All progress is local – sometimes.

Two summers ago, a Shop Rite opened in Howard Park on a lot where the remnants of a failed super market had blighted the neighborhood for more than a decade.

Calvin Rodwell Elementary School is across the street – on Forest Park Av. Planning has begun to make this a 21st Century school, which will open in the fall of 2019.

The Ambassador Theatre is on Liberty Heights Av., east of the grocery store. Barry Levenson first went to the movies here.

Slots money and other capital funds will be needed to restore the building.
“Three killed in three days within a block of Howard Park,” blared the headline in the Sun this past April.

The fulcrum of that block was a liquor store with a license that allowed it to stay open past the closing time for other liquor stores.

Within a week, a community meeting packed the cafeteria at Calvin Rodwell.

A greater police presence has cut down on the loitering outside the store, which is on Gwynn Oak Av., the western boundary of the Shop Rite.

Another product of the community meeting was House Bill 1136, which would reduce the store’s hours of operation to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

My 41st District colleagues and I drafted this legislation and attended more meetings to secure the community’s support.

The public hearing for HB 1136 was this afternoon.

There was no opposition.

A side conversation and Jim Crow states

“Sandy, can we pull the two proposed bills, or slow roll them, while this side conversation takes place?”

A constituent sent me that message today.

I met with him and several colleagues in December to discuss how their businesses could benefit from changes in state law.

That side conversation is taking place, I replied, because the bills were introduced.

I may withdraw this legislation before the hearing dates, March 1 and 15.

Between now and then, however, the side conversation may result in agreement on a policy change that would benefit my constituent and serve the public interest.

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At a bill hearing today, I began by saying that House Bill 353 is based on a simple but fundamental premise: before administrative changes are made that could affect the fundamental right to vote, the public is entitled to adequate notice.

My legislation deals with any action related to voter registration, provisional voting, absentee voting, or the location of a polling place.

The state or local boards of election would have to give 48 hours’ notice of a proposed change if it’s on the agenda and post such changes online within 48 hours after they’re made.

This used to be a problem only in Jim Crow states.

However, the Montgomery County Board of Elections voted two years ago to move an early voting polling center from a working class neighborhood to a more upscale community.

After a furor arose, both locations were open for early voting.

All of the skeptical questions today were from Republican legislators.

As I told my niece and nephew

I didn’t speak on the House floor this morning, even though I sponsored the legislation we were debating.

I didn’t need to speak.

We had the votes to pass the resolution, 89-50.

It authorizes the Maryland Attorney General to bring a lawsuit when action by the federal government harms state residents, without obtaining the approval of the Governor.

As you most likely know, we were prompted to act by President Trump’s executive orders.

The state constitution gives us the authority to enlarge the authority of the AG, in this instance, to preserve our rights under the federal constitution and laws.

On Election Night, I told my niece and nephew, as well as a very close friend, to concentrate on an issue they really cared about and to volunteer their time and money.

As a state legislator, I told them, I will be in a unique position to do things for the people of Maryland. To protect them, where possible, against bad decisions in Washington.

Today, I did just that.

Horse Feathers

“Whatever it is, I’m against it.”

Groucho Marx sings that line in Horse Feathers.

Sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, bureaucrats and lobbyists sing that line, instead of reading my bills.

My bill in question would amend an existing grant program by authorizing – permitting but not requiring, that the money can be used to repay the academic debt of a grantee’s lower-paid employees.

Several years ago, after reading an op-ed by UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, I passed a bill creating a program that would provide stipends for interns in high-tech businesses.

That program has never been funded.

The bill we discussed today would meet the purpose of the Hrabowski program with funds from another program – if the grantee chooses to do so.

But first you have to read the bill.

Closed schools and open discussions about their future

Sweat the details.

That applies to the language in a bill and, just as importantly, to government-funded construction projects back home.

At meetings with neighborhoods in the Edmondson Village corridor about the Red Line, my 41st District colleagues and I made that promise.

Today, the subject was school construction.

Seven schools in our district will be gut renovated or replaced by a new school.

Three schools will be closed.

Community input is part of the construction process. We need to make sure that’s also the case for the closed schools.

No one wants the neighborhood school to be closed.

That makes it all the more important that the community be fully involved in helping to determine the best use for the building and the grounds.

