Great food, an inspiring speaker, and good friends made for another wonderful District 22 Reception. Over 200 people attended the event held on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. A special thanks goes to Prince George's States Attorney Angela Alsobrooks, for giving a thoughtful reflection on Dr. King. Thanks also to Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, and County Executive Rushern Baker, for joining us. I'd also like to thank Three Brothers Restaurant on Kenilworth Ave for once again providing great food. If you came out this year, thanks for attending. If you did not make it out this year, we hope to see you at next year's event.
Opponents of reform, including tea party activists, have whipped up a frenzy opposing smart policies that protect our health and environment. I recorded a short video, available here, explaining why we can neither cede the political debate nor a forward-thinking environmental agenda. With a Democratic governor and a Democratic legislature, we can finally clean up the Chesapeake Bay and move Maryland forward.
Here's an update on my priorities for this year's legislative session.
Budget Deficit and Teacher Pensions
Once again this year, the state budget remains a major focus. The legislature must close a $1.4 billion deficit before adjourning in April. I've argued that we need to both protect our most vulnerable and raise additional revenue from those most able to afford to pay. The Governor has proposed reducing deductions for high income earners and an increase in the tax on gasoline. I will continue to push for the most progressive tax approaches that spare working families while asking more from our state's wealthiest citizens and corporations. If a gas tax increased is a approved, gas tax revenue should be targeted at mass transit projects and repairing existing roads and bridges, rather than continuing to build new roads.
For over 75 years, the state government has funded pensions for teachers and local workers. This year the Governor has proposed 'shifting' this obligation to our counties. While the state's pension liability may be a concern, this proposed 'solution' merely shifts the problem from the state to our counties. Where are counties going to get the money? Most likely by cutting education which will impact the quality of teaching in our state and eventually drive down property values. The losers? Our children and their education.
Is this the year Maryland will finally grant the right to marry to all Marylanders including same sex couples? I have long believed that marriage is a civil right and legislation legalizing same-sex marriage is needed to end state-sanctioned discrimination. Last year legislation to allow same sex couples to marry passed the Senate, but stalled in the House of Delegates. This year Governor O'Malley sponsored the bill and testified at house and senate hearings in favor of the bill.
Regulating Online Colleges
Every year thousand of Maryland students take college courses online. Online colleges based in Maryland (like UMUC) are regulated by the state. But what about courses offered by schools in other states? I introduced a bill that for the first time requires online colleges to register with the Maryland Higher Education Commission before enrolling Maryland students. The bill gives the state the authority to protect students by enforcing a refund policy for class withdrawal, sets up a fund to compensate students in case of college default, and grants the state authority to investigate and sanction colleges that violate the law.
Last year I sponsored legislation to control the growth of septic systems in the state. Septics pollute the bay when nitrogen leaches into the soil and eventually finds its way to the Chesapeake. They also promote sprawl which reaches into our rural and agricultural land, requiring costly investments in infrastructure like roads and electricity hookups. While last year's bill failed, I served on a taskforce charged with recommending a solution to this 'septic sprawl.' This year the Governor and I have introduced a bill building on the taskforce's work which redirects growth to existing populated areas. The legislation has the potential to finally make smart growth a reality.
I am also sponsoring legislation on renewable energy, health care for all, campaign financing, etc. You can read all of my legislation this year here.
There has been much discussion around the proposed rezoning of the Cafritz property along Route 1, north of East-West Highway. The proposed project would add housing and retail including a Whole Foods Market and bring new energy to the area. The adjoining towns were very involved in shaping the conversation and the conditions for supporting the rezoning. The 22nd district delegation appreciates these municipal efforts and supports their decision. Last week the Planning Board voted 4-0 to approve the plan and now it moves onto the District Council. You can read the letter submitted by the three district delegates and me here.
Last month, Greenbelt Community Solar celebrated the installation of solar panels on Greenbelt Baptist Church. Following the lead of University Park Solar, the Greenbelt group formed to improve the environment by producing clean energy while turning a profit. The Greenbelt group owns the panels and sells the electricity they produce to the church at a discount from the rate Pepco charges, saving the church money in the process.
This year I am sponsoring a Community Net Metering bill which will make it easier for groups like Greenbelt Solar and University Solar to form and invest in clean energy.
Are you or one of your children expecting to attend a Maryland college or university next year? Are you interested in financial assistance to help with tuition?
If you live in the 22nd district -- the communities of Berwyn Heights, Edmonton, Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Lanham, Lewisdale, New Carrollton, Riverdale, Riverdale Park, or University Park -- you can apply to my scholarship committee for a Senatorial Scholarship.
These scholarships usually range from $500 to 2,000 for each of four years. If you'd like an application, please either call my Annapolis office at 301-858-3155 or visit my website at www.senatorpinsky.org and download instructions and an application or check with your school's guidance office. Applications are be due by April 5, 2012.
My scholarship committee, made up entirely of citizen volunteers from the 22nd legislative district, will be selecting the scholarship winners.
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