State Lawmakers On Their Priorities

Jewish Times

Maryland’s 2012 General Assembly opened in Annapolis last week, setting off the 90-day frenzy known as “the session.” The governor’s budget, the death penalty, same-sex marriage and more are expected to be hot-button issues. Area legislators also have other priorities, some of which are briefly described below.

Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11th)

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin has spent recent years working to improve the state’s juvenile justice system, which he says is far from perfect but now is heading in the right direction. He is turning his attention to domestic violence and divorce laws; last year he passed a bill making it easier for someone to file for divorce if one spouse would not do so.

He also is focusing on child custody laws. Currently, he says, in some areas it can take up to six months to gain such a hearing — which could lead to domestic violence.

“Our laws of separation and div-orce create enmity, which can lead to domestic violence,” he says. “If we could reform those, you would see a tremendous decline in domestic violence.”

Del. Jon Cardin (D-11th)

Del. Jon Cardin will be pushing the Health and Fitness Act of 2012, which offers monetary incentives for people to live healthier lifestyles and practice preventive medicine.

“That saves us money in the long-term and the short-term in areas such as smoking cessation, weight loss, fitness, senior health and more,” he says. “A lot of people might take advantage of it who are already doing these things, but all you need is a small group of people who aren’t to save the state millions and maybe tens of millions of dollars.”

For some legislators, he knows this will be a problem as it calls for an initial financial outlay, but he stresses this differs from President Obama’s mandatory health care plan in that it is voluntary.

“We believe if you just focus on seniors first you would save tens of millions of dollars and if you did it with children and obesity you could save hundreds of millions in a few years,” Cardin says.

Del. Dana Stein (D-11th)

Having served as co-chair of the Maryland General Assembly’s Task Force on Financial Literacy, Del. Dana Stein was involved with the statewide recommendations that included the development of a financial literacy curriculum for Maryland public schools. In this session, he wants to introduce a bill to monitor how the recommendations of the task force are being implemented.

That will include having the state look at new topics as they emerge — such as the recent college debt crisis by students. “What should the state be doing?” he says.

Second, he plans to introduce a renewable energy bill that would urge groups of homeowners, businesses and tenants to collaborate on working jointly to install solar panels. In turn, they would each receive the tax benefits of the installation.

For example, he cites a house of worship in which 100 congregants could put money toward adding solar panels to the synagogue and each of these 100 would receive a tax credit to their utility bill.

“We want to encourage people to be more creative with their ability to access solar power,” he says.

Del. Dan Morhaim (D-11th)

Del. Dr. Dan Morhaim, who was the lead sponsor on an electronic recycling bill when it passed six years ago, plans to introduce a bill this session to update the program.

This bill would include new items that have since entered the recycling stream, including high-definition TVs.

He also plans to continue his efforts to make it legal for physicians to prescribe medical marijuana in the state. It’s a bill that he has championed for the past few years and which he plans to reintroduce with some minor changes.

He adds, “My No. 1 priority is to work in a bipartisan manner to get things done.”

Sen. Lisa Gladden (D-41st)

“The time has come,” Sen. Lisa Gladden says of her bill to overturn Maryland’s death penalty and keep convicted murderers in jail for life without parole, which she and other advocates say makes sense from both an emotional and fiscal perspective.

“It’s right for a city like Baltimore that’s so rife with violence and crime,” she says. “It makes us compassionate, empathetic and less violent.

“It’s not such a long bill, but it takes all of my energy,” she adds. “I haven’t fallen in love with any other bill as that one.”

Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st)

Like his senatorial colleague, Del. Sandy Rosenberg will push to overturn the death penalty law.

He also will look to push an “Iran procurement bill,” meaning that companies who do business with the state must prove that they are not doing business with Iran. This would build on the Iran and Sudan divestment bills of the past few years, which called for divestment of the state pension portfolio from companies working with Iran’s energy sector.

Rosenberg also will work to make sure that any money that comes into the state through slots revenues goes back to the neighborhoods surrounding the Pimlico Race Course, which was called for in the original bill. He also is eyeing legislation permitting gambling table games, which he favors and which, unlike surrounding states, Maryland does not presently allow.

Sen. Jim Brochin (D-42nd)

Noting the increase in cyberbullying and its impact on society, Sen. Jim Brochin plans to introduce a bill that would make harassment over the Internet a misdemeanor.

“The Internet,” he says, “is an effective tool, but it can be abused and cause a lot of stress among individuals.”

In addition, Brochin also is focused on introducing a bill that would change the way redistricting occurs in the state. “Politicians shouldn’t be redrawing the districts,” he says. “Mapmakers should.”

He adds, “Redistricting is currently being manipulated by both parties and we are better than that.”

Del. Susan Aumann (D-42nd)

While Del. Susan Aumann did not return a call for this article by press time, she has sent out a press release saying she will co-sponsor legislation to charge a parent or guardian who does not tell authorities a child is missing or dead within 24 hours a felony — the so-called Caylee’s Law, which comes after the July verdict “acquitting Casey Anthony of the murder of her daughter, Caylee. Anthony reportedly waited 31 days to notify law enforcement that her 2-year-old daughter was missing.

Del. Bill Frank (D-42nd)

Del. Bill Frank says his top priority is to “defeat the governor’s ill-conceived and job-killing proposal to increase the state tax on gasoline by up to 15 cents per gallon.”

That’s because, he says, “Motorists already pay 23.5 cents a gallon, which should be sufficient to meet our transportation needs, if only the governor and General Assembly would stop raiding funds from the Transportation Trust Fund, which are intended for infrastructure improvements, including highways, roads and bridges, but the funds are continually raided.”

Other priorities include supporting a “comprehensive ethics package that will provide great transparency, acc-ountability and enforcement,” supporting streamlining business regulations, cutting taxes and reducing mandates on companies.

Del. Steve Lafferty (D-42nd)

Del. Steve Lafferty says that he will continue to pursue environmental land-use legislation, in particular pollution from septic systems. The bill would look into limiting the number of homes built on septic systems.

“It’s a difficult task,” he says. “How do you restrict development on septic systems but not prohibit development? I want to decrease pollution but not stop development.”

In addition, his interest in environmental issues extends to include the reintroduction of a bill similar to the one he introduced last year that would require recycling by large residences, such as apartments and condominiums, as well as retailers.

For information on the Maryland General Assembly and to track ongoing bills, visit mlis.state.md.us/.