When State Del. Pat Young, a Catonsville Democrat first elected in 2014, gets to Annapolis this legislative session, he’ll have more on his plate than last year because of his new role as Baltimore County delegation chair in the House of Delegates.
The position, previously held by state Del. Steve Lafferty, who represents the Towson area, means Young will lead weekly meetings of the 23-member House delegation, where members discuss legislation that affects Baltimore County. The legislators — both Democrats and Republicans — will also hear from county officials such as the county executive and the public schools superintendent.
One of the delegation’s first acts in 2019 was a “legislative town hall,” held Jan. 2, during which lawmakers heard public comments and fielded questions.
“It was an intimate space, and [people] felt connected to us,” Young said. “It kind of lowered the wall between elected officials and the folks that came with issues. Everyone got a chance to talk.”
Maryland’s 188 lawmakers go back to work Jan. 9 for their annual 90-day General Assembly session. Top issues include money for schools, legalizing sports betting and raising the minimum hourly wage in the state to $15.
In an interview before the new year, Young said one of his goals as delegation chair, and as a delegate returning to Annapolis, would be to increase transparency and connect residents to their lawmakers.
“We work best when we’re hearing from constituents,” Young said. He said he’s had people tell him they didn’t realize they were “allowed to” speak to local lawmakers. So he’s held sessions for different organizations and groups on how to best effectively communicate with local legislators.
“The one thing I can absolutely do and make a priority is increasing transparency, and more opportunity for folks to engage,” Young said.
Young and other local legislators are starting this year’s General Assembly session on Jan. 9 with a range of legislative goals, targeting both statewide and local issues.
Lansdowne High School
Community activists and others have for years advocated for the construction of a replacement school for Lansdowne High to address a number of facility issues, including foundation settlement, water damage and poor air circulation.
The Baltimore County Board of Eduction last May voted down a contract that would have brought significant renovations to Lansdowne High, at a cost of around $60 million. The hope at the time — and still today, for many — is that that money can instead be put toward a replacement school, which could cost north of $100 million.
Del. Eric Ebersole, a Catonsville Democrat and former teacher, said the Lansdowne community “deserves a new school.” Ebersole represents the legislative 12th District, which stretches from Columbia in Howard County to Arbutus, parts of Catonsville and Lansdowne.
Ebersole said he wants to work to “make sure that Lansdowne High School stays a priority when it comes to the funding that the state provides.”
Gov. Larry Hogan announced in mid-December a plan to fund $3.5 billion in school construction across the state, but details so far have been spare when it comes to which schools or jurisdictions will receive money.
Jessica Feldmark, a Columbia Democrat, said there are “critical school construction needs” in the legislative district and that working to secure funding for them “will certainly be a priority.” Feldmark could not be reached for comment on whether that would include Lansdowne, specifically.
Democrat Clarence Lam, of Columbia, is the newly elected state senator for District 12. He said he will “work to ensure that state funds for capital construction are increased so that new schools like Lansdowne High School can be built.”
Charles Sydnor III, also a Catonsville Democrat, said he wants to spend some time this legislative session exploring how opportunity zone legislation could be implemented in Maryland to benefit those designated communities.
Opportunity zones, a program administered by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, provide federal tax incentives for investing in “distressed communities.”
Hogan proposed a plan to spend $56.5 million to spur investment in opportunity zones in the state at a Jan. 3 appearance in Baltimore. The governor said his administration would be launching a website to serve as a “virtual meeting place” for investors and others interested in opportunity zones across the state.
Gov. Larry Hogan is proposing spending $56.5 million to support development and business creation in state "Opportunity Zones," through such initiatives as providing state tax credits, job training programs, small business loans and affordable housing.
The areas around the Security Square Mall in Woodlawn and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Arbutus are both designated opportunity zones. Sydnor said he thought other areas in his district (44B) “could have benefited from this designation … I believe we will want to leverage the program to benefit those communities within the district that are in needby supporting beneficial projects within the opportunity zones.” He said Woodlawn would be a good candidate for such a zone.
Terri Hill, a surgeon and Columbia Democrat, said she is “supporting ongoing legislative efforts to mitigate against the increasing frequency and costs of floods,” like those that devastated Ellicott City, Catonsville and Oella in June. Hill said she was not ready to speak on any specific projects, but that she’d support “state funding to help the counties [Baltimore and Howard] deal with problems when appropriate.” Those problems, she said, included the role of development and aging sewer system infrastructure.
Lam said he wants to work with the local community to find state support for a new project in the old Catonsville Elementary School building along Frederick Road. He said he welcomed conversations that would “figure out how best to restore it to potential public use.”
Health and safety
Last year, Ebersole had a bill get hung up in committee that would make it so truck drivers in Maryland receive training to identify signs of human trafficking. He plans to reintroduce it this year and said he’s not seen “any resistance” to the idea.
Lam, formerly a delegate from District 12, said he’s concerned about federal government efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act. He said he wants to take a close look at ways to bolster the act in Maryland, perhaps by reinstating an individual mandate to keep insurance premiums at lower costs.
Hill said she wanted to look at legislation that could strengthen Maryland’s ability to “contain” the cost of prescription drugs, improvei systems for following up on referral and treatment for Maryland students who indicate they need attention after vision or hearing screenings, and move the state to allow research into Ibogaine, a naturally occurring psychoactive substance, as “part of the solution to our addiction problem.”
Young said he’d like to look at ways to incentivize qualified candidates to take state jobs, like those at Spring Grove Hospital Center, an inpatient psychiatric facility.
“The benefits are not what they used to be, and [qualified candidates] are staying away from the positions,” Young said. “They’re hearing these horror stories of folks being assaulted [by patients], being underpaid, not getting the benefits they used to, so what's the incentive to be a state worker when they’re needed?”
He said he’d explore legislation that could provide loan forgiveness or tuition repayment for people who take state jobs as a way to incentivize qualified candidates.