GAITHERSBURG – The state’s District 17 delegation briefed the city mayor and council on bills that passed during the 2019 legislative session, such as 911 service reform legislation, as well as funding to help the city.
State Senator Cheryl Kagan (D-17) said she was happy with how the legislative session went.
Kagan said the state budget includes half the $2 million requested for a new Gaithersburg police station.
The legislature passed several bills sponsored by Kagan on which she has worked on for a few years.
“Sometimes it takes a while to educate your colleagues and to have the exact right wording,” Kagan said. “And also, there were new (committee) chairs, as I talked about, and vice chairs. Sometimes people see things differently.”
Two bills that passed and were sponsored by Kagan and related to public safety.
Kagan chaired a statewide 911 reform commission in the fall, which came up with suggestions to improve 911 service. A 911 reform bill passed during the 2019 legislative session. Kagan said she has been working on improving the service for the past five years.
“It is an actual issue and not a hypothetical (one), that people die when 911 fails,” Kagan said.
Also affecting public safety, under Kagan’s “Freedom to Serve” bill, U. S. residents who have served in the U. S. military may apply to join the police force, but they must apply for U. S. citizenship. This law will help the address the national issue of a shortage of police officers, Kagan said.
In terms of the environment, Del. Kumar Barve (D) said the legislature passed a bill to make fishing for oysters “completely off limits” in five of 51 oyster sanctuaries. The legislature overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto on the bill to pass it. Barve called prohibiting oyster fishing in the five sanctuaries “the right decision.”
“Oysters, in addition to being yummy, also filter the water of the Chesapeake Bay, and so it’s important to have a proper balance,” said Barve, who chairs the delegation’s Transportation and Environment Committee.
Barve said the late Maryland House speaker Michael E. Busch, who died April 7, had presented the oyster sanctuary bill.
“The biggest issue – one that was a great concern to the speaker and me – had to do with oysters. And one of the big fights in Annapolis is between watermen who want to remove more oysters from the (Chesapeake) Bay and conservationists and environmentalists who don’t,” Barve said.
The Maryland General Assembly also passed a bill to ban polystyrene foam throughout the state. Kagan sponsored the bill on the Senate side. Montgomery County and other counties in the state had previously banned use of the material.
The mayor told the delegation he was grateful for their work.
“We all feel that this was clearly a successful session for you guys,” Mayor Jud Ashman said to the delegation. “We feel like for the City of Gaithersburg we had our own agenda, and we felt like, with your help, we were very successful this year. This was a banner year for us in Annapolis, and we can’t thank you enough.”
Del. Julie Palakovich Carr (D) said this year was significant for education funding. The budget includes funding for Rosemont Elementary School and Diamond Elementary School.
Palakovich Carr is a freshman in the General Assembly and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. This is the first year that the General Assembly passed laws to begin to implement some suggestions offered by a group of legislators who reviewed education funding formulae, known as the “Kirwan Commission.”
Palakovich Carr supported education bill that passed called the “blueprint to Maryland’s Future.”
“It (the bill) includes $255 million for everything from implementing universal Pre-K for four-year-olds and low-income three-year-olds, (to) addressing communities where there’s concentrated poverty, and provides additional grant money to provide wraparound services in schools that are dealing with this kind of poverty,” Palakovich-Carr said.
Palakovich-Carr said several schools in her district as well as other in parts of the county will qualify for money to support areas she described as having “concentrated poverty.”
Del. James “Jim” Gilchrist (D) also provided an update to the mayor and council, on topics including efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The House of Delegates and the State Senate passed the Clean Energy Jobs Act, which increases the renewable portfolio standard, or goal, of the percentage of power coming from renewable energy sources to 50 percent by 2030. The Act also specifies the percentage of energy that must come from various renewable sources, such as solar and wind power.
The renewable portfolio standard originally was passed in 2004, Gilchrist said.
“It was an effort to gradually shift energy in the state to cleaner sources,” said Gilchrist of the renewable portfolio standard. “And so here we are 15 years later.”
The second most-recent goal or renewable portfolio standard was to reach 25 percent of energy in the county coming from renewable sources by the year 2020.
“Over the next 10 years, basically, (we will) continue this gradual process of less and less greenhouse gases being emitted,” Gilchrist said.
Kagan was a co-sponsor to the assisted suicide bill, which died in the Senate.
On education, Kagan said she wanted to restore power to the local board of education to control the school year calendar.
A couple of years ago, Hogan required the school year to begin after Labor Day and put a limit on how late in the year the last day of school could be. That influenced how county school systems made their school calendars.
“We believe in local control,” said Kagan on the school year calendar issue. “We elect our local school board.”
Hogan vetoed that bill, and then the legislature overruled the veto. Kagan said the issue “may end up on the ballot next year.”