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Harford County Del. Lauren Arikan will start her second year in the Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday with multiple lessons from her first session in her mind — one key lesson is, to not eat a late lunch.

“Take your break when you’re supposed to and go eat, because you’re going to be hungry later,” said Arikan, who noted the Maryland Senate’s cafe closes at 2 p.m. and the House of Delegates does not have its own cafeteria.

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“If you don’t eat you’re going to be really cranky,” she added.

Arikan is a Republican who represents Maryland’s Legislative District 7 covering western Harford and eastern Baltimore County. She will be among 11 senators and delegates who represent Harford County, as well as her legislative colleagues from all over Maryland who will be in Annapolis Wednesday afternoon for the start of the 2020 General Assembly session.

While Democrats hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature, Arikan noted legislators of that party do not agree with each other on everything. There also is more cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in Annapolis than the public might expect, considering deep partisan divides happening on the national level in recent years.

“There are still things that, even in this era, many of us agree on,” she said. “It’s nice to see and I wish the citizens could see that — it might make it easier to communicate with each other.”

The session will commence with new leaders in the House and Senate. Democratic Del. Adrienne Jones, of Baltimore County, was elected as speaker of the House last May after long-serving Speaker Michael Busch died in April, one day before the 2019 session ended.

Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore City, has been named Senate president, succeeding outgoing President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Miller, who has led the Maryland Senate since 1987, announced in October that he will step down as he undergoes treatment for cancer.

“My colleagues and I have spent considerable time since the 2019 session meeting with the new leadership teams in the House, Senate, and the Governor’s office in an effort to build effective relationships that will serve Harford County’s interests,” Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Republican who represents central and southern Harford in District 34, wrote in an email.

The Harford delegation also starts the session with a new member in their ranks, Republican Mike Griffith. He was named by Gov. Larry Hogan in late December to succeed former Del. Andrew Cassilly after the governor hired Cassilly as his senior adviser.

Griffith will represent Subdistrict 35B, which covers northeastern Harford and western Cecil County, along with fellow Republican Del. Teresa Reilly. Cassilly had been vice chair of Harford’s House delegation; the delegation is expected to select this year’s chair and vice chair during its weekly meeting Thursday morning.

“It will be a loss not to have Andrew [Cassilly] there,” Arikan said. “He was a good vice chair and he was a good delegate, but I’m sure he’ll be having a lot of fun in the governor’s office.”

Del. Susan McComas, a Republican who represents Bel Air and the surrounding communities in Subdistrict 34B, described Griffith as “a good listener” who has talked with many people as he prepares for his new role.

“I think he’ll do well,” McComas said.

Priorities for 2020

Robert Cassilly said he and his colleagues hope that “our work will reap dividends” this year as legislators consider issues such as finding ways to fund significant increases in public education funding, as recommended by the Kirwan Commission, as well as reducing violent crime in Baltimore, improving the Chesapeake Bay’s water quality, gun legislation, plus handling any “fallout” from the increase in Maryland’s minimum wage that took effect Jan. 1.

“With so many important matters on the line, I look forward to hearing from constituents with their priorities and input,” Cassilly stated.

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Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga, who also represents District 7, said she will work with Cassilly to introduce legislation that would require builders of new power lines to use existing infrastructure rather than build new facilities for their transmission lines.

The bill comes in response to the Transource initiative to build new power lines and infrastructure between southern York County, Pennsylvania and northern Harford County — the new lines would terminate in Norrisville, an area that is part of Szeliga’s district. She and her colleagues in the district have been working with the community and local government leaders opposed to the project since it was announced in the summer of 2017.

The Harford County Council unanimously approved in November a settlement that requires Transource to place its lines within BGE’s existing rights of way in northern Harford.

“Other communities should not have to fight as hard as ours did to protect Harford County,” Szeliga stated in an email.

Szeliga, the House minority whip, also plans to introduce legislation regarding local law enforcement’s cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on handling “criminal illegal immigrants.” The Harford County Sheriff’s Office entered into an agreement with ICE in the fall of 2016, through the federal 287(g) program, where corrections deputies would be trained by ICE and then work under agents’ supervision to identify people brought to the county jail on other criminal charges, to determine if they are in the U.S. illegally and if they qualify for removal.

“Harford County Sherriff Jeff Gahler is a great example of how well cooperation with ICE works for community safety," Szeliga stated. "I will protect Harford County’s relationship with ICE and reintroduce legislation to ensure that other jurisdictions do not release violent criminals who are wanted by ICE.”

Arikan did not put in any bills her freshman year, as she was working to “get the lay of the land” in the General Assembly, but she has several planned for introduction this year.

One bill would expand take a program in Anne Arundel and Harford counties, in which service dogs can be in courtrooms to help children get comfortable when giving testimony, and expand it statewide.

Another would require operators of day care centers, who are classified as mandatory reporters when cases of child abuse or neglect is suspected, to also notify parents when an incident of abuse has happened at their facility.

Arikan cited a case in which a student at a day care center was molested on-site by an older child, but the parents of other students were not notified. Arikan said she thinks it is “unacceptable” that parents do not have to be notified under current state law, especially when notification could help families get access to post-incident treatment for their children, or it could help law enforcement identify witnesses and other victims.

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“It seems like a no-brainer,” she said.

Mandated reporters of child abuse include health care providers, educators, human services workers and police, according to the Maryland Department of Human Services website. Those reporters must contact law enforcement or social services officials as soon as they suspect a child in their care has been abused or neglected.

McComas said she plans to introduce legislation which would require licensing boards for doctors, teachers and other professionals who work with children to establish training procedures specific to each profession, to first alert them that they are mandatory reporters and then provide training on how to spot signs of child abuse and report it.

“I think there’s just kind of a dearth in training [mandatory reporters],” she said.

McComas expressed concern about a legislative push for more and stronger gun laws, as well as the Kirwan Commission’s school funding recommendations.

“I think we have very strong, laws but you can’t prevent people from getting guns,” said McComas. “I think we have enough laws on the books. It’s just a matter of enforcing the laws.”

McComas noted the Harford delegation plans to introduce legislation allowing parishioners to carry firearms while in a house of worship to protect the congregation from a mass shooter. The bill has been introduced in past sessions but not passed, but the delegation plans to try again, especially after the head of the security team for a church in Texas shot and killed a man who opened fire during a service of Dec. 29, killing two members of the congregation.

“Harford County really values the Second Amendment," said McComas, who plans to work on other bills to protect public safety, with initiatives related to addressing shortages of police officers, sentencing and educating people about working with children and adults who have been through Adverse Childhood Experiences, or traumas that affect their behavior later in life.

The legislature is tasked with developing funding formulas to implement spending increases recommended by the Kirwan Commission. McComas said it will be “a strain on the counties” if local governments have to increase their portions of school funding. There are questions as to whether funding should come through increased property taxes or sales taxes.

“There is no appetite for putting more taxes on people,” McComas said.

The Aegis reached out to all members of the Harford delegation but did not hear back from all prior to going to press Tuesday evening.

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