The Maryland General Assembly’s 2018 session will come to a close on April 9. Both local legislators and the Baltimore Jewish Council have their hands in bills and budget allocations that aim to have a direct impact on the safety of citizens and play a part in community building.
Here’s what to keep an eye on in the upcoming weeks.
At a BJC board meeting on March 14, Sarah Mersky, the BJC’s director of government relations, gave attendees an update on state funding that would impact the Jewish community.
According to Mersky, the Senate passed all of the funding the BJC requested for various agencies, programs and projects. Among that funding was $8.75 million for the BOOST scholarship, a program that provides tuition to private schools for low-income students, $2 million in security grant funding for schools vulnerable to hate crime attacks, and $1 million to construct a new Hillel on the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.
Each item is awaiting approval from the House of Delegates, whose budget committee hearings were scheduled for this week. Should the House vote to pass the funding to any of these items, but at a lesser amount, a conference committee will meet to negotiate the difference.
Bills From February’s Advocacy Day
Last month, the BJC-organized Advocacy Day saw community members lobbying for the passage of House Bills 246 and 328, which aim to expand the definitions of hate crime to include threats and not just actual incidents and domestic abuse to include the misuse of telephones and other forms of electronic communication, respectively.
After receiving unfavorable judiciary reports, each bill was withdrawn by the House. However, in an evening session on March 19, the Senate voted unanimously to pass the companion version of the former bill (Senate Bill 671), introduced by Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11). The latter will be heard on March 27.
Even though the Senate version of the bill expanding the definition of hate crimes has passed, Mersky said that Del. Joseph Vallario (D-District 23B), the House Judiciary Committee chair can still decide to not proceed with a House vote.
“We hope that with Chairman Zirkin’s support, as well as the unanimous support in the senate, that this important bill will make its way through the house judiciary committee and onto the house floor,” she said.
The Handgun Permit Review Board Appeal
Since 1972 it has been mandated in Maryland that anyone who wishes to carry a handgun may only do so after receiving a permit from the Maryland State Police. If one does not receive a permit, they have the right to appeal to the Handgun Permit Review Board, members of which are appointed by the governor. But recently, members of the Maryland General Assembly have raised concerns about this process.
“Over 40-plus years, it hasn’t been a problem, as far as the number of appeals and the number of State Police decisions that have been reversed,” said Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-District 41), who is the bill’s co-sponsor. “But those numbers over the last four years, with the appointments by Gov. Hogan, those numbers have increased dramatically.”
Rosenberg said that Sen. Richard Madaleno (D-District 18) first introduced legislation last summer to eliminate the review board, where there would always be political appointees. Instead, his bill proposes that the appeals would be heard by administrative law judges.
“If someone who is not entitled under the law to a handgun permit wants to change the conditions under which they’re eligible, change the law,” said Rosenberg. “But don’t do it by putting people on the review board who are not objective.”
The Creation of a Debt for Hatzalah of Baltimore
The Alvin S. Mintzes Hatzalah of Baltimore is a volunteer ambulance service consisting of eight paramedics and 22 EMTs that provides emergency medical services to citizens Northwest Baltimore. Hatzalah aims to have a three- to five-minute response time in its service area.
In order to maintain this efficiency, Del. Dana Stein (D-District 11) introduced a bill to create a debt not to exceed $125,000 to fund the building of a single-bay garage that allows for the stocking, maintenance and siting of a single Hatzalah ambulance. While this may seem like an item that could be included in the state’s budget, Stein says creating a debt in this manner is not uncommon.
“The difference is these are capital local projects. They have a life of 15 years or more, so to fund these the state issues bonds,” said Stein, adding that the bonds “are never for operating costs of an organization — salary or supplies or anything like that. It’s usually building-related activity.”
At the time of publication, Stein asserted that the General Assembly’s decision on this bill and other state issued bonds would be made this week.