This week, the Montgomery County Sentinel completes its survey of legislators who are setting their priorities as the legislature opens in Annapolis.
We asked each candidate three questions:
What are the priorities in the legislature this year?
What is tops on their private wish list of legislation?
Should taxes be raised?
State Sen. Jamie Raskin D (D-20)
For Raskin, bridging the divide between the Democratic legislature and Republican governor is the “key issue” so legislators can “make the proper investments in education, school construction, transportation, criminal justice reform and the public infrastructure,” he said.
Raskin said he plans on introducing legislation focused on gun control and curbing drunken driving.
His bills would “see that firearms are surrendered by convicted domestic abusers” and that “suspected terrorists cannot access firearms,” according to Raskin.
He also said he supports expanding the use “of the ignition interlock device to cover all convicted drunk drivers as well as other strong anti-drunk driving” initiatives.
As for taxes, Raskin said, “Let's hope none of them have to be raised!”
Del. Sheila Hixson D (D-20)
“We think the Voting Rights Act this year for ex-felons to vote,” said Hixson about the most important legislative issue this year. “We felt they have paid their dues to society and they have the right to vote.”
Hixson said she would like the Death With Dignity bill pass this session because it gives a person the right to determine whether they will want to be on artificial life support systems.
“I have a youth prevention suicide program,” Hixson said.
Students are talking to counselors right now, but the bill gives students someone to talk to.
“I’m pretty involved with the libraries in the state,” Hixson said.
She said this is a “money bill” that will give resources to libraries.
Del. Andrew Platt D (D-17)
“I think (the most important issue) is going to be education funding, making sure Governor Hogan doesn’t shortchange our schools and our students,” said Platt.
Platt said he wanted to pass a bill to increase pre-kindergarten access for students.
“(It’s) the bill to expand access to pre-kindergarten so we can get more 4-year-olds into the classroom and prepare them for school.”
He said he’s writing a bill to assist low-income families in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to apply for college financial aid. A third bill Platt advocated passing would ban the sale and distribution of gun silencers.
Platt said he opposes tax increases and he opposes tax breaks for the wealthy and for large companies.
“I don’t think we should raise any taxes this year, but I also don’t think we should be cutting taxes for big corporations and top earners,” said Platt.
Del. Benjamin Kramer D (D-19)
Kramer said the most important issue in the upcoming session is economic development.
He said there’s a rumor federal government will decrease in size. Several county residents work for the federal government and if those jobs disappear, residents may have to find jobs in the private sector, said Kramer.
“We’re still heavily dependent on the federal government, public sector for jobs,” said Kramer. “Now we’ll be more dependent on the private sector.”
Kramer said he wanted legislation involving the Ignition Interlock program to be passed.
Del. Marice Morales D (D-19)
“I would love to see pay equity passed in this session,” said Morales. “For too long women have been under-compensated for (working) the same jobs men are.”
“Maryland women make 78 cents to a man’s dollar,” said Morales.
Pay is less than that for African American or Latina women, Morales said.
Legislation for pay equity would have more than one function.
“It bolsters the power that courts have to say that there was a gender-based reasoning for why an individual woman was underpaid for that job,” said Morales.
Morales said she wanted to see her bill requiring sexual assault affirmative consent on all college campuses. The University of Maryland adopted affirmative consent last year.
“It would be my dream to see all college campuses adopt what University (of Maryland) at College Park is doing.”
People held liable or responsible for sexual assault would not be criminalized under the bill, said Morales.
Some college representatives who opposed Morales’ bill last year were under investigation by the Department of Education for Title 9 violations, according to Morales.
Morales also said she wanted to see the universal voting legislation introduced by Del. Luedtke and by Sen. Roger Manno.
She said she would like to see the Ignition Interlock bill passed.
“It forces you to breathe into your system into the car every day for a year. It’s going to change your behavior.”
Morales said she was not in a rush to increase taxes.
Del. Will Smith D (D-20)
The top three bills Smith said he would like to see introduced and passed this session are regarding gun control, prison reform and green energy.
Smith explained one bill would require people “convicted of domestic violence to surrender their firearms to a licensed gun distributor or the authorities within 48 hours of their conviction.”
