BJC Highlights General Assembly Priorities

Del. Shelly Hettleman and Sen. Bobby Zirkin spoke at the BJC event.

With the Maryland General Assembly convening this week for its 439th session, the Baltimore Jewish Council, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, held a legislative preview last week with two local lawmakers. The organization also highlighted the BJC’s legislative priorities for the 2019 90-day session, which began Wednesday and runs through April 8.

State Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-District 11) was on hand for the event, along with 11th District Del. Shelly Hettleman and Baltimore County Councilman Izzy Patoka (D-District 2). The BJC’s deputy director Sarah Mersky outlined the organization’s funding and policy priorities for this session.

Yehuda Neuberger, president of the BJC, said the community is “blessed to have many members of our community in the General Assembly,” including Zirkin, the Senate’s senior standing committee chair.

Zirkin said there were a surprising number of turnovers of chairs and vice chairs on Senate standing committees, including new chairs and vice chairs for Budget and Taxation; Education, Health and Environmental Affairs; and the Finance committee. He remains chair of Judicial Proceedings, where he said with a number of new committee members, it’s a wait-and-see proposition on how new members will vote on legislation.

Coming up this session, Zirkin said an analysis of the state’s Department of Juvenile Services may be in the works, similar to a 2015 analysis of the state’s criminal justice system that produced comprehensive legislation in 2016 called the Justice Reinvestment Act. The Pew Charitable Trusts helped with data analysis for that study.

“We are talking about, with the governor’s office as well as House leadership, bringing in another organization called the Council of State Governments to come in and do a data analysis of our DJS system and do that type of holistic approach,” Zirkin said. “Where we look at what’s working, what’s not working and shift to strategies that work. That bill is in the works. That’s going to be significant.”

Other legislation Zirkin said will be coming through Judicial Proceedings includes prison entry and re-entry services to try to reduce recidivism, medical marijuana policies, an update to cyberbullying laws, a proposal for a Johns Hopkins University campus police force and modifications to gun laws to keep guns from volatile individuals.

How the Pikesville Armory will be re-purposed and Stevenson University’s take-over of the adjacent former Rosewood Hospital Center property are two local issues Zirkin said will be moving forward this session.

“That has been going on for some time,” Zirkin said of the Stevenson property expansion. “Most of the buildings are now down and they are going to be starting construction on ball fields and so forth fairly soon.”

Mersky described the BJC’s focus on budget and policy issues at the state level, as well as seeking federal dollars through Maryland’s federal delegation.

“What do you think a Jewish issue is?” Mersky asked attendees. “It can be something specific to our Jewish community, to world Jewry, but also issues because of our heritage, whether it’s immigration, whether it’s hate, all of those things come into how we make our policies.”

The BJC’s policy priorities for 2019 include helping seniors age in place, reducing elder abuse, continuing and expanding Holocaust education, expanding hate crimes laws and reducing impact on the environment.

Associated Agency Capital Budget priorities include funding for the Hillel Student Center at College Park and the Community Primary and Specialty Care Building at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. Operating budget priorities include funding for the LifeBridge Health Diabetes Medical Home Extender Program; SAFE Elder Abuse Program; Supportive Community Network: Empowering Older Adults to Thrive in Supportive Communities; Maryland Israel Development Center (MIDC) and Holocaust Survivor Aging-in-Place Funds.

Other funding priorities focus on the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program including security upgrades; textbooks and technology for nonpublic schools and preschools; security infrastructure upgrades and personnel for schools and childcare centers at risk of hate crimes; the BOOST Scholarship program and security for synagogues.

Hettleman said she was excited about the new Democratic leadership sworn in recently at the U.S. Congress and that Rep. Nancy Pelosi would continue as Speaker of the House.

“It’s going to be a good thing for this country and the community,” she said.

Likewise, she expects a lot of “new colleagues” in the General Assembly this session. She is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, on which she has served previously on the Education and Economic Development subcommittee.

Hettleman has been working with CHANA staff and its elder abuse program on legislation to create a statewide structure for elder advocates to work collaboratively on ideas to tackle the growing issue of elder abuse. One in 10 older adults is abused, according to research, Hettleman said.

“We’re learning about what’s happening in New York and there’s been legislation in Nevada and Wisconsin and hopefully we’ll be working with our attorney general’s office to create this framework,” she said.

Hettleman will also be working on legislation for better student education on debt in higher education, including at for-profit and career schools.

She plans to reintroduce legislation on rape kit testing.

“It’s a resource issue. We took care of the issue of making sure kits weren’t destroyed,” Hettleman said. “Now we want to make sure that we can make connections to get folks who are doing these crimes off the streets.”

Patoka will be representing Baltimore County in Annapolis as the council’s representative to the Maryland Association of Counties.

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