Putting restraints on police electronic surveillance, a liquor license for a restaurant near a Frederick Road church, protecting honeybees, and money to fix the roof of a Catonsville horse barn are among the items on the to-do lists of the area's delegates and senators at the start of the Maryland legislature.
The 90-day session opens today against the backdrop of a possible $300 million deficit in the state's $42 billion budget, which could jeopardize funding for local projects, said Del. Pat Young, a Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
While statewide issues of transportation priorities, education reform, crime, punishment and the environment are expected to dominate the legislature again this year, lawmakers will also consider hundreds of local bills.
To wit: Young plans to file a bill that would provide funding for the Maryland Council for Special Equestrians Inc., to build an outdoor pavilion and a new roof for its barn. The nonprofit, which was founded in 1989, is hosted at the Patapsco Horse Center in Catonsville and provides therapeutic riding programs for disabled persons and veterans.
Built in 1996, the 18,000-square foot barn houses a 7,200-square foot arena, along with 22 horse stalls, three classrooms, offices and bathrooms, and is handicapped accessible. For the last five years, the nonprofit has been patching its roof, as needed, because estimates they previously got to replace the roof — $60,000 to $80,000 — were too expensive, according to Tina Wehland, program coordinator for MCSE.
The exact amount of funding needed is yet to be determined, as the nonprofit has yet to get updated estimates for the two projects, Wehland said.
"Raising that much money ourselves would be close to impossible," she said. "We're a nonprofit, we rely heavily on donations. What we raise through programming is for the care of the horses."
Young called the center "almost a hidden gem" in the area that does important work in the community.
Keeping in mind the needs of a legislator's district and the needs of the county and the state at the same time can be a balancing act, the representatives say.
"While we want to represent our own individual districts, we realize we are elected to state office to represent communities in the state legislatures," Del. Clarence Lam said. "Can it be a difficult decision? Yes, but when it comes to our Baltimore County community, I think there's consensus on things, such as economic development, education, use of resources and making sure the county has sufficient funding. That crosses geographic areas and communities."
Two legislative districts cover southwest Baltimore County. District 12, represented by Lam, Dels. Eric Ebersole and Terri Hill and Sen. Ed Kasemeyer includes Arbutus, Baltimore Highlands, Lansdowne and parts of Catonsville. District 44-B, represented by Young, Del. Charles Sydnor and Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, includes parts of Catonsville, Woodlawn and Paradise. They are all Democrats.
The county's needs
As in past years, transportation and education projects will be priorities for Baltimore County.
From an education standpoint, the county is requesting about $40 million in state funding for its 10-year, $1.3 billion Schools for our Future plan that would eliminate overcrowding and provide students with modernized, and air conditioned buildings by 2021. The state funds 35 percent of costs — about $455 million — while the county picks up the remainder.
The county typically averages about $30 million a year in funding from the state, but a higher amount is needed because projects have been forward funded — paid in advance — by the county, according to Yolanda Winkler, director of the county's government affairs office.
"That would offset that cost and pretty much reimburse what we've paid out already," she said.
For transportation, the county executive's wish list for state funding was outlined in an October letter to the state transportation secretary.
The requests included improvements along Frederick Road in the Paradise neighborhood of Catonsville that would cost an estimated $3 million, along with a renewed call for a rail or rapid bus transit link from Woodlawn to Lexington Market in Baltimore City, which can connect to existing Metro and Light Rail systems. The request was made after Gov. Larry Hogan rejected the proposed Red Line, a 14-mile light rail line connecting Woodlawn and East Baltimore, in 2015.
The county requested about $55 million to fund the projects, Winkler said. County spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said some projects, including streetscaping and sidewalks, could be completed within a year, while others, such as Beltway interchanges sought in the Sparrows Point area, could take longer.
Until a state funding formula was changed in 2011, the county would receive about $45 million a year for transportation projects. Since then, that figure has been about $4 million, Winkler said.
"That did not mean the county executive walked away from his obligation to continue making sure that the county has roads that people can use and pass on," Winkler said. "That just meant the buck went over to the county side in terms of making sure the roads that need to get resurfaced stay resurfaced."
Kobler said officials are optimistic that the county projects will be funded, despite Hogan's push to repeal what he called the "Road Kill Bill," controversial legislation from the last session requiring a change in how projects are prioritized.
Legislators have their say
All seven legislators representing southwest Baltimore County have local projects to champion.
Ebersole wants to look into state alcohol laws to see if Catonsville Gourmet can sell beer, wines and spirits. The restaurant, which opened in 2008, is close to Salem Lutheran Church and state law prohibits alcohol sales within 300 feet of churches.
