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News Maryland Baltimore County Towson

Candidates for 42nd District state Senate seat joust on school issues

Public education — the new hybrid school board, school safety and overcrowding — dominated discussions among the three candidates for the 42nd District's state Senate seat.

Just six weeks before the primary, incumbent Sen. Jim Brochin, a Democrat of Towson, Democrat Connie DeJuliis, of Glen Arm, who represented Dundalk in the House of Delegates for one term in the 1990s, and Republican Tim Robinson, a physician from Timonium, faced off at the Idlewylde Community Center. Brochin, who is seeking his fourth term, will face DeJuliis in the Democratic primary election June 24. The winner will face Robinson in the general election Nov. 4.

All three candidates told the audience of about 25 that they believe these issues were better handled by county officials, but promised their support.

"We have the power to lobby the people making decisions," Brochin said when asked how to reduce class sizes.

At the May 7 forum, the candidates answered five questions related to: how to reduce crime; the state senator's role in elections and appointments for the new hybrid school board; how to reduce school overcrowding; the state's role in enacting the Affordable Care Act; and school safety. Questions were formulated by Idlewylde Community Association members and focused on county issues for which state legislation is mandated, according to Tom Lattanzi of the association.

Brochin, who co-sponsored legislation in the 2014 General Assembly creating the county's hybrid school board, called the new panel "a win for Baltimore County." He said the board will provide a system of checks and balances for parents.

"Politicians should not be picking school board members," he said. Both DeJuliis and Robinson said they didn't believe they should have a role in election of new members to the hybrid school board. Seven of the 12 members will be elected, with the first to be selected in November 2015.

DeJuliis said with political input "you create a situation with undue influence."

"There's not going to be a lot we're going to be able to do," said Robinson, the parent of three Dulaney High graduates and one current student. "It's not our position to pick the winners and losers."

The candidates said their role in school overcrowding is limited to voting for a budget that includes school construction funds.

School overcrowding is a "tough issue," Robinson said. "I understand they are your concerns. They are my concerns, too."

Brochin said he has "spent a lot of time lobbying and working with Dr. Dance and the school board."

He said funding has increased to cover school renovation as well as construction of the new schools in West Towson and Mays Chapel. Brochin said he invited Comptroller Peter Franchot to visit Stoneleigh Elementary when renovations were under consideration.

"There are things a senator can do," Brochin said.

DeJuliis outlined new school construction and renovations since 2010 and noted that the student population is expected to rise another 9,300 in the next 10 years. She criticized Brochin's votes during the 2012 General Assembly's first special session. She said he voted May 15 in favor of Senate Bill 1301, an allocations bill. But she said that the following day Brochin voted against the revenue bill which DeJuliis said resulted in reduced funding for education and public safety.

Brochin disputed DeJuliis' claims after the forum. He said the special session was called to replace a "Doomsday Budget" passed during the regular session when the legislature got bogged down in debate over gambling issues.

Brochin said he supported the new budget in his vote for SB 1301, but voted against SB1302 — but not as DeJuliis claimed, to reduce funding.

"It was a tax bill," he said. He said he opposed it because it would have raised taxes, placing anyone making $100,000 or more in the highest tax bracket. "Sen. [Robert] Zirkin and other Democrats voted with me as well," he said.

Brochin said he always votes in favor of the budget. "Every single year in 12 years, I have supported the budget," he said.

When asked about school safety in light of recent school violence nationwide, the three candidates praised efforts by county police and school officials —  from intercoms to resource officers in middle and high schools — to keep schoolchildren safe.

DeJuliis said she backs funding for safe schools. "A vote against funding is a vote against safe schools and that is a vote I would not make," she said.

"What people have done already, they've done a good job of protecting our children," Robinson said.

But Robinson cautioned that new measures could be counterproductive. "We already have a good system," he said.

Brochin said the county is "two-thirds of the way there" and, in light of the 2013 shootings in Newtown, Conn., advocated adding resource officers to the elementary schools.

All three candidates were highly critical of the state's health care exchange.

"Maryland is behind the eight ball," Brochin said, criticizing the state's roll-out of its health care exchange website. An insurance broker himself, he said he's seen both sides of the issue. Although he praise the opportunity get poor people insured, he assailed "the staggering money" spent on the flawed exchange: "$150 million on the exchange and it doesn't work," he said.

Brochin said he wants answers. "This was a huge mistake. There was huge mismanagement. We need to find out who was responsible," he said.

Robinson expressed concern of the Affordable Care Act's effect on health care. A study of Oregon's 2008 expansion of Medicaid showed that, contrary to predicted results, visits to emergency rooms increased. "There are a lot of things that are going to happen as we go forward with the Affordable Care Act," he said.

Robinson said health care issues are part of why he decided to run. "It only makes sense to have someone who understands health care from the inside," he said.

DeJuliis called for "transparency" in the health care system and noted one positive aspect of the ACA, the elimination of a "gender rating" which made health care costs different for men and women.  

"Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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