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Vigliotti: Carroll County commissioners, legislators start 2020 with strong ideas, proposals

On Tuesday, Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners gathered to deliver State of the County addresses to the public, while last week, the Maryland Senate and General Assembly reconvened in Annapolis. As such, it is important to highlight the successes and endeavors of our county and state elected officials, as well as to touch on some of the challenges ahead for Carroll.

Because Carroll is heavily rural, her school systems are often disparaged as being backwoods, but Commissioner Eric Bouchat highlighted the caliber of our education system. He explained that the vast majority of schools — 92% — ranked as four or five out of five stars in 2019. Bouchat’s tour of Carroll’s schools is likewise to be recognized and applauded, as Bouchat takes seriously the elected official’s duty of seeking to be involved and to gain better understanding.

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One of the things Commissioner Dennis Frazier capably spoke about had to deal with environmental policies. There are genuine approaches which harm neither people nor nature, and do not rely on the politics of climate change or government force. Given Carroll’s closeness with the natural world (her agriculture and how much of her is undeveloped), it is important to consider these approaches — such as the electric vehicle charging stations Frazier identified.

On a related front, Commissioner Richard Weaver struck an important Reaganesque tone in his support of agriculture and his optimism about the future of technology. Carroll’s heritage and identity are drawn from the family farm, and Weaver noted that innovative technology — such as machines which do not rely on chemicals to remove weeds — will transform agriculture. He is right, because these new technologies will be a part of ensuring the survival of farming — and, by extension, Carroll’s identity and traditional culture.

As with education, Carroll is often wrongly dismissed as lagging economically because she is so rural, but Commissioner Ed Rothstein spoke well to the degree about which new businesses are finding a home here. Rothstein and the other commissioners have helped create a business-friendly environment, and they deserve credit for doing so. The task ahead will be determining limits of development — and Rothstein has rightly encouraged residents to be involved in Carroll’s rezoning process. Carroll countians should take advantage of that opportunity.

Two points addressed by Commissioner Stephen Wantz were also particularly resonant. The first concerns emergency services in Carroll — and how the county can help volunteer emergency services maintain their excellent quality as they experience difficulty in recruiting new members. The inclination toward a system which includes a private-public partnership, allowing for both paid and volunteer activity, may make the difference. Wantz is right to pursue solutions to a problem unfolding before it becomes a crisis.

Wantz also advocated against legalizing and taxing marijuana and sports gambling to pay for education proposals advanced by the Kirwin Commission. Wantz is completely correct in his skepticism. It would be a cyclical scheme, consisting of vocally promising students a future of possibility while quietly harboring the expectation they must eventually use marijuana and gamble in order to fund the education of the next generation. If we have to rely on vice to fund virtue, how can we make a genuine claim to respect or support any virtue? The bright future we claim should be possible for students has to be better than a lighter or a betting screen.

Meanwhile, in Annapolis this week, Sen. Justin Ready unveiled legislation he is cosponsoring with Sen. Michael Hough to strengthen Second Amendment rights of Marylanders. Effectively, Maryland law at present requires a “good and substantial” reason to conceal-carry, and personal protection and self-defense are not viewed as such.

The proposed bill would ensure these were good and substantial reasons. Ready elaborated to me that, “It would put Maryland concealed carry laws in the same posture as most other states. That posture is — the state ‘shall issue’ a permit unless it can show why the person shouldn’t have one (like a criminal record, mental illness, etc.).” Ready and Hough deserve tremendous credit for their defense of Constitutional rights.

At the same time, delegates Haven Shoemaker, Susan Krebs, and April Rose have all signed on as cosponsors to Del. Neil Parrott’s voter identification bill. The legislation would require proof of identification when voting; and for those unable to afford a government-issued ID, the ID would be provided free of charge. All three delegates are due credit for backing the effort.

In the midst of concerns about elections and the voting process, such legislation is, as Shoemaker aptly describes it, “commonsense.” As he explained to me, “We have to show an ID for everything … to board a plane, get on a ship; heck, folks even have to show ID to come into our offices in Annapolis. Why wouldn’t we have to show ID for something as fundamental to our democracy as voting in an election? It would instill more confidence in the integrity of our elections, and it just makes good sense.”

We should be proud of successes made and endeavors sought by Carroll’s elected officials — and we must also be prepared for challenges of the future. The idyll of success does not find its roots in idleness, but in the American ethic of vigilance.

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