A “justice reinvestment” bill, if enacted, “could reduce Maryland’s prison population by 3,930 inmates over the next 10 years, averting $247 million in corrections spending,” according to Smith. “Those savings would then be reinvested into programs and practices proven to protect public safety and reduce recidivism.”
“I’d have to say that Justice Reinvestment could prove to be the most important issue of the session,” said Smith. “Very few pieces of legislation have the potential to create substantive institutional change. If passed it could be the most important thing the Assembly does in a generation.”
Smith also said he supports a bill to require “a responsible approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by growing clean energy sources like wind and solar energy and relying less on landfill gas and black liquor.”
Smith said he would consider supporting tax cuts as part of an “effort to stimulate the success of our small businesses.” However, before backing tax cuts, Smith said he would want to ensure legislators are fully funding public schools and are “moving to make college tuition more affordable.”
Del. Eric Luedtke D (D-14)
The most important issue, “I think it’s going to be a debate over voting rights,” said Luedtke.
The Freedom to Vote Act will modernize Maryland voter registration law, Luedtke said. The presumption at the motor vehicle registration office would switch from opt-in voter registration to opt-out. In addition, felons who complete jail sentences would be eligible to vote as well.
He said he wanted to see a Health in Maryland initiative passed that would add a tax to the sale of tobacco. He said it would contribute to health in at least two ways: it would likely reduce the amount of tobacco people buy and a portion of the money gathered from the tax would be allocated to tobacco prevention to discourage juveniles from smoking. A portion would also go toward Medicaid expansion.
He and Sen. Madaleno are drafting a bill to add two early voting stations to Montgomery County. Only delegation representing the county would have to pay for it.
The delegation representing the county would be the only ones to vote on it, said Luedtke.
A local board of elections representative said the board wanted one additional early voting station.
Luedtke said he thought “there was universal support in the delegation” for it.
Luedtke said he would support tax cuts for smaller businesses. He said it’s too early to say how the tax cuts would be determined.
State Sen. Susan Lee D (D-16)
According to Lee’s chief of staff Michael Lore, the senator’s top priority this upcoming legislative session is her pay equity bill.
Lore explained the bill is similar to a law in California which shifts the burden on to the employer “to explain why they’re not paying equal rates to women that they pay to men.”
The bill also clarifies that there can be “no retribution” taken against employees for asking other employees about their salary information, said Lore.
Lore also highlighted Lee’s bills dealing with domestic violence and human trafficking as among her chief priorities this session.
He said a bill to take away the “malicious intent” requirement in stalking and harassment cases could also make it easier for prosecutors to argue related cases because it’s difficult for them to prove what the suspect thought at the time of any incidents.
Del. Ariana Kelly D (D-16)
Increasing economic security for families is at the top of Kelly’s priority list for 2016.
She described it as a “critically important” issue for legislators to address.
Kelly also included a paid family leave bill and “a number of pay equity bills” as issues she plans to support this session.
“All of these bills work together to increase economic security for families,” said Kelly.
State Sen. Cheryl Kagan D (D-17)
“The answer is always the budget,” Kagan said. “It’s the blueprint for our state’s priorities.”
She said she is working on a bill that will improve the capacity and effectiveness of the 9-1-1 system for the state.
Kagan said she is working on an impaired driving legislation that will allow police officers to test people for levels of cocaine, methamphetamines, prescription drugs and marijuana.
She said she is working on legislation that mandates any state government website must have languages are spoken by three percent by the population.
“The only language closest is Spanish” Kagan said.
She said she is unsure if taxes will need to be raised this year because she needs to look at the budget.
State Sen. Nancy King D (D-39)
King said she is focusing on education funding, ranging from capital improvement projects to offering relief for college tuition costs and even eliminating tolls for school buses traversing the Intercounty Connector.
She said she would like to change the funding formula in order to increase funding to the school system .
“This bill is formula driven, so the growing systems would get more money,” said King.
The senator also said she’s putting forth a bill in on behalf of the Montgomery County Council to eliminate the requirement for the County to advertise public hearings in newspapers, offering the alternative of posting them on the County website instead.
