Laurel legislators sought safeguards during General Assembly

Baltimore Sun Media Group

From a financial standpoint, the 90-day General Assembly session was a mixed bag for the city of Laurel.

According to Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, the city of Laurel didn't get much out of the just-completed session, but it didn't ask for much, either.

"For us, we really didn't request them to put in any legislation and we didn't request any capital money," he said.

Thanks to legislation passed, cities like Laurel won't have to repay tax money that was mistakenly disbursed to them by the state comptroller's office. In Laurel's case, that means about $360,000 the city is able to keep.

But, requests by municipalities like Laurel to restore highway user funds to their previous levels didn't get anywhere. The funds from the state, which are used to maintain local roads, dipped following the 2008 recession and have yet to return to those levels.

The state's Transportation Trust Fund provided about $946,000 to the city in fiscal 2007 but the disbursement for this year is only about $486,000.

"I'm sorry about that because it's money well-used," Moe said.

For a couple members of the District 21 delegation, the session provided an opportunity to create safeguards against what they feel are damaging measures taken by President Donald Trump's administration.

"I think the major result of the legislative session was to put into place protections and pushbacks on Trump's agenda," said state Sen. Jim Rosapepe, who represents Laurel.

Legislators set aside funding that was cut on the federal level for programs like Meals on Wheels and public television, he said.

Rosapepe introduced a bill that sought to re-establish protections against Internet service providers selling private information gleaned from users for profit. However, the bill did not make it out of committee.

"I presume that will come back next year because that [issue] is not going to go away," he said.

Maryland lawmakers were unable to pass any legislation to outlaw aggressive immigration enforcement.

Lawmakers representing Democratic, immigrant-rich communities had hoped to pass a bill they called the "Trust Act," which would have broadly prohibited the use of local or state government resources to help with immigration enforcement.

The House of Delegates passed a watered-down version of the bill, but the state Senate struggled to advance an even narrower bill that mainly clarified that local police can't ask about a person's immigration status if they're not under arrest.

That failure drew a strong rebuke from minority lawmakers, who alleged the leaders in the Senate didn't care about the needs of the state's immigrant community.

Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, who represents Laurel in District 21, singled out Baltimore County Sen. Bobby Zirkin, who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that considered the bill.

"Sen. Bobby Zirkin, shame on you!" Pena-Melnyk said during an afternoon press conference. "You are a DINO: Democrat in name only."

The Prince George's County Democrat continued: "I hope your district takes you out."

In an interview, Zirkin defended his committee's work on the bill that he put forward. The bill would have codified a Supreme Court ruling that prevents local police from asking about immigration status, and required written policies and training for officers.

"You do the best you can with the policy and the politics takes care of itself," Zirkin said.

The stripped-down, police-only bill failed to gain traction in the Senate, where some of the more liberal senators questioned if the bill did enough.

Zirkin responded that senators should consider the bill, even if it "may not be everything your heart desires."

Moe said his administration "did not take any position for or against the legislation. Our police department does not go out and do the job of the federal government [in terms of identifying illegal aliens]. But if someone breaks the law — no matter who they are — they are held accountable."

Gov. Larry Hogan said he was glad to see the bill flounder on the final day. "I think that's probably a good idea," he said of the bill not going forward. "I said I was going to veto it and the Senate president agreed with me."

Lawmakers and advocacy groups called a press conference to vow to keep fighting on the issue.

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez, a Montgomery County Democrat, said the united front of the state's Latino, Asian and black caucuses in favor of the Trust Act was "historic."

"We are Maryland and we deserve to be treated with respect and justice," she said.

—Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this story

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