With the rise of restaurants near Catonsville Gourmet, but beyond the church buffer, Ebersole wants to expand alcohol sales to a very limited scope so the restaurant can sell it. The bill, which is still in the works, would permit alcohol sales in revitalization districts in Baltimore County, in an area zoned "Business Local Commercial Community Core" and be at least 100 feet from a church.
His bill would allow qualifying restaurants, including Catonsville Gourmet, to serve alcohol at tables but not at a bar or for carryout.
He started working on the bill last year, but time ran out in the session before it could become law, he said. The bill has support from the church and the restaurant.
"It wasn't a problem until they started competing with new guys who are a little farther away," he said. "It's not a major bill but I would really like to see if I can tackle it."
The Rev. David K. Asendorf, the church's senior pastor, has written a letter of support for the bill and said Catonsville Gourmet, along with other nearby establishments that serve alcohol, have been good neighbors.
"We want the businesses in Catonsville to thrive and be strong," he said. "It just seems like it would be a good thing."
Del. Charles Sydnor III, of District 44-B, has been tweaking a bill he introduced last year on cell-site simulators, devices that simulate a cellphone tower and can be used in police surveillance to listen in on calls and track locations. He wants state law to require that police obtain search warrants before they are used. The bill was given an unfavorable mark by the house's Judiciary Committee last year.
He also wants to establish a task force to look into different surveillance techniques and technologies law enforcement has access to, such as facial recognition software and Geofeedia, which has been used by authorities to track social media.
Baltimore County Police spokeswoman Elise Armacost said, in an email, that cell-site simulators are used by the department when there is a valid law enforcement need and with a court order. Data from cell-site simulators is not stored, she said.
"We do not discuss policies and procedures for cell-site simulator use because doing so defeats their public safety purpose," she said.
Lam, a physician, has concerns with a threatened federal repeal of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which covers more than 300,000 Marylanders.
Any cuts to Medicaid, the federal program that gives low-income Americans access to care, would cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars to retain the coverage for Marylanders.
"That's just not something the state budget can withstand at this point," he said.
Lam and Ebersole have concerns about fracking in the state, saying resources in their district could be impacted. The state has a moratorium on fracking — the process of injecting high pressure liquid into rocks to to extract oil or gas — which expires in October.
Those who experience health issues as a result of contaminated water from fracking might put a greater strain on Baltimore County-area health systems, Lam said.
Hill, a physician who has co-sponsored Death with Dignity legislation in the past, is working with the state Attorney General's office to come up with an end-of-life planning brochure.
"We do a much better job planning for our kids' education, we plan for our retirement, we plan for how many houses we want to have," she said. "But we don't plan for our deaths."
Josh Hoffman, chief of staff for Nathan-Pulliam, said the senator's priorities include an addition to her pollinator protection act which passed last year, to restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to commercial users. He said residential users are using more than necessary, and as a result, bee populations have been jeopardized.
There was opposition to the bill last year, Hoffman said, because the Environmental Protection Agency is studying the pesticides and findings aren't expected until 2019.
"Maryland did not wait for that, fortunately, and is now a leader in the country with regard to trying to make policies that will address this problem with the honeybees," he said.
Multiple attempts to reach Kasemeyer were unsuccessful.
Southwest county's delegation
Sen. Ed Kasemeyer
Member from 1987-1991, since 1995
• Chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee, member of the Joint Committee on Investigation, Special Joint Committee on Pensions, Legislative Policy Committee, Executive Nominations Committee, Rules Committee, Spending Affordability Committee, Joint Oversight Committee on the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange,
• 410-841-3653, Annapolis office
• 410-242-5699, Arbutus office
Del. Eric Ebersole
Member since 2015
• Member of Ways and Means Committee, Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families
Del. Terri Hill
Member since 2015
• Member of Health and Government Operations Committee, Death With Dignity Work Group, Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, Women Legislators of Maryland, Associate member, Maryland Legislative Latino Caucus
Del. Clarence Lam
Member since 2015
• Member of the Environment and Transportation Committee, Maryland Legislative Asian-American and Pacific-Islander Caucus
Sen. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam
Member since 2015
• Member of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families, Death with Dignity Work Group, Joint Committee on the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Critical Area
• firstname.lastname@example.org. md.us
Del. Charles E. Sydnor III
Member since 2015
• Member of the Judiciary Committee, Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland
The Morning Sun
Del. Pat Young
Member since 2015
• Member of the Appropriations Committee, Regional Revitalization Work Group, Special Joint Committee on Pensions, House Vice Chair of the Maryland Veterans Caucus