King said she does not think any taxes should be raised this year.
“None,” she said. “I don’t see any appetite (for raising taxes) among the members or the communities we represent.”
Del. Kathleen Dumais D (D-15)
Dumais said criminal justice reform is the most important issue this legislative session.
She said Maryland incarcerates too many people for non-violent and low-level drug-related crimes.
“Maryland does not have a custody statute that would help courts make decision in family law cases,” Dumais said.
She said she would like to see the Dram Shop Law passed because legislation that will decrease drunken driving and save lives is “worth having.”
“The criminal justice reforms recommended by the Justice Reinvestment Coordinating Council,” Dumais said.
The recommendations will reduce the prison population and could save the state money.
“I don’t really have a tax I’m looking to increase,” Dumais said.
Del. Ana Sol Gutiérrez D (D-18)
Education funding is issue No. 1 for Gutiérrez, who said the General Assembly is tasked with restoring “the damage done by the governor last year.”
She referred to the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which Democrats and Gov. Larry Hogan (R) grappled with fully funding last year.
Gutiérrez also cited “teacher needs” and student growth in Montgomery County as issues the legislature should address this session.
The delegate said implementing the recommendations from a law enforcement commission that came out this week in response to the Freddie Gray death case in Baltimore.
Her other two priorities include funding and expanding dual-language instruction in schools, saying English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) “is not doing the job we need to have” done, and funding infrastructure that protects the environment, including a focus on solar and wind power.
“I don’t think there should be any taxes raised,” said Gutiérrez.
Del. Anne Kaiser D (D-14)
“The most important issue every session is our budget,” Kaiser said. “It's not simply numbers, but a reflection of our values.”
She said investments need to be made in education, public safety, transportation and health care.
“In regards to education, I will focus on fully funding our nation-leading schools as we deal with issues such as increasing enrollment,” Kaiser said. “At the same time, we have to protect our crucial public services -- from women’s healthcare to after school meals -- to sheltering the least among us; these are the challenges we face, and the issues that will define us.”
She said she does not think there will be support for increased taxes this year.
“If anything, we need to look at tax reform that lessens the burden on middle class families -- with a revenue neutral approach -- that protects funding for our priorities, like education, colleges and universities, healthcare and public safety,” Kaiser said.
Del. Jim Gilchrist D (D-17)
“Certainly supporting education, transportation, the environment and healthcare,” Gilchrist said about the most important issue in the legislative session.
Gilchrist said he would like to see a “retention election,” for circuit court judges, that includes the judges’ names on the ballots and voters can choose either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
“In Maryland with Circuit Court judges, the judges are appointed, but still have to go through an election,” he said.
Gilchrist said he would like to see the Death with Dignity bill passed this legislative session.
The legislation will allow doctors to prescription to aid in the patient’s passing.
Gilchrist said he would support legislation that will not allow attorneys to act as their own real estate agents, but will allow them to if they are working on a legal case.
“At this point, I don’t know of any taxes that should be raised,” Gilchrist said.
He said the Fiscal Year 2015 budget closed with $295 million and the FY 2016 budget is estimated to close at $520 million.
Del. Kirill Reznik D (D-39)
“Maximizing all the money we need to get from the state to fund our schools (is important)” in the upcoming legislation, said Reznik.
Last year the County delegation approved a budget that funded more of MCPS’ needs, but Gov. Larry Hogan did not approve all of it, said Reznik.
Reznik said he is helping but not sponsoring a bill for universal voter registration.
Reznik said he didn’t think Hogan’s priority to cut taxes is realistic.
“(We have to) protect what we have so our social safety net is not gutted by tax cuts,” said Reznik.
Though The Montgomery County Sentinel tried repeatedly to reach out to all members of the Montgomery County delegation, the following representatives did not respond to our requests prior to deadline:
State Sen. Brian Feldman D (D-15)
State Sen. Richard Madaleno D (D-18)
Del. Craig Zucker D (D-14)
Del. C. William Frick D (D-16)
Del. Jeffrey Waldstreicher D (D-18)
Del. Charles Barkley D (D-39)