Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. delivered remarks about the county’s 2020 legislative agenda in Annapolis on Jan. 7.
This year’s legislative agenda is focused on education and public safety, Olszewski said while standing at a podium before state lawmakers and reporters. Other priorities in 2020 will include opioid treatment and overdose prevention, expanding community parks and playgrounds programs, and environmental protections.
“We’re all here today because we understand that as government leaders we have a responsibility to make investments and to take action to improve our communities,” Olszewski said. “It’s what our residents want and it’s what they deserve.”
“Over the past year, my team has been laser-focused on that mission.”
Olszewski began with education, saying that education will always be a top priority for his administration. Last year, he said, he led the fight for additional state construction dollars for educators and school facilities.
Adrienne Jones, Speaker of the House of Delegates, and Bill Ferguson, incoming Maryland Senate President, both have made school construction the top priority for the Maryland General Assembly this year, Olszewski said.
“In Baltimore County, we have already put forth $242 million in shovel-ready construction projects,” Olszewski said. “We can only move forward on those projects if the state’s share of capital dollars are also moved forward. I’m confident that with our partners here, we can get the job done this year.”
Olszewski said Baltimore County will continue to push for progress and create a better future for students in county schools. That means taking advantage of an opportunity presented by the Kirwan Commission.
“We’re not waiting though, in Baltimore County,” he said. “We’re already making historic investments.”
This year’s budget includes $35 million above the required maintenance of effort, meaning teachers were able to receive pay raises, and more than 100 teachers and 50 additional school support personnel were hired, he said.
The Kirwan Commission was created by the Maryland General Assembly in 2016 to make recommendations on how to prepare students for college and the workforce. The commission is named after its chairman, William E. “Brit” Kirwan.
The Kirwan Commission recently presented several recommendations, including increasing the standards to become a teacher and raising teachers’ salaries, offering job training to students immediately after graduation and creating an accountability program to ensure money is spent the way it is intended.
“While we know this is an important first step, we know it’s just the beginning,” Olszewski said. “We’re going to keep doing more. That’s why I’m committed and it’s part of our agenda this year to see the principles that Kirwan implemented. I look forward to working with our legislators to find ways to make that happen.”
Olszewski said that keeping communities safe is one of the most important responsibilities of local governments. He said that Baltimore County is taking concrete steps to combat violent crime, but crime is a regional problem, he said.
Olszewski touched on the Warrant Apprehension Task Force and the Regional Auto Theft Task Force, citing both as examples that have brought positive results to both Baltimore City and Baltimore County. While they have been successful, they have been underfunded, he said.
“This year, we’re proposing a state-funded matching program for inter-jurisdictional law enforcement programs just like these,” he said. “By expanding our regional efforts, we can make the county and the entire region much safer.”
Baltimore County will continue the fight against the opioid epidemic, Olszewski said. The county had the second highest number of overdose-related deaths in Maryland in 2018, he added.
Last year, with the help from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Olszewski’s administration created a work group to make recommendations to fight the opioid epidemic, he said, which included adopting the Hub and Spoke Program in Vermont.
The Hub and Spoke Program, according to Vermont’s official state website, is system of Medication Assisted Treatment, supporting people in recovery from opioid use disorder. At over 75 local Spokes, doctors, nurses, and counselors offer ongoing opioid use disorder treatment fully integrated with general healthcare and wellness services.
”This year, I’m asking for state funding for a pilot program to implement this in Baltimore County,” Olszewski said. “Integrating substance abuse treatment with general health care and wellness services, because we know we can treat addiction and save lives.”
Olszewski said that while these are the main priorities in 2020, his administration and the Baltimore County Council will tackle other important agenda items. One of those items is working to expand Maryland’s Community Parks and Playgrounds Program, so that counties without municipalities, such as Baltimore County, can participate.
Another agenda item is to increase protections under the state’s Move Over Law, similar to that of Virginia. Another is banning the use of PFAS, toxic chemicals found in firefighting foam, during training exercises.
”These chemicals have been linked to the contamination of water sources and cancerous diseases,” Olszewski said.
The last items Olszewski touched on were securing $5 million annually from the state for a recently established community program fund that will provide assistance to local jurisdictions for community development projects, and passing legislation to allow traffic cameras to monitor illegal truck traffic.
”This agenda is focused on making government work better for every resident in Baltimore County,” Olszewski said. “These critical investments in our schools, our neighborhoods and our communities will make a difference for this generation and the next.”