NEW CARROLLTON – Maryland State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D) and member of the House of Delegates Anne Healey (D), both from Legislative District 22, visited New Carrollton to meet with Mayor Andrew C. Hanko and members of the city council last Monday to discuss the state’s legislative agenda for the next year and to […]
NEW CARROLLTON – Maryland State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D) and member of the House of Delegates Anne Healey (D), both from Legislative District 22, visited New Carrollton to meet with Mayor Andrew C. Hanko and members of the city council last Monday to discuss the state’s legislative agenda for the next year and to listen to the concerns of city officials.
The two members of the legislative body arrived for brief refreshments at 7 p.m. before taking questions and speaking about some of the challenges Maryland Democrats would likely face in the upcoming legislative session.
One of the most discussed issues of the night was Gov. Larry Hogan’s executive order to school systems to set their first day of school after Labor Day. Both Pinsky and Healey were sharply critical of the governor’s action, with Healey saying it was “probably unconstitutional.”
“(For) fifty years the local boards of education have set the school year, but now they can’t,” Healey said.
Pinsky argued that school boards should make their own decisions regarding their timetable, and rather than taking the governor to court to force him to rescind the order, they should plan their school year as they see fit and force him to take them to court. He said it was unlikely the governor would do so in the event that local boards decided to ignore his order.
According to Maryland law, schools need to have a minimum of 180 days of school in a calendar year, and according to Pinsky, the order would make it difficult to meet that requirement. He said the minimum, initially set as a baseline for schools, was becoming a ceiling because of the governor’s order.
“Part of it is on us, the legislature,” Pinsky said. “I think we’ve made it too easy for the governor.”
“He’s a warm and friendly personality, he’s fighting cancer and he’s doing things that are popular. Not necessarily good policy, but popular,” Healey added.
The other major agenda item was the Affordable Care Act and possible changes to it following President-elect Donald Trump’s victory in November. There are currently 1,575,000 people in Maryland signed up for health insurance through the act, and Healey and Pinsky said their future was of great concern given the uncertainty surrounding the incoming administration’s intentions towards the act.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen to the Affordable Care Act, so there’s been some talk about Maryland putting something in its place,” Pinsky said.
Healey said if Trump does change the act, then he must face the repercussions and issues that stem from doing so.
“President-elect Trump has been all over the map with this,” Healey said. “The Republicans in Congress have tried changing it many times, but they knew (President Barack) Obama would counter it. Now whatever they do, they’ve got to own it.”
Pinsky and Healey also brought up the issue of the Metro system and its condition. Healey noted that Metro was an important part of the state’s economy, but changing or improving it required bringing on board four separate stakeholders, which made the task considerably more difficult.
Pinsky said the proposed Purple Line was a hard sell because getting all the stakeholders to invest and raise the money necessary was not an easy task.
“People have asked what is the big issue, where is the fight going to be? Probably that’s going to be the budget,” Pinsky said.
However, the state, local and federal governments involved have already pledged the money required for the project. The only delay now is from a federal court order canceling federal approval of the project pending further environmental review with an eye to the impacts of Metro’s recent safety and ridership failures.
He also said the state was expecting income tax revenue to be revised down this year, meaning there will be less money for initiatives and scrambling for the money that is available. The state Board of Public Works has already made cuts to the fiscal year 2017 budget due to lower-than-projected revenues.
Pinsky and Healy also expressed concern over lack of progress on the issue of sick leave and paid leave for Maryland residents. A bill was passed in the House of Delegates in April of this year requiring employers to provide one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours of work, but was defeated in the Senate. Both legislators said this was an area of deep concern and Pinsky said he would be working on it over the coming year.