It's been a little over three weeks since the legislative session concluded; while the 2011 session was nothing to celebrate, today finds us able to celebrate a fine spring day and a 'new jobs report' issued today showing better-than-expected growth.
This week five cities and towns in the district held municipal elections. I want to congratulate all the officials who were newly elected. In Hyattsville, the new mayor is Marc Tartaro. Congratulations to new councilmembers Candace B. Hollingsworth and Shani Warner as well as Paula J. Perry, Timothy P. Hunt and Nicole Hinds-Mofor, who were were reelected. In University Park, two newcomers, James Gekas and Michael Cron were elected, joining councilmembers Len Carey and Tracey Toscano, who were reelected. In Edmonston, the new mayor is Bobby Kerns and newly elected councilmembers are Sophia Bee, Selita Bennett-White, and Margaret Pooley plus Tracy Farrish Gant was reelected.
In New Carrollton, Liza Fenton was elected to join the council, plus James Wildoner and June Garrett were reelected. Lastly, but certainly not least, I offer congratulations to Alejandro Silva and Jonathan Ebbeler who were elected in Riverdale Park. They will join Mayor Vernon Archer, and Councilmembers Alan Thompson, David Lingua, Chris Henry, and Raymond Rivas. I look forward to working with all of these leaders.
I want to thank Mayor Bill Gardiner and Mayor Adam Ortiz for their years of outstanding leadership and service.
EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Trust just announced that 9 cities and towns in Prince George's County were awarded Green Streets-Green Jobs grants and I am pleased to say that three from District 22 were among the recipients: University Park, Hyattsville, and Edmonston. These grants will jump-start green projects intended to protect the environment, create jobs, and build more sustainable communities. The grant money will be used for planning and design of green infrastructure initiatives such as green streets, rain gardens, green roofs, and permeable parking lots that reduce runoff in our streams and rivers which eventually flow into the Chesapeake Bay.
Here are a few upcoming fun community events in our district!
Greenbelt Green Man Festival - May 7th and 8th
Edmonston Day and Classic Car Show - Saturday, May 14th
Maryland is still feeling the Great Recession, and this downturn has dominated the 2011 legislative session in Annapolis. Almost the entire legislative session has revolved around trimming and balancing the budget, with virtually no willingness to seriously consider new, needed reforms.
During this difficult time, I've directed much of my effort to improving our community, offering solutions to our state's economic troubles, and addressing education. Now that the session has adjourned, I want to offer a brief update on some of these issues. As you'll see, the final results were mixed.
Close to Home: Local Concerns
I introduced--and steered to passage--legislation that provides protection to students enrolled in for-profit colleges. The legislation prohibits aggressive recruitment practices, gives the state greater oversight authority, and creates a fund to reimburse students in case a for-profit college defaults. The bill is considered one of the most far-reaching in the nation in addressing these deceptive practices.
The Budget and Taxes
An increase in the alcohol tax has restored most of the governor's proposed cuts in education, including lost funding for Prince George's County. The sales tax on alcohol will now increase from 6 to 9 percent, a boost expected to raise $88 million per year. The extra revenue will fund developmental disability services as well as education.
Unfortunately, the legislation didn't pass this year; neither did a "millionaire's tax." Our state's wealthiest can afford--and should be made--to pay more.
Despite strong behind the scenes efforts from me and other legislators, pension benefits have been cut for new state employees and teachers. Existing state employees and teachers will have to contribute more, and retiree health care costs will increase. I had pushed to minimize the adverse impact on pensions, and I'm extremely disappointed by the outcome. The budget should not be balanced on the backs of state employees and teachers at a time we have other revenue options--like combined reporting and the millionaire's tax. Click here to listen to my remarks, when the Senate debated these changes.
Energy and Environment
My legislation to fix Maryland's Net Metering law had better luck this session than the tax reforms I supported. Under our current Net Metering law, a utility must purchase the excess electricity if a home or business with solar panels generates more electricity than it uses. My newly passed legislation makes technical fixes to the law that make net metering more beneficial for homeowners and business--and helps reduce our reliance on fossil fuels while providing a greater incentive to utilize solar power.
I also cosponsored a bill with Governor O'Malley which would allow construction of wind turbines 11 miles off the coast of Ocean City. These wind turbines could produce clean energy that would power over 100,000 homes--and likely bring a large number of "green jobs" to Maryland. The legislation failed this year. We'll try again next session.
As in past years, I supported a bill to impose a five-cent fee on disposable bags at grocery stores throughout the state. I also sponsored back-up local legislation to enable the county council to implement such a program solely for our county. Both bills failed this year, but the Montgomery County Council recently passed a bill to impose a five cent fee on most disposable bags. The law in Montgomery County, which now joins D.C. (which already passed similar legislation), takes effect January 1. Next year we may have enough support to pass the law for the entire state.
Civil Rights and Anti-Discrimination
Hopes were high for passage of the Civil Marriage Protection Act after it passed the Senate earlier this year. But, sadly, the bill failed in the House of Delegates. If two people of the same sex wish to commit to each other, they and their children deserve to have the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. I have been a long time cosponsor of this legislation and will continue my support next year.
One final note worth a cheer at dinner tables: A bill I've cosponsored for a number of years, authorizing the direct shipment of wine to one's home, finally passed in this year's session. Cheers!
If you would like more information about any of these bills, click here or contact my office at 301-858-3155.
As we go to distribution, I just learned about the retirement of Gary Williams, the long-time Maryland Men's Basketball coach. Gary has done a great jobs for the Terps, not only in winning the National Championship, but in forging a program relying on team play and unselfishness. While there have been a couple of down years over his long run, he maintained a program with national prominence. Thank you Gary.
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