I’ve introduced House Bill 1449, Baltimore City – Modifying or Closing Public School Facility – Review by Community Task Force.

If our discussions with the City government are fruitful, we may not need to pass the bill.

From Essex and Dundalk to Germany

Which area of the state has the lowest percentage of residents 25 and older with a college degree?

In what area of the state did Donald Trump get his highest percentage of the vote in the Republican primary last June ?

The answer to both questions: Essex and Dundalk.

I learned that this summer, which prompted me to say this in my prayer on the Opening Day prayer:

“A 34-year old in Baltimore County is without a college degree or a well-paying job. The Beth Steel plant where his father had a union job is closed.”

What we do for those Essex residents, I continued, will help determine how this 90-day session is judged.

Building a wall on the Mexican border will not enable that 34-year old to get a better-paying job.

Further education or job training will.

Today, I introduced a bill creating a task force to study whether the German apprentice model would work in Essex, Dundalk, and four other areas of the state with the fewest number of college graduates.

Not dead dead

A fiscal note of $22.4 million and your bill is dead.

But perhaps not dead dead.

House Bill 435 would require data encryption by several state agencies.

The projected cost of $22.4M in the first year, then $8.7M every year thereafter, normally lays a bill to rest.

If an agency opposes a bill, it may inflate the projected cost.

However, this legislation was prompted, in part, by the legislative auditor’s recommendation that certain agencies encrypt personal information.

I suggested to the sponsor that he find out the costs incurred by the audited departments.

“The point of the bill is very important, but the fiscal note is daunting,” said a ranking member of my committee.

House Bill 435 may be revived.

A wise choice and Socialist Rosenberg

Two ancient history lessons today.

During the Cuban missile crisis, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, sent President Kennedy two messages. One was belligerent, the other was not.

Kennedy responded to the second.

The crisis was solved without shots (or missiles) being fired.

I met with an advocate this morning and attended a press conference on a related issue later in the day.

My advice to the advocate: respond to the rhetoric that was consistent with your goal. Don’t get flustered by the talk that was not.

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Legislation limiting the use of guns on college campuses will be debated on the House floor tomorrow.

Consequently, gun rights supporters were demonstrating in front of the State House today.

One yelled at me, “Socialist Rosenberg.”

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted of espionage in the 1950’s and executed.

Julius was a Communist. Most historians have concluded that Ethel was framed.

I am not now nor have I ever been related to Julius Rosenberg.

Legislative Company

Legislating loves company.

I will be testifying next to Attorney General Brian Frosh later this week.

The subject: authorizing his office to bring a law suit to prevent arbitrary or unconstitutional federal actions from harming Maryland residents.

Unlike his counterpart in Washington state, our AG cannot initiate a legal action regarding the travel ban or any future action improperly affecting such areas as our environment, schools, and civil liberties.

I know the issue, but Brian knows it better.

I contacted his office so that we could coordinate our testimony.

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I’ve asked that amendments be drafted to my two election bills that have public hearings tomorrow afternoon.

The lawyer drafting the amendments told me that she did not expect to get to them until tomorrow morning.

“That’s when I usually finish editing my written testimony,” I replied. “I’ve got company.”

Preparing for a Public Hearing, Preparing to do a Mitzvah

It helps to meet with the people affected by your bill before the public hearing.

That way, you can learn about their concerns and, if they’re reasonable, address them with an amendment.

That’s far better than their testifying against your bill before the committee.

The public hearing for two of my election law bills is next Tuesday.

I met today with an official from the State Board of Elections and with Del. Alonzo Washington, chair of the Election Law Subcommittee.

Amendments and another meeting with an affected party are in the works.

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Del. Cheryl Glenn, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, invited me to join her at the rostrum to celebrate Black History Month.

This is what I said.

On July 4, 1963, 283 people were arrested and charged with trespassing outside Gwynn Oak Park during a protest by those outraged over its refusal to admit African-Americans.

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Rabbi Morris Lieberman was one of the many clergy arrested at the protest.
Rabbi Abraham Shusterman shed tears at a 1966 City Council meeting when Cardinal Lawrence Shehan was jeered for supporting a fair housing bill.

Rabbi Shusterman said it was “not only tears of sadness, but tears of pride that I could follow Cardinal Shehan as a speaker and identify myself with his views and his great dignity.”

Rabbi Shusterman officiated at my Bar Mitzvah.