With the current session of the Maryland General Assembly less than a month old, African American legislators are finding that they will have their hands full until the session ends April 1.
At the top of the agenda are battles over a new hospital in Prince George’s County, abolishment of the death penalty and the state budget—including transportation expansion funding.
Complicating matters is the potential impact of still unresolved questions facing Capitol Hill lawmakers over the dimensions of federal spending.
At the local level, however, the issue that casts the biggest shadow on Black lawmakers’ agenda is how to replenish state reserves for highway expansion and mass transit projects. State money for expanding state roads, building new ones and creating new mass transit facilities will be depleted by 2017.
“That might mean an increase in taxes and no one wants to pay more taxes, but we may have to bite the bullet and do so,” said Del. Jolene Ivey (D-District 47), chair of the House Prince George’s delegation.
Some Maryland legislators are also looking to end the death penalty. Gov. Martin O’Malley has pushed hard for the repeal of the capital punishment law and has gained support from the NAACP and the ACLU.
“It looks like this might be the year that we can repeal it,” said Ivey. But Trae Lewis, president of the Baltimore City Young Republicans, told the AFRO he feels the focus placed on the death penalty ban is misguided.
“Why is that even an issue [when] it hasn’t even been used in almost 10 years?” Lewis asked.
Ivey said that repealing the measure is beneficial because it saves costs for the state and “gives more closure for victims’ families.”
The Prince George’s delegation continues to work on the need for a new regional hospital center and this year county residents may be much closer to getting a state-of-the-art medical facility.
“The governor has been true to his word and he’s put all the money in his budget that we requested,” Ivey said of the proposed $650 million facility. O’Malley has included the first $20 million installment for the project in his budget but it still has to be approved by the legislature.
The Maryland Legislative Black Caucus is also focused on leveling funding for Black colleges and universities, which have historically been underfunded.
“In addition to the increases that all universities will receive, we want additional money to assist with building facilities and funding faculty and staff,” said Del. Aisha Braveboy (D-District 23), caucus chair.
Black college students and advocates plan to rally Feb. 4 in Annapolis in advance of a Feb. 7 meeting between the Black caucus and O’Malley.
Following the murders of 26 people in Newtown, Conn., school safety and a ban on ownership of some types of guns has become a divisive topic among legislators. Del. Jay Walker (D-District 26) said he is continuing efforts to create a Maryland Center for School Safety and plans to support an assault weapons ban.
“You can have a world class education system but if the kids and teachers aren’t safe, learning is minimized,” Walker said.
Walker said he is also working on several health and wellness initiatives. He is supporting legislation to increase physical activity by extending physical education classes, adding a financial literacy requirement for graduation and installing turf fields at high school stadiums, which he asserts reduces player concussions.