(Jan. 10, 2020) The 2020 Maryland General Assembly had its first session on Wednesday with newly elected Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and new Speaker of the House Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County). Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38) and Delegate Wayne Hartman (R-38 C) entered their second year in their respective positions.
One of the foremost matters before the legislature this session will be the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission, formally known as the Commission on Innovation in Education. The commission has proposed a multi-billion-dollar revamping of Maryland’s public education, with Worcester County having to shoulder its financial burden with a smaller percentage of state assistance than any other county, according to the proposed funding formula.
“I will continue to advocate for fair education funding formulas for Shore schools as the Maryland General Assembly takes up the education recommendations proposed by the Kirwan Commission,” Carozza said.
This is also one of Hartman’s top priorities.
“There’s certainly a lot of the aspects of Kirwan, I certainly support, the problem is just how we go about funding it and to make sure that we get the desired outcome,” Hartman said. “After we commit to that level of funding, what’s in place to make sure that we get the outcome that we’re looking for?”
He said he would like to see every Maryland student receive the same commitment from the state, regardless of which county they live in. Hartman added that he has a new advantage on this issue now that his committee assignment has been switched from the Judiciary Committee to Ways and Means, where he will have more influence over education and taxation.
In other areas this session, Carozza and Hartman are both co-sponsoring bills that will prohibit intentional balloon releases.
“Many constituents have expressed their concern for birds and sea and other wildlife that have been killed by mistaking balloons for food, or balloon entanglements causing injury to our wildlife,” Carozza said. “This prohibition has strong local support, and I am proud to join with my colleague, Sen. Clarence Lam, in cosponsoring Senate Bill 28, a commonsense environmental protection bill.”
Hartman noted an importance difference between the state and county legislation – at some of the county levels, biodegradable balloons are allowed for release, but they will be included in the ban at the state level.
“That balloon could be released, go up, come back down, land in the ocean and float in the ocean for days before it decomposes,” Hartman said. “So that’s enough time for an animal to ingest. In addition, the strings and ribbons and so forth that are attached to the balloon, to me are problematic because they’re not biodegradable and they can certainly cause entanglement for sea turtles and other sea life that are just as harmful as an animal ingesting a balloon.”
Both will continue to monitor House Bill 30, or Sunset Island Act, which increases transparency between condominium unit owners and their boards of directors. As stated, the board cannot “withhold or agree to withhold information about certain legal agreements from the unit owners.”
The bill stems from the unit owners of the Sunset Island condominium association in Ocean City, who were asked to pay for building repairs as a result of an agreement the homebuilder signed with the condo association.
Carozza has visited the condo to see the building damage and has written to Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh about the issue.
“Those conditions — and the confusing history of repairs, secrecy agreements, and releases — make it appear that the construction and subsequent repairs did not meet code and safety requirements and that some consumer protection issues also are present,” the letter reads.
“It is difficult to imagine how the conditions observable at Sunset Island would have resulted in a construction conducted in a workmanlike manner, in conformance with our building code. The conditions observed raised concerns of safety and building integrity.”
In the House, Hartman is co-sponsoring the bill.
“Unfortunately, it’s not going to help those affected already at Sunset Island,” Hartman said. “Moving forward, I think it provides greater transparency for people who are in a homeowner’s association or a condo-type regime where there’s a board that represents them.”
As for their separate priorities, Carozza said she will continue to fight for relief for small businesses affected by the implementation of paid leave and the increasing minimum wage.
Before the assembly started, Carozza pre-filed Senate Bill 29, Wade’s Law, which passed the Senate last year. The bill states that a person whose criminally negligent driving that results in life-threatening injuries can be imprisoned for up to 18 months, fined $5,000 or both.
Hartman anticipates talk of sports betting and a tax exemption for Maryland on aircraft equipment. Legalizing sports betting could help fund increasing spending, particularly the Kirwan Commission, while the tax exemption could increase revenue and other opportunities for the Salisbury-Ocean City Regional Airport, according to Hartman.
“We have a new Speaker of the House and a new Senate President, so seeing how that impacts the district I think it going to be a huge factor in this session,” Hartman said.