From Banning E-cig Flavors To Regulating Dna, Southwestern Baltimore County Lawmakers Have A Range Of 2020 Priorities

There’s “a fair amount of water behind the dam here getting ready to come in” to the 2020 legislative session, if you ask Del. Eric Ebersole.

The Catonsville Democrat is referring not only to the influx (and outflow) of Baltimore County delegation members, but also to his and his fellow district lawmakers’ primary focus: securing a replacement Lansdowne High School.

With state Democratic leaders raising school construction funding as their priority legislation in 2020, dubbed the Built to Learn Act, representatives in the district say their goal is to ensure some of the $2.2 billion in extra state funding makes its way to Baltimore County for the replacement of the aging Lansdowne High, a yearslong effort that was setback after the Maryland Senate failed to vote on a previous version of the school construction bill in 2019.

“That has been an issue since my first term,” said Del. Terri Hill, who has represented parts of Baltimore and Howard counties since 2015.

The county has seen renovations at other schools, the Columbia Democrat said, but Lansdowne “has really sort of been stuck, and countywide it’s clearly ranked as the school with the most need.”

“I expect a better result this year” about its passage, Ebersole said.

While Baltimore County would jockey with other state jurisdictions for a portion of the money, which would be drawn from casino revenues and bonds issued by the Maryland Stadium Authority, county funds already committed for a replacement Lansdowne make the project “really well-positioned, because that planning is already getting started,” Del. Jessica Feldmark said.

The county has already kicked in $15 million to design the replacement school, currently attended by 1,300 students, Ebersole noted. District legislators are encouraged by the bill’s support from incoming Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, and from House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Lansdowne High alumna who in December said the 56-year-old school was, to her, “number one” among state schools that should receive the funding.

General Assembly leaders “are much more in cahoots that this is a necessary thing for us to do,” Ebersole said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, announced in December his own school construction funding proposal, the Building Opportunity Fund, which would issue bonds for school construction projects through casino revenues — $3.8 billion disbursed over five years.

Regardless of which funding proposal is favored by state house representatives, a new Lansdowne High “is a priority for the school system, a priority for [Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr.] and the state delegation, and for us here in southern Baltimore County,” said Sen. Clarence Lam, a Johns Hopkins physician.

Del. Charles Sydnor III, a Catonsville Democrat appointed in December by Hogan to fill the Senate seat vacated by Shirley Nathan-Pulliam in the upcoming session, said Lansdowne was one of multiple district schools in need of state funding, like Bedford Elementary School in Lochearn, which is “still one of the schools without air conditioning” in the county.

Baltimore County received $13.4 million from Maryland’s Interagency Commission on School Construction to install temporary air and heat units in seven county schools, including Bedford, but “at this point, we’re looking at having a new school being built,” Sydnor said.

Along with education dollars, southwestern Baltimore County lawmakers cite a variety of legislative priorities when the Maryland General Assembly reconvenes Wednesday, Jan. 8. Here are some of the key issues they plan to tackle:

Ebersole, a former educator whose legislative district runs from Columbia to Arbutus as well as parts of Catonsville and Lansdowne, expects the House Ways and Means Committee to focus on further developing details of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, particularly to attract and retain public school teachers and direct funding to schools like Lansdowne with higher concentrations of poverty. Locally, Ebersole has pre-filed a bill to enable the county to enforce restrictions on truck drivers who neighborhood associations say cut through residential streets.

The bill could allow Baltimore County to install truck height monitoring cameras “to keep trucks off of side roads,” Ebersole said.

Ebersole plans to also put forth legislation expanding on a law he sponsored in 2019 that mandates commercial driver’s license training schools include training for how to recognize and report human trafficking. The new bill would require that training for hospitality workers as well, he said.

As chair of the finance resources subcommittee, Ebersole said he and his colleagues will propose adding a referendum to let Maryland constituents decide if Maryland should regulate sports betting.

“That’s a revenue stream that already exists, we’re just not getting it,” Ebersole said.

Sydnor, who expects to formally assume his new role as a state senator representing parts of Baltimore County and City when the General Assembly meets Wednesday, said his new role doesn’t necessarily change the legislation he plans to introduce.

