One of a series of weekly commentaries from Harford County state legislators regarding the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session.
With the recent inauguration of Gov. Larry Hogan for a second term, our hope and trust is that Maryland will continue to serve as a beacon of smart and effective government. In his inauguration speech, Hogan commented on the past four years of bipartisan cooperation and prosperity in Maryland. He urged Republicans and Democrats alike to continue moving our state forward.
Harford County legislators have prioritized the promotion of the governor’s call for bipartisan cooperation in addressing our county needs at the state level. Hogan’s call to “do the right thing and the politics will work itself out” has been the theme from the very start of this session. Collectively, Harford County legislators have introduced more than eight separate pieces of legislation that the majority of the Republican and Democratic members of the Harford County delegation intend to sponsor.
By working together across party lines we have been able to give all the citizens of Harford County the best results. Recognizing the issues impacting our constituents and addressing the issues in a bipartisan, effective and cooperative manner is the top priority of the Harford County legislators. Funding for our schools, infrastructure improvements for our overcrowded roads, protection of bay waters, protection of healthcare benefits, especially for young and retired citizens after recent events, and expanding small businesses: these are all prevalent Harford County issues that we as legislators seek to address.
While the principals of bipartisan cooperation at the state level are most definitely admirable, the practice is more challenging than one might expect. When addressing an issue such as school safety, conflicting opinions are often rooted in geography rather than political party. For example, both Baltimore City and Harford County share the goal of providing safe schools for our students. However, our evaluation of the cause of the issues, and solutions to those issues, differ greatly from theirs.
One example of our differing views is school policing. For more than 15 years, Harford County Public Schools has had a School Resource Officer (SRO) program in our schools. The SROs are a division of our Sheriff’s Office and are highly trained police officers, equipped to deal with everything from a traffic issue in the parking lot to confronting an armed intruder. Some SROs will occasionally be invited into classrooms to participate in class discussions and explain laws. The majority of our Harford citizens are strong supporters of the program and like myself, take great comfort in knowing SROs are watching over our schools.
Under current state law, Baltimore City School Police Officers must put their guns in a lock box or safe when they are inside a school. A proposed measure in the Maryland General Assembly would have allowed officers to carry their guns into school buildings. Having their weapons at hand is critical to confront armed intruders. However, the Baltimore City School Board voted unanimously against that measure.
Several of the opponents to the bill cited that students would not feel safer with armed police and they may even feel intimidated by their presence. I use this issue of school safety to illustrate the sharp contrast in opinions, customs and norms from one district to another. It is these philosophical and geographical differences, not our party affiliation, that result in legislative conflict and potential gridlock. “One size fits all” state wide legislation often causes issues at the local level.
In Annapolis, these geographical divides play out on a daily basis on a variety of issues impacting our citizens. While the broad issues may be similar across our state, effectiveness in resolving those issues often lies at the local level. Our goal as state representatives must be to promote local solutions with state-level oversight. This considers most effectively the issues specific to the county.
In Gov. Hogan’s inaugural speech, he stated, “We didn’t surrender our principles, we simply practiced the art of the possible, and we trusted Marylanders to appreciate the distinction.” As this legislative session moves into full swing, our Harford County delegation will continue to hold onto our common principles and work toward our mutual goal of serving the citizens of Harford County.