We've just completed the first three weeks of the twelve week legislative session. Most discussion still centers on the budget and the governor's initiatives.
An estimated 250 people came to Annapolis to join the district delegation (myself and Delegates Gaines, Healey and Ross) for warm words, good food, and inspiring song on Jan. 17.
All reports and feedback lauded the event -- and it was a star-studded event. Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown shared kind words with the group; Zabrina Epps lead us in our national anthem and "Lift Every Voice and Sing," special guest Glenn Ivey discussed recent violence in Tuscon, AZ and here at home in the county, giving a fitting tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, who was being honored; and the delegation members offered legislative updates. And all of this was accompanied by a buffet dinner from Three Brothers Restaurant in Bladensburg, one of the best business neighbors in the region. Thank you Mario and staff.
The State Highway Administration (SHA) has just begun safety and resurfacing work along Route 410 between Riggs Road and Queens Chapel Rd. Currently there are only occasional road closures, but there will be daily lane closures once the weather warms up. It is anticipated this project will be completed in October. The other SHA project in District 22 is the 201 bridge project in Greenbelt. This project should be completed this summer.
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?
The death penalty is an out-dated and discriminatory punishment. There is no reliable evidence that the death penalty deters crime any more than a life sentence without the chance of parole. And, despite Maryland's strict procedures in order to prevent executing innocent people, the risk can never be completely eliminated. Governor O'Malley has also expressed that he is against the death penalty. The removal of sodium thiopental from the pharmaceutical market, a drug used in lethal injections, has brought new attention to the issue; I'm hoping that it might serve as a catalyst in abolishing the death penalty. This Baltimore Sun editorial recently came to the same conclusion.
The state budget is dominating the legislation session once again this year. The budget shortfall may hit $1.8 billion due to decreased tax collection (both personal income and sales) and increased costs for Medicaid plus other mandated state services. The Governor's proposed budget includes cuts to health care and state local aid which significantly impacts county schools. State aid to counties is determined by a county's wealth. While personal income in Prince George's County has stayed steady, personal income in Montgomery County went down. As a result of this factor and others, Prince George's stands to lose $85 million in funding for our schools.
It's time for Maryland to grant marriage equality to same-sex couples. Five other states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to legally marry, and Maryland should be next. The right to marry is a civil right and legalizing same-sex marriage is a necessary step to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation. Same-sex couples and their children deserve the same legal rights as heterosexual couples and their children. If two people want to commit to each other, they should be able to. A Senate committee will take up the measure on Tuesday.
Banning Arsenic from Poultry Feed
Citizens who are victims of a violent crime in their home should not have to pay for the violence of others. Unfortunately, if a violent offender causes property damage to a victim, the Crime Injuries Compensation Board provides no more that $250 for clean up and property replacement. Clean up and property restoration can be expensive, and if a victim submits a claim to insurance, their property and casualty insurance rates can go up. Current law prohibits increasing insurance premiums for claims arising out of domestic violence. This bill would add the same prohibition for all victims of violent crime.
Prince George's Bag Bill
Paper and plastic grocery bags create a lot of trash and harm the health of animals and plant life in our Bay and rivers. Washington D.C. passed a 5-cent fee on plastic bags last year which has been very successful. The city generated less revenue than it had projected, meaning that more people than expected decided to make the switch to reusable bags. In fact, the city estimates that the use of paper or plastic grocery bags decreased by 80 percent. It's time that we follow suit in order to lower pollution and reduce wasteful and unnecessary production of disposable bags. This bill enables the county to pass a similar proposal here.
This legislation would help reduce the influence that big money has on the electoral process. Last year's decision by the Supreme Court gives corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts on political ads. Candidates for the Maryland General Assembly frequently rely on funds donated from private individuals, sometimes big contributions from special corporate interests. This legislation will provide a fund, through the state of Maryland, in which properly qualified candidates will receive money from the state if they forego private contributions and agree to spending limits.
Last year's federal health care law will go a long way towards improving our health care system, but serious flaws remain. While the new federal law increases health insurance coverage and prohibits denying coverage for a 'preexisting condition,' the United States still remains the only industrialized nation that does not have universal health care based on citizenship. This legislation creates the Maryland Health System, which will provide health care services to all residents of Maryland under a single payer system.
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Authorized by Citizens for Pinsky, Anna Frankle, Treasurer