Legislators and Lobbyists Assess 2018 Session

The BJC’s Howard Libit, Gov. Hogan, a Pope Francis cutout, Rabbi Ariel Sadwin of Agudath Israel of Maryland and the BJC’s Sarah Mersky celebrate sine die and BOOST funding in Annapolis. (Photo provided)

Last week, legislators celebrated the close of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2018 session, during which more than 3,000 bills were introduced, with about a third ultimately passing. Area Jewish lawmakers and lobbyists focused on issues such as drug-related crime, health care, hate crimes, sexual harassment, funding for low-income day school students, the Pikesville Armory and a new College Park Hillel.

The 11th District legislators, Sen. Bobby Zirkin and Dels. Dan Morhaim, Dana Stein and Shelly Hettleman helped secure funding for area projects, including $125,000 for a new ambulance for Hatzalah of Baltimore; $175,000 for New Town High School stadium; $250,000 for an environmental study at Pikesville Armory; $11 million over two years for Stevenson University expansion; $750,000 for Franklin and $30,000 for Randallstown high schools for infrastructure improvements; and $1.4 million for improvements to an intersection near the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center.

Six-term Del. Dan Morhaim celebrated his last sine die by donning a silvery lab coat that he only wears on special occasions. “As this sine die was my last year of 24 years and after my 139th lead-sponsored bill passed, it seemed like a good time,” Morhaim said.

Morhaim announced before the session started that this would be his last. This week he said, “It has been an honor to represent the people of the 11th District. It has been very humbling as well.”

“I’m not retiring, I’m just not running for re-election,” he said. “I will continue to be active in public policy issues and my passion about social change hasn’t eased up, I’m just going to find different ways to express it.”

Delegate and doctor Dan Morhaim celebrates sine die and his last session in his “space age” lab coat. (Photo provided)

As in past sessions, Morhaim’s priorities included cost-saving state procurement procedures.

“HB 1400 starts the process of having state, local governments and school systems buy health insurance for their employees in a coordinated manner,” he said in his end-of-session letter. “When fully implemented, it could save over $300 million per year and bring better coverage for employees.”

Del. Shelly Hettleman was celebrating the end of her first term representing the 11th, and gearing up for her primary campaign.

“I’ve loved it,” she said about her first four years in Annapolis. “I have spent a fair amount of time in Annapolis trying to address the concerns and real-life problems that people have and a lot of them have to do with economic issues.”

One of Hettleman’s focuses was on raising the state’s minimum wage, currently $9.25 an hour, to $15 by 2023. The bill didn’t pass, but she plans to reintroduce it if reelected. Her HB 1423, which passed, requires state agencies to provide sexual harassment training to state workers.

Zirkin went into the session with a focus on public safety and an omnibus crime bill supported by the governor. Between the House and Senate, provisions of the legislation ultimately passed in a package of bills.

“The Senate passed legislation that included record levels of funding for programs such as Safe Streets and the Witness Relocation Fund, held repeat violent offenders accountable for their criminal actions, and focused on issues such as witness intimidation, gun violence and gangs,” Zirkin said in his end-of-session letter. “From that legislation emanated a number of other proposals that included additional expungement opportunities and a focus on repeat gun violations. By the end of session, a large package of legislation passed that takes a holistic look at crime, from stronger sentencing to treatment to funding.”

For Del. Stein, the environment is always a focus. His HB 3 follows Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that Maryland would join the U.S. Climate Alliance, aligning Maryland with the goals of the Paris Agreement. The bill requires the governor to report annually to the General Assembly on Climate Alliance activities and requires Maryland to remain in the U.S. Climate Alliance.

His HB 1350 “requires state and local governments to better prepare for inundation and flooding by increasing protections for new roads and public buildings from sea level rise,” Stein said in his end-of-session letter. “It also requires planning for nuisance flooding and saltwater intrusion. This legislation is the first-of-its-kind in the country … it will help Maryland plan for a serious, long-term challenge.”

In District 41, Del. Sandy Rosenberg’s focus was on education, gun violence, hate crimes and improving the Pimlico Race Course.

As a cosponsor of HB 819, Rosenberg said the bill will help retain Maryland’s high bar for acquiring handgun licenses by adding oversight to the appeal process handled by the Handgun Permit Review Board, whose members are appointed by the governor.

As for the fate of Pimlico, Rosenberg said following the completion of a feasibility and concept study of Pimlico in December, he will continue to push for the racetrack and its signature race to stay in Baltimore.

“My top priority for next year’s session will be to keep the Preakness where it belongs — at Pimlico — and to do so in a way that benefits all neighborhoods near the track,” he said in his session letter.

At Jews United for Justice, staffers were celebrating passage of legislation that forwarded policies they support, including sick and safe leave legislation affecting working Marylanders.

“We advocated on behalf of renters’ rights, playing the critical role in defeating two of the worst bills for tenants in years and passing legislation that will require renters receive water bills if they are responsible for paying them,” said the JUFJ wrap-up letter.

In addition, JUFJ was pleased with $3.6 million in funding for Safe Streets initiatives in Baltimore and was one of the critics of Gov. Hogan’s package of crime bills. And although JUFJ pushed for Maryland Dream Act expansion, that bill died in the Senate.

Sarah Mersky, the Baltimore Jewish Council’s director of government relations, said the organization was pleased that Hogan included $1 million for a new College Park Hillel in his capital budget, while $7 million is slated for BOOST funds to help low-income private schools students. Other BJC priorities included prescription drug reform, which passed, and making sex trafficking a felony, which didn’t.

As far as The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore program support, Mersky said level funding was achieved, but not additional funding over last year’s levels.

“But that was to be expected,” Mersky said. “It was a really hard budget year. We’re just really happy that we are one of the few organizations that’s continued to get a full level of funding in tough budget years.”


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