Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Tale of Five Sessions, Part Two

By Marc Korman.

Last time, we reviewed each D16 legislator’s view on the 2009 legislative session. Today we will see what their constituents had to say during the event’s Q&A.

Before diving into the questions asked, it is worth noting what was not asked. Unlike the last two years, no one asked about the Purple Line or the effect of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process on Bethesda.

The D16 team took thirteen questions. I will divide them into the categories of civil rights and liberties, environment, taxes, and miscellaneous.

Civil Rights and Liberties

Two questions were asked of Senator Frosh on these issues. The first was whether the General Assembly had determined the genesis of the police spying. Senator Frosh said it was not entirely clear, but the Police Superintendent took responsibility, saying it was a decision made by him.

The second question was much more rigorous. Scott Davenport, a D16 constituent and president of Equality Maryland’s Board, asked Senator Frosh why he would not let SB 566 out of committee. The legislation would prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, explicitly adding transgendered individuals to the state civil rights law.

Senator Frosh gave a vigorous defense of his actions regarding the bill and went on the offense against Equality Maryland. According to Senator Frosh, he has now brought the transgender bill to a vote three times. The first time was two years ago, when it failed. The other two times were this year, when both times the committee voted to table the bill. Equality Maryland’s position is that this year’s votes were procedural and not substantive votes on the bill. If Senator Frosh would force that vote, Equality Maryland says the bill would move out of committee and to the full Senate. The House of Delegates will not consider the bill until the Senate does.

Senator Frosh also questioned Equality Maryland’s singular focus on the transgender bill, at the expense of other issues like civil unions. Although he said he supports marriage equality and has told Senator Rich Madaleno he would cosponsor a constitutional amendment to that effect next session, he felt that civil unions were more achievable and would make a real difference.

A recent court decision, Schroer v. Billington, may have also changed the equation on transgender issues. That case found that the prohibition on gender discrimination in the federal Civil Rights Act included transgendered individuals. Senator Frosh indicated his belief that state civil rights law may do the same and thought Equality Maryland should work to test the law in court. Of course, the federal case is likely to work its way through the appeals process and could still be reversed.


Most of the questions asked were about the environment.

One D16 constituent asked how the new Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act would actually be executed. Senator Frosh conceded that no one quite knew how the full 25% cut by 2020, but that there would be a combination of efficiency improvements and other incremental steps to eventually reach the goal.

Another constituent raised the idea of connecting the growing green economy to workers with special needs, who often have good vocational education skills.

The next environmental questions were about the Chesapeake Bay and whether anything could be done to really improve the situation and if there were ways to increase education on the issue. Senator Frosh said that the lack of progress was not for lack of trying. Throughout his entire legislative career he had been working on the issue, and there had been no measurable improvement. What there has been is an increase in the Bay’s basin population of 1.5 million people, bringing with them new impervious surfaces and run-off that add to the damaging nutrients in the bay. But there is new hope on the horizon with the appointment of Chuck Fox to head the EPA’s national effort to save the bay.

Another set of environmental questions concerned improved efficiencies. One constituent asked about gas furnace efficiency, which Delegate Bronrott said he hoped to see improved in future years. The other question asked why the legislature had chosen to apply the International Building Code to schools and government buildings and not the well known LEED (Leadership in Environment and Energy Design) Code. Senator Frosh said Republicans in Annapolis had an extreme distaste for LEED and wanted to advance the Green Globe standard, but the legislature adopted the more efficient International Building Code standard as a compromise.

The final environmental question was on Maryland’s air and water pollution. The legislators said much progress had been made, but there were limits to what Maryland could do alone due to federal regulatory constraints.


The two tax questions involved income tax skimming and home buyer tax credits. On income tax skimming, there was concern by one constituent that the same proposal could come again in the future. Delegate Frick acknowledged that was true, but felt the County delegation’s unity on the issue would endure in the future and be able to fight off future attempts.

The second question was posed by Matt Herrmann, president of the District 16 Democratic Club. Mr. Herrmann asked if the state had considered adding a first time home buyer tax credit, similar to recent federal legislation which allows a $8,000 tax credit for first time home buyers. Delegate Frick explained that Maryland already had a recordation tax credit and stressed that tax credits were hard hitting to the budget.


There were three other questions that were not as easily categorized.

The first question was about what strings might be attached to stimulus funds the state receives. Delegates Bronrott and Frick discussed the various programs funding was going towards. While the funds do not need to be repaid, each individual program has certain requirements. For example, if a state accepts funds for unemployment payments, they must provide benefits to part time workers. Maryland now does this, but several states refused to make the change because of concerns about the long term cost after the two years of stimulus funding ended.

The second question was about the 2010 Census and the changes it might bring to District 16. It was too early for any definitive answers, but Senator Frosh doubted D16 was growing as fast as other parts of the state.

The third question was about what limits were placed on nanobiology funding, specifically whether there could be weapons funded through the state. Delegate Lee said she had not thought of the issue and would look at it further.