 15 or more employers to provide paid sick leave.

When the bill was introduced, it applied to businesses with ten or more employees.

This change was one of 30 amendments adopted at the request of the business community.

“Advocates feel they’ve compromised enough,” said the chairman of the committee that considered the bill.

That’s a compromise. That’s bipartisanship.

Governor Hogan’s veto was overridden by the House, 88-52.

Every Republican voted with the Governor. One Democrat joined them.

In this instance, however, bipartisanship had already produced a compromise bill with those 30 amendments.

– – –

E.J. Dionne writes about the virtual impossibility of compromise in Washington in his most recent op-ed. It begins:

There is a reason bipartisan government is so hard these days. It’s not because “both parties” are intransigent or because “both parties” have moved to the “extremes.” It’s because what were once widely seen as moderate, common-sense solutions are pushed off the table by a far right that defines compromise as acquiescence to its agenda.


Opening Day Prayer – A Mother’s Advice

Speaker Busch again asked me to offer the prayer at the Opening Day of the 90-day legislative session.

This is what I said:

Last fall, I told my mother, who is here today, that I have three objectives in my reelection campaign.

“Win, win, and win,” she quickly responded.

My mother was a Phi Beta Kappa majoring in Government at Smith College. She ran my Election Day operation when I first ran for this House in 1982.

So I don’t often find fault with her political advice.

Yes, each of us wants to win this year. But we want to win for a reason.

To advance a cause that we believe in. A cause that furthers the common good, that uplifts the poor in spirit, that repairs the world.

Two sessions ago, we passed a law that funded extended hours at the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.

Two nights ago, my district colleagues and I planned to visit the branches in our district that now stay open until 8 pm.

One person told us on Facebook: “The Walbrook branch probably saved my life. It gave me a safe place to go when things got a little crazy with the guys I was hanging with.”

Another said: “My sister and I would go to the library several times a week to wait for my father to get off work. That became our social hang out with other kids in the community.”

The Lord works in mysterious ways. Sometimes, so can the legislative process.


The heat in our public schools

City schools should not have to close because the boilers don’t work.

With aging buildings, what happened last week was not a surprise.

It is now our obligation to assess the blame and more importantly, to prevent this from happening again.

There will be discussion of the formula that determines how much money is allocated for building upkeep to the 24 school systems in the state. (The vast majority of state aid to local government is written into law or regulation.)

There will be discussion of whether individuals are to blame for the City schools being closed during last week’s Arctic chill.

And now there will be discussion of whether the state’s schools need an Office of the State Education Investigator General.

Unveiled by Governor Hogan at a press conference yesterday, this office “will be charged with investigating complaints of unethical, unprofessional, or illegal conduct rela, ng to procurement, education assets, graduation requirements, grading, education facilities, and school budgets.”

This should result in a healthy debate. Is adequate overview of our public schools provided by the existing system of checks and balances – annual review of agency operations during budget hearings, the General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Audits, the State Prosecutor, and reporting by the media?

It will be a vitally important discussion of government and politics.

They’re off!

Keeping the Preakness at Pimlico is again one of my top priorities this session.

I ran into a lobbyist who represents one of the interested parties. He gave me a piece of information. I responded with mine.

I told him that since we adjourned in April, I’ve been impressed by the interest of businesses and non-profits in developing the land adjacent to the race track. This would be in addition to renovating the racing facility.

Pimlico would become an economic engine year round, not just on Preakness Day.

I confirmed that the Maryland Stadium Authority is expected to approve Phase Two of its Preakness study at a February 6th meeting. A 30-day review and comment period by the budget chairs of the General Assembly will follow. The study is then expected to take 10-12 months.

All steps along the way to the necessary legislation at the 2019 session.

Take out a book

Because one Pratt Library branch stayed open, all of the branches will now stay open longer.

The drug store at Pennsylvania and North Avenues had been burned. Protesters were confronting the police over the death of Freddie Gray. The Pratt library branch, however, stayed open.

The next year, the General Assembly passed legislation for the state to fund 75% of the cost of extending Pratt Library branch hours. The City would pay the rest of the cost.

Governor Hogan did not sign the bill into law because it mandated state spending. It took effect without his signature.

This coming Monday, every Pratt branch will be open until 8 pm.

In celebration, my District 41 colleagues and I will visit the five branches in our district.

5:00 PM – Edmondson Ave Branch, 4330 Edmondson Ave., 21229
5:30 PM – Walbrook Branch, 3203 W. North Ave., 21216
6:15 PM – Forest Park Branch, 3023 Garrison Blvd., 21216
7:00 PM – Reisterstown Road Branch, 6310 Reisterstown Rd., 21215
7:30 PM – Roland Park Branch, 5108 Roland Ave., 21210

Join us Monday night. This is a great opportunity to celebrate the vital role that our libraries play in our daily life. And to take out a book — or a CD.

A Taxing Issue

I don’t ask my colleagues to vote for my bills before I’ve written them.

Neither should the Governor.

“Our goal will be to leave that money in the pockets of hard-working Marylanders,” Governor Hogan said in an opening statement yesterday at a Board of Public Works meeting. “I am confident that our partners in the General Assembly who have expressed concern over the impact of this tax reform bill will support us unanimously in protecting Marylanders who could be negatively affected. Protecting taxpayers should be a bipartisan issue.”

The process by which the Republican majority just passed the tax bill reinforces my point.

Public hearings and debate raise issues that should be addressed.

Then we can decide what tax policy is in the best interests of hard-working Marylanders.

  • My Key Issues:

  • Pimlico and The Preakness
  • Our Neighborhoods
  • Pre-Kindergarten
  • Lead Paint Poisoning