The Baltimore native said he will push to regulate the use of genealogical information stored in commercial and government databases by Maryland police departments to identify potential offenders by linking DNA with that of their family members.

“When searches are done … by law enforcement over this wide swath of DNA material, those people are then, essentially, suspects,” the attorney said, calling the practice a 4th Amendment violation.

Sydnor had proposed the outright prohibition of the technology last session, but it failed to pass. Imposing tighter restrictions on the use of DNA information is “the next best step,” he said.

Sydnor also is still drafting a bill to secure funding for unique programming at historically black colleges and universities, which he said seeks to address disparities between white colleges and HBCUs that have embroiled Maryland in a lawsuit for over a decade.

Education continues to be a priority for the Baltimore County delegation, said its chair, Del. Pat Young. Hashing out details of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future bill “is key to the county plan related to capital” funding, he said, but the Catonsville Democrat also plans to seek more authority for the student member elected to the Baltimore County school board.

Young plans to propose the Baltimore County school board’s student member be granted the ability to vote on the school’s budget, a measure already granted by school boards in other Maryland districts. .

Young also plans to propose the student member receive a $7,500 stipend, the same as the adults, for serving on the board; currently the student member is given $1,000 a year, Young said.

In his capacity as vice chair of the veterans caucus, Young said he’ll sponsor a bill that “comprehensively changes” the disciplinary policy of the Maryland National Guard, which hasn’t been updated since 1958. The bill will lay out recommendations by an ad-hoc stakeholder group of lawmakers, enlisted personnel and victim’s rights advocates.

Lam, the Senate’s sole physician, has pre-filed a bill to ban all flavored vape and electronic cigarette products in the state.

Lam filed the bill before the Food and Drug Administration announced plans to ban the sale of fruit-flavored cartridges. The federal ban is expected to allow the use of menthol flavors; Lam’s bill would preclude the sale of all but tobacco flavored e-cigarettes, he said.

The bill is meant to address “the public health crisis that we’ve been seeing with the rising number of individuals, particularly young people, who have started vaping,” Lam said.

Responding to complaints about noise from air traffic, Lam and Hill said they are introducing a pair of bills to study the impact of aircraft noise on an individual’s health.

Concerns over noise pollution, particularly from those who live near Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, worsened after the Federal Aviation Administration changed flight patterns under a new air transportation system, Next Generation, or NextGen, Lam said.

Lam will also propose a tax exemption on baby diapers to “lessen some of the burden” on working families and single parents, he said.

Hill, who will have to balance a congressional campaign with her duties as a delegate, said her team was drafting “20-something bills” ahead of the start of the session.

Along with submitting a bill that would set guidelines for Baltimore County homeowners to more easily make eco-friendly improvement to their properties, Hill, a plastic surgeon, said she plans to sponsor a climate change resolution “that calls the state to take certain positions and commitments to resolving or committing to resolve the climate emergency.”

The Columbia Democrat will reintroduce updated bills to address safety practices in youth contact sports like football and lacrosse. Previous iterations of the bill garnered backlash when it sought to prohibit kids younger than 14 from playing tackle football and restrict headers in soccer and body checking in lacrosse and ice hockey.

Hill plans to break down each of the safety measures into separate bills; the proposals would require background checks and training in best safety practices for youth sports coaches, Hill said.

The plastic surgeon also plans to propose a bill allowing opioid prescription holders to request pharmacists fill fewer than the doctor-prescribed amount of opioids the patient is authorized to take.

Returning for her second session, Feldmark said she intends to co-sponsor a number of bills that seek to address climate change and enact anti-discriminatory housing practices statewide.

Maryland lawmakers have attempted to pass legislation prohibiting landlords from denying rental applicants based on their income sources, like federal housing vouchers, but to no avail. Now that Baltimore County has joined Howard and Montgomery counties in passing its own housing legislation, Feldmark said the time is more favorable to expand those efforts statewide.

Feldmark also said she intends to back bipartisan legislation to phase out Maryland’s six coal-fired power plants, and a separate bill to mandate that climate impact is taken into consideration by the Maryland Public Service Commission when it addresses development projects.

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