Sunday, April 25, 2010

Delegate Anne Kaiser's End of Session Letter

Delegate Anne Kaiser (D-14) sent the following end of session letter to her constituents.

April 2010

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

At midnight on April 12, the Maryland General Assembly finished its annual 90-day legislative session. You send me to Annapolis to represent District 14 and Montgomery County and to be a levelheaded voice for our common values in our state’s citizen legislature. I have proudly served our community in the House of Delegates for eight years.

Did you know that nearly 110,000 people reside in District 14? Our district includes the communities of: Ashton, Brinklow, Brookeville, Burtonsville, Calverton, Cloverly, Colesville, Damascus, Laytonsville, Olney, Sandy Spring as well as parts of Silver Spring and West Laurel.

With each passing year, my knowledge and understanding of the nuances of our state government deepen. I think it’s fair to say that a richer understanding of state government has resulted in my having more influence on the legislative process. This is especially true in the field of education policy which I will tell you more about a little later on.

Maryland’s State Budget: Smaller Than It Used To Be

First, though -- I want to tell you about some of the important issues we debated and what the results of those debates may mean to you and your family. The most important issue on Governor Martin O’Malley’s plate this year was to balance the state budget as our state Constitution requires. This was by no means an easy task, given the state of the national economy.

Fortunately, by working together, Governor O’Malley and the legislature were able to protect our state’s long-term priorities: education, health care and the environment.

Some people view these issues as if they are on the “liberal” side of the political spectrum, but really, I see them as fundamental issues that affect our entire community and contribute to our collective quality of life. Sometimes I wonder what kind of society we would have if we didn’t care about public education, people’s ability to pay their health insurance premiums, or clean air and water.

I think it’s important to point out, while we were able to modestly invest in some of our shared priorities, Governor O’Malley’s last two budgets were actually smaller than the budgets finalized by his predecessor.

Hire Employees, Earn State Tax Credits

In addition to voting for the balanced budget, I was proud to co-sponsor Governor O’Malley’s job creation tax credit bill that will give a $5,000 tax credit to businesses that hire people who are unemployed. Our Governor also spearheaded extending unemployment insurance benefits for people who are feeling the pressure from the global economic recession.

These tax credits are available starting in May of this year. For more information, visit the Department of Business and Economic Development website at

Montgomery County Projects, Montgomery County Benefits, Montgomery County Jobs

We all know that construction projects bring a host of benefits to our community. And that’s why I supported funding for Camp Brighton Woods in Brookeville. It is a fantastic and beautiful 60 acre campground dedicated to providing recreational and educational activities for more than 9,000 girls every year.

I am proud to have introduced legislation for the Girl Scouts at Camp Brighton Woods. They will be receiving $140,000 in state funds to allow them to increase capacity by one third -- allowing more than 12,000 girls the same opportunities as their neighbors, as well as preserving woodland and providing more than 60 new jobs.

Community initiatives, such as this, are tied to an organization’s goals and their ability to match those funds. Together, Senator Rona Kramer and Delegates Karen Montgomery and Herman Taylor and I were successful in getting other local projects funded including: $100,000 for the Sandy Spring Museum and $55,000 for the Maydale Nature Center.

Public Education: Maryland Rocks, But Not For All Students

As you may know, three years ago, the Speaker of the House of Delegates (the guy with the big gavel and a whole lot of power) appointed me to be Chair of the Education Subcommittee. Basically, any proposed legislation that has anything to do with K-12 education must come through the Education Subcommittee.

As chair of the subcommittee, it’s my responsibility to weigh the pros and cons of proposed legislation and help the subcommittee fully examine the issue.

To provide effective leadership, I call upon the knowledge of advocates, experts and informed citizens. Once a proposed bill has enough votes to pass out of the Ways and Means Committee -- the Speaker relies on me to explain and defend the bill during full legislative sessions, when the 141 members meet together to publicly debate bills. That means that I must be knowledgeable on a myriad of education issues and understand their direct and immediate impact on schools, school budgets, teachers and students.

