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'An embarrassment’: Carroll delegates displeased with General Assembly’s last-minute passage of Kirwan, other bills

Hundreds of bills came up for vote in the final days of the 2020 General Assembly session, and some Carroll County delegates aren’t happy the Kirwan bill was pushed through in what they say should have been a time spent fighting the pandemic.

“We shouldn’t even be here, we should be taking care of our constituents," Del. Susan Krebs, R-5, said in a phone interview Wednesday while the final session was ongoing.

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The General Assembly on Tuesday night approved sweeping changes to education through a bill that came out of the recommendations set by the so-called Kirwan Commission. Krebs, who has long opposed the bill, said its supporters “jammed this thing through without any way to pay for it.”

The programs outlined in the legislation carry an eventual cost of nearly $4 billion per year at full implementation in 2030, which would be split between the state and local governments, The Baltimore Sun reported.

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Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-5, criticized the legislature for passing the Kirwan bill.

“At a time when folks at home are worried about their families and their finances, the legislature is sitting down here passing Kirwan, a $35 billion effort to back the Brinks truck up to the teachers union,” Shoemaker said via email Wednesday. “It is an absolutely shameful action to take when the economy is tanking all around us."

While the Centers for Disease Control and Gov. Larry Hogan have said gatherings should be limited to 50 people, Krebs said that didn’t stop approximately 160 people from congregating to vote on bills Wednesday. She questioned the priorities of her colleagues, saying there were bills in front of her this week — concerning waterfowl, the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and others — that seem “totally unnecessary” to pass during a pandemic.

She said debates over bills were cut short, the online streaming of the session had technical difficulties, hearings aren’t being held, and the public is not able to be as involved as is typical.

“Important stuff is not being prioritized," Krebs said.

She criticized an effort to amend the state Constitution to give lawmakers power to move money around in the budget. Currently, the governor sets the budget and lawmakers can make cuts to it. The amendment passed 95-39, The Baltimore Sun reported, and voters will decide by ballot in November.

“Why after 25 years is this all of a sudden getting jammed through when no one is around?" Krebs said. “It’s an embarrassment to be a part of this body right now.”

Once the session is over, Krebs plans to use the time she would have spent in Annapolis catching up with constituents.

“We’re trying to get answers to our constituents about all these different situations," Krebs said. “That’s what we should be doing right now.”

Many people have questions about what they can and can’t do during the pandemic, and how Hogan’s orders affect them, she said.

Like Krebs, Del Trent Kittleman, R-9A, said she wants to focus on communicating with constituents in the coming weeks. Kittleman has worked remotely since Friday out of concerns over coronavirus.

“I wanted to be on the floor and speak about the Kirwan bill," she said.

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While Kittleman said she was “impressed” by the initial work that went into creating the recommendations outlined in the Kirwan bill, she stood against the end product.

“Where do these people think the money is going to come from?” Kittleman said.

She praised the way Washington, D.C. turned its school system around with charter schools and vouchers, saying a similar structure could help Maryland.

“This legislature is so anti giving people choice," Kittleman said. “I am infuriated.”

While Del. April Rose, R-5, said she believes there are good policy items with Kirwan legislation, she wrote in an email Wednesday that “it is fiscally irresponsible to move forward with this plan at this time.”

Rose supports the college and career readiness and workforce initiatives within Kirwan, writing that there should be a focus on trades, computer science, and gaining work experience through apprenticeships.

“However we could do a lot in those arenas without spending billions of dollars,” she wrote. “Now our state is in a crisis and we have no idea what the financial impact is to date or what it will be when we finally get past this crisis. ... It does not need to be rushed under these circumstances.”

Some of Rose’s goals went unmet due to the shortened session. She had a bill to allow computer science to count toward a math credit for graduation, which passed the House but did not make it to the Senate, due to time constraints, Rose said.

After leaving Annapolis on Wednesday, Rose will return to her job as an IT recruiter for a small, veteran-owned defense contractor and help constituents navigate business challenges during the pandemic.

“Overall, it has been very frustrating and we are all happy to finish and get home to our loved ones,” Rose said.

After the General Assembly adjournment, Shoemaker plans to return to Hampstead, be with his family, and practice law.

“The best thing we can do," he said via email, “is to get out of town so that no more damage can be done to folks’ pocket books or their freedoms.”

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