District 6 state legislators recounted the highs and lows of this year's recently-concluded Maryland General Assembly session during two town hall meetings at the North Point Library.
The first meeting, held on April 27, included remarks from state Sen. Johnny Ray Salling and Dels. Robin Grammer and Bob Long (all R-6), while the second, on May 3, featured Del. Ric Metzgar (R-6), who had been out of town during the first meeting.
During the town halls, each legislator discussed the good, the bad and the ugly of this year's sometimes-contentious Assembly session.
Sen. Johnny Ray Salling
“More than anything, people need to be informed,” Salling began during last month's town hall.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 30 attendees, Salling spoke out against several issues, including what he sees as excessive gerrymandering in the state.
“We are one of the most gerrymandered states in the nation, and we're one of the smallest,” he said.
Salling spoke of Gov. Hogan's redistricting plan which was, for the second year, killed in committee. A new bill, which mandates that five other regional states must join the effort before a non-partisan redistricting commission is created, was passed instead.
“We don't need to wait on other states to do that,” Salling exclaimed.
Salling, as well as his fellow District 6 legislators, also spoke out against the failed “Sanctuary state” bill.
“We don't want to be a sanctuary state,” he said, adding, “We would have people in our state that don't belong in our state because they're illegal aliens.”
Salling introduced 19 bills as a primary sponsor; of those, he passed through a law mandating that unclaimed video lottery winnings be distributed to a fund for small, minority and women-owned businesses and an education trust fund.
As for next year, Salling vowed to introduce legislation expanding the legislative scholarship program to include students seeking licenses and certifications as well as degrees.
During his remarks, Salling also praised Sparrows Point developer Tradepoint Atlantic, telling those assembled that the developers would create more than 2,500 jobs by “this time next year” and 10,000 jobs by 2022.
“They're very good for our area,” he said of Tradepoint, adding, “I'm happy because it's ours.”
Del. Robin Grammer
“My session had a very unique start,” Del. Grammer began, noting that his son, who is now happy and healthy, was born eight weeks premature just before this year's General Assembly session began.
During the session, Grammer was the primary sponsor on six bills, including one addressing the oft-complained about commercial truck traffic on Dundalk roadways.
The problem, Grammer indicated, can be traced to the fact that trucks on southbound I-695 must pay a toll at the Key Bridge in order to exit at Broening, even though they are exiting before the Key Bridge, not crossing it.
Rather than pay this toll, trucks instead detour onto neighborhood roadways in an effort to bypass the toll.
Bill HB290, which passed in an amended form, seeks to address the issue.
Grammer's original bill sought to create a bypass lane; however, the state plans to redesign the Key Bridge toll plaza completely in 2019. A new bill mandates that the issue be addressed at that time.
“We didn't get as strong language as we wanted,” Grammer admitted.
Grammer also spoke about his efforts to expedite the foreclosure process in an effort to prevent abandoned homes from becoming eyesores and attracting rats, trash and crime.
“This is chronic in Southeastern Baltimore County,” he indicated.
Grammer worked on the issue in committee, though it will ultimately be decided by the courts.
It is, he noted, not ideal “but it does give us a tool”, he noted, for addressing the issue.
Grammer also spoke out against a bill to prevent landlords from refusing to rent to housing voucher (section 8) holders. That bill was defeated.
“More than any session I've been in in Annapolis, this is one where being there mattered,” Grammer concluded, summing up his role as “making good bills better and defeating bad bills.”
Del. Bob Long
Del. Bob Long found success this session on several fronts, passing two bills (out of seven introduced as a primary sponsor) into law.
HB1323 offers a five-year property tax credit to homeowners who renovate homes in certain revitalization districts.
The aim, Long noted, is to encourage improvement of older homes and neighborhoods.
“This will provide tax credits for people who buy older homes and fix them up.”
Another of Long's bills, HB1253, will make it easier for the state to remove abandoned and sunken vessels, a constant issue in the water-front district.
Long also introduced legislation to spur schools to implement a protocol in case of an active shooter scenario.
Long withdrew the legislation, however, and has been working with Baltimore County Public Schools to develop and implement protocol.
Long remained busy throughout session, working with the governor to extend tax credits to bring businesses back to the county and fighting against what he sees as an excessive amount of mandated spending in the state budget.
According to Long, Gov. Hogan only controls 18 percent of budget spending; the rest is mandated spending.
“If we keep charging on our credit card, eventually it will catch up with us,” Long said.
Next year, Long plans to re-introduce a bill seeking to increase the income eligibility level for a homeowners property tax credit from $60,000 to $72,000 per year. The bill did not pass this year.
Del. Ric Metzgar
Del. Ric Metzgar addressed a small group of constituents during his own town hall on May 3.
During this year's Assembly session, Metzgar was primary sponsor of four bills, though he co-sponsored more than 100 bills.
Among the bills he introduced was his attempt to allow students to pray in public schools.
Though the committee chair indicated that she will continue to reject the bill, as she has each year of Metzgar's term, the delegate plans to reintroduce the legislation next year.
“I believe in prayer; prayer is my life,” Metzgar explained.
Metzgar also introduced an effort to offer free fishing and hunting licenses to seniors. While his bill did not pass, he worked with other legislators to pass a bill offering the benefit to veterans.
Metzgar also introduced bills attempting to secure $200,000 for a Project Genesis community center at Shiloh Baptist Church in Edgemere. That bill did not pass.
Metzgar's effort to alter definitions concerning a property tax credit for seniors also failed to pass.
Metzgar was active in cosponsoring bills this session, lending support to legislation on sex trafficking, food truck licensing, streamlining the procurement process, addressing the opioid epidemic and more.
Like his colleagues, Metzgar spoke out against the Sanctuary state bill.
He also spoke out about methadone clinics, viewing such facilities as continuations of drug use that “keep getting carried away.”
He is also strongly against legalizing recreational marijuana, noting, “It's a proven fact that marijuana is a gateway drug.”
Metzgar also discussed leading a prayer before the U.S. House of Representatives on May 2.
“Yesterday was a real joy in my life,” he said, calling the experience a “bucket list item.”
In concluding his remarks, Metzgar thanked his constituents for the opportunity to serve.
“I love and I am so honored to serve the 6th District,” he said, adding, “I love what I do.”
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