This year many of the top priorities of the state came through my subcommittee, including several bills introduced by the Governor to strengthen our already excellent public school system; a bill from the Speaker to address gangs in schools; and a bill strongly favored by teachers to level the playing field when they bargain with school systems during labor negotiations. I also played a key role in dealing directly with a bill that affected the Montgomery County Public Schools.

I was particularly proud to defend the Governor’s Education Reform Act, the centerpiece of his education reform efforts, which will enhance the teaching profession by making teachers more accountable and creating incentives for teachers to work in low performing schools. And, best of all, it puts Maryland in the running for $250 million in federal dollars!

Data…It’s All The Rage

Fundamentally, I believe that good, accurate data form the foundation of sound public policy decisions. Data let us know whether an idea that was implemented is working the way we thought it would.

It’s simple: good data make great policy choices easier.

Over the past several years, our state legislature has invested in Maryland’s educational data system. Last session, the Governor signed three bills (two of which I introduced) that established a data system to capture and synthesize data about teachers, courses and class sizes. But… what good is data if we don’t have the ability to crunch it and learn from it?

Complementing his Education Reform Act, he introduced and passed a landmark data collection bill, with me as his lead co-sponsor. This bill will establish a seamless data system from pre-kindergarten through post-college.

This data system will give new tools to teachers to track the individual growth and achievement of students as they progress from kindergarten through college. And -- ultimately -- it will ensure that we are spending our tax dollars wisely and enhancing our world-class education system.

Helping Parents Have A Seat At The Decision Table

In addition to chairing the Education Subcommittee -- I was also able to push through a number of my own bills dealing with education issues.

The legislature passed a proposal of mine that will help parents with children who have challenging educational issues. This bill requires the schools to provide proper documentation about that child’s educational choices in advance of required meetings with the school. This new law will ensure that parents are full partners in their child’s education. Parents must be able to have a stronger, more prominent role and not leave these important choices solely up to the schools.

I also believe in creativity and new ideas -- that is why I sponsored a bill requiring the State Board of Education to study alternative scheduling models including extended year, year–round schooling as well as other alternatives to our current practices in education. It’s quite possible that these alternative models of education may prove more successful for some students. Why not look into it? The Governor will sign this bill into law in the coming weeks.

And while I am so proud of Maryland for being ranked as having the top public schools in the nation two years in a row by Education Week magazine, you and I both know that we’re not number one for all students -- and in some ways, that’s a failure for all of us. Hopefully, these new legislative initiatives will have a positive impact on this discrepancy.

Your Ideas Sometimes Become Maryland Law

One of my favorite aspects of public office is hearing from constituents about the ideas they have about how the legislature can correct a gap in the law, address an issue or re-think an old law from yesteryear. And while the two bills I’m about to tell you about didn’t pass this year, I have passed several initiatives that were originally suggested by District 14 residents.

So, if you have any good ideas, please let me know. I am all ears!

I sponsored a bill to make it easier and more consistent for families to pay for their children to study abroad during college. I think that college students who get Educational Assistance Grants should absolutely be allowed to keep receiving their grant money even when they temporarily “transfer” to a foreign university for a specific study abroad program for a semester. Unfortunately, that’s not the law of the land right now, but hopefully it will be when I reintroduce it next year. Thanks to Steven Overly, from Olney, for bringing this issue to my attention.

High performing schools also have high-performing teachers…but they also need high-performing substitute teachers. That’s why I introduced a bill to establish uniform standards for subs. The reality is that we don’t really know a whole lot about the people serving as our substitute teachers. I intend to reintroduce the legislation next year as well. Thanks to Jim Politis, a retired school teacher from Laytonsville, for his knowledge and testimony on this issue.

A Little Election Law Mixed In There

With the 2010 election just six months away, I am delighted that I was successful this year in passing legislation to address election law gaps.

One enhancement we have made is to increase the disclosure requirements for political contributions to ballot initiatives. Beginning this election cycle, all contributions over a certain threshold will have to be publicly disclosed. The point is