Mental health, fiscal health and healthy communities were among the topics offered for consideration during last week's annual Legislative Luncheon hosted by the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce.
"Every year, for the past 10 years, we've had a structural deficit at the end of the fiscal year. That's changed," said state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer (District 12), chairman of the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee on the financial condition of the state government. "We have a surplus. There is no structural deficit."
The veteran senator, who has represented this area along with portions of Howard County since 1995, was one of eight elected representatives who addressed a small crowd of business owners and community members at the Knights of Columbus hall on Nov. 12. He and fellow state Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (District 44), a member of the General Assembly since 1995, were joined at the head table by 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk and five state delegates, all of whom had completed their first term in 2015.
Del. Eric Ebersole, one of three new representatives for District 12, credited Kasemeyer, Quirk and former Dels. James Malone and Steven DeBoy and Nathan-Pulliam for the state and county money for the construction of three new elementary school buildings and an addition for a fourth in the southwest area.
"What we, the new people, need to do now is learn from their leadership," he told the group.
Ebersole said the redrawing of school boundary lines resulting from the new, larger schools has been a "massive change," and he appreciated that the committee studying those boundary line changes "is paying attention to diversity."
Omar Jennings IV, chairman of the chamber's Legislative Committee, noted that this time a year ago, Ebersole and fellow Dels. Terri Hill and Clarence Lam were anticipating their first year representing District 12 that includes Arbutus, Catonsville, Lansdowne and part of Howard County, while Dels. Patrick Young and Charles Sydnor were about to represent a new District 44B, which includes Catonsville and Woodlawn.
Named to the House Judiciary Committee, Sydnor noted the issue of body cameras for police presents a number of issues. "One of the things we're struggling with is how to make body camera footage accessible to the public," he said. "I've had a number of people come to me to see if the Public Information Act can be modified to deal with body camera footage.
"It's one thing to require a paper document [to be released]. But it's another for footage that can be posted on YouTube and other social media," he said.
Lam, one of three first-time representatives for the district, which formerly had one delegate for its eastern Howard County component and two delegates for the Arbutus-Catonsville-Elkridge part, said one of his priorities for the session will be matching mass transit routes with where jobs are. Jobs are available, they're just not easy to get to, he said.
Job opportunities for those students who are not interested in college after graduating from high school is another priority, Lam said. He cited a bill that created a pilot program for apprentices as a possible solution. "We need to link these folks with the resources they need," he said.
Young said making similar connections for those with mental health issues is among his priorities for the session in Annapolis. He noted that the money saved by keeping those with mental health issues out of hospital emergency rooms should be directed to programs so those patients can receive the care they need.
Hill said she shared that concern. "We do not want a repeat of the mistakes we made in the '70s," she said, when too many people with mental health issues were released from hospitals into the community, but the money necessary for their treatment did not go with them.
Hill said she plans to continue work on a "death with dignity bill."
"I think we're going to have a strong piece of legislation this year that will likely be brought to a vote," she said.
She said she also wants to work on legislation so caregivers will be given the same information and directions as patients are after release from a hospital and on a bill so insurance can help pay for cost of care for those with dementia.
Health issues are also a priority for Nathan-Pulliam, who completed her first year in the Senate after 20 years in the House of Delegates.
She highlighted three bills among the 10 bills she has already drafted for consideration. Those bills would focus on: limiting the amount of antibiotics given to animals used for food; nitrous oxide emissions; and bees dying from pesticides.
While the other speakers discussed state legislation, the only question of the session was directed to Quirk regarding how the Baltimore County Council decided to gradually do away with a stormwater management fee that many derided as a "rain tax."
He said the $16 million the federal government had mandated Baltimore County and nine other Maryland jurisdictions pay to clean up the Chesapeake Bay will come from the county's general revenue.