SEABROOK – As the Maryland State General Assembly opened on Jan. 8, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks laid out her legislative priorities.
Alsobrooks met with the Prince George’s County Delegation in their first meeting after the start of the new session on Jan. 10 and released a list of legislative concerns for this year. The topics ranged from education, economic development, county beautification and senior-based initiatives.
“I understand and believe in the power of true collaboration, which inevitably leads to securing a level of common good, better quality of life, and an expansion of opportunity for more people,” Alsobrooks said. “Last legislative session, I was not only proud of our delegation’s tremendous work done on behalf of Prince Georgians, but also of the legislative leadership demonstrated by lawmakers across the state.”
Last year, officials proclaimed the last session a successful one after bringing back $1.5 billion in state aid for education, youth athletics, beautification and street improvements to Prince George’s County.
This year, education plans to become a high priority again following the Kirwan Commission’s recent recommendation that Maryland should invest $4 billion over the next 10 years.
The proposal uses research and formulas to reform state education policy and find different ways to fund various parts of the system through county and state funding. Under the plan, Prince George’s County would receive $2.1 billion that would be spread out throughout 10 years.
The current formula shows that county residents will be contributing $360.9 million more on education each year if the current proposal passes. Alsobrooks expressed her concern in how the county should fund into Kirwan while assuring it can support other areas as well.
“Although I intend to support the commission’s recommendations, we must ensure that we develop an equitable, long-term and responsible way to fund Kirwan that will ensure access to a quality education for every child,” Alsobrooks said. “Education opens doors, instills confidence, and allows children to reach for their dreams.”
However, officials do not want to conflate the desire to change the current formula as not wanting more funding for education.
Alsobrooks traveled to Annapolis with PGCPS’ then-interim CEO Monica Goldson multiple times in 2019 lobbying in support of the commission’s funding, which passed and provided the county $53 million. Alsobrooks also currently supports the Build to Learn Act that would set aside $2.2 billion in state funding for school construction projects.
While understanding her and other politicians’ reservations on the amount being presented, Del. Alonzo Washington (D-22) said that the state needs to make up for underfunding the county in the past.
“For the last 19 years, we have been underfunding our school systems by $2,000-$3,000 per student in Prince George’s County,” said Washington, a member of the Commission’s panel. “We are not funding our students correctly.”
A priority not on the list was removing a fundraising ban that does not allow candidates for the county executive to take donations from developers who have projects in the county. The ban was put into place following the arrest of former County Executive Jack Johnson for taking over $1 million in bribes.
Multiple headlines showed that Alsobrooks referred to the ban as racially motivated after stating that Prince George’s is the only majority-minority county in the state to have such a restriction. Director of Communications Gina Ford clarified Alsobrooks’ comments saying that the prohibition should either be applied to all jurisdictions or none going forward.
“County executives do not have anything to do with development; that is a county council function,” Ford said. “Her message was simply it should all executives or no executives. There shouldn’t be one thing in place that affects one particular jurisdiction.”
Last year, Del. Dereck E. Davis proposed the repealing the law in House Bill 227, but it was blocked from being attached with a larger Senate bill despite support from the county’s delegation. Davis did not return calls confirming if he plans to reintroduce the bill.
Lastly, Alsobrooks proposed establishing a “centralized and confidential” elder abuse registry. The database will include the names of those who inflict harm on older citizens, including caregivers found to have hurt their patients.
In 2019, 26 states were reported to have some sort of elder abuse registry, according to an Abuse Registry National Report by the National Adult Protective Services Association.
“Our senior citizens are the bedrock of our communities,” Alsobrooks said. “Prince George’s County has one of the fastest-growing senior populations in the region, and it is vitally important that we protect our seniors from those who wish to prey on them or bring them harm.”
During the delegation’s meeting, officers were assigned with Del. Erek L. Barron (D-24) taking over as the new chair following a 12-9 vote in his favor. He will be taking over for Del. Michael A. Jackson (D-27B) and will be joined by Del. Julian Ivey (D-47A), who was unanimously chosen as vice chair. Barron said he looks forward to working together with the rest of the delegation as well as his other state colleagues “through this critical legislative session.”
“I do not take your support lightly and am deeply humbled,” Ivey said via a Facebook post. “Especially grateful for my district mates Delegate Diana Fennell and Delegate Wanika B. Fisher for their strong support and nominations. Now the work begins!”
Meanwhile, the Prince George’s County Council announced during their first meeting of 2020 on Jan. 7 that they are working on completing on a joint letter to send to Gov. Larry Hogan, former State Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones with their suggestions for county priorities during the state’s legislative session.