Towson-area legislators will be tackling issues both fresh and familiar during the 2013 General Assembly session, which begins on Wednesday, Jan. 9, in Annapolis.
Chief among them will be the issue of adopting the model of a "hybrid" school board, made up of both appointed and elected board members, a cause Towson's legislators have championed for years. Under the current system, all Baltimore County school board members are appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
But after last year's edition of the divisive bill made it to the Senate and House floors just before session's end only to not be called for a vote, state Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat, thinks a compromise is possible this year.
"I think there's more momentum (than last year) on two fronts," said Brochin, who represents District 42, which includes Towson and Timonium.
Brochin saw the decision by House of Delegates Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Sheila Hixson to release the bill from committee a positive for proponents of school board reform.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz vigorously opposed the bill and the committee rule is to hold any bill that the county delegation and county government disagree on.
A Senate version of the bill, which would make six school board members elected with five appointed by the governor, passed a full Senate vote last year.
But Brochin takes more encouragement from the public stance of new Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance. In past years, Kamenetz cited the will of the school board and former Superintendent Joe Hairston as the main reason for his opposition.
"The school superintendent (Dance) has been very vocal to me, personally," Brochin said. "He just said, 'I don't care: I'll work with any school board.' The fact that the superintendent has been that way about it … I think gives our side impetus."
Added Democrat Del. Steve Lafferty, who also represents the 42nd District, "Dr. Dance has indicated that the form of the school board is much less important to him. He, of course, wants to continue working with the members who brought him on, but he doesn't necessarily object to an elected board. That creates a different posture as well as we move into committees."
Lafferty, who is also a proponent of the bill, said he believes the compromise reached on the hybrid board of elected and appointed members will make the process smoother this time around.
"The Senate and the House last year — we had a lot of back and forth," Lafferty said. "That put it very late in session. By coming to an agreement on what the bill should look like … if we run into obstacles, we have more time to work it out."
Likewise, Del. Susan Aumann, a Republican representing the 42nd District, supports the hybrid board and believes adding elected representation to the school board will serve Baltimore County's constituents well.
Additionally, Aumann has pre-filed a bill aimed at formally recognizing Maryland's German influence with a day of celebration and another aimed at paving over some cracks in a program that gives county property tax credits to Baltimore County's veterans.
The credit is not always applied, Aumann said, and the bill will standardize the process of giving the veterans the credits they earned.
Del. Bill Frank, Aumann's Republican peer in the Towson-area delegation, said he and his colleagues will aim to "fight the one-party monopoly" held by the Democrats, most notably on the proposed increase in the gas tax.
"After $2.4 billion in new taxes under this governor, they still want more," Frank said.
Additioinally, Frank is working on a proposal to phase out the taxation of military pensions in Maryland.
"We have a lot of retired military personnel in our state, and we tax their retirement income," Frank said. "Many other states do not, including Virginia, Florida, and South Carolina, and we're losing some really good people to these states because of our uncompetitive posture when it comes to military retirement income."
Both Brochin and Lafferty also have a handful of other bills they hope will pass in Annapolis. Brochin, a vocal opponent of speed cameras, said he planned to amend the bill "so government stops preying on people."
Brochin said his bill would require time stamps on accompanying photos to be measured to the thousandth of a second, and ban local jurisdictions from incentivizing the number of tickets contractors give.
Brochin also hopes to remove a burden from area consignment shops by not requiring them to follow the same accounting procedure as pawn shops for precious metals. He also would like to remove senators and delegates from the process of giving legislative scholarships, and he plans to continue his long-standing fight against jurisdictions seizing homes for unpaid water bills.
In a year where gun violence has brought renewed attention to gun control laws, Lafferty said he requested a bill be drafted that imposes stiffer penalties on people who leave guns where children can access them.
Additionally, Lafferty hopes to introduce measures to foster the growth of the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.
"One of the best ways is to have more oyster shells," he said. "I have a bill that's going to give tax credit to those who want to, can or will participate in the recycling of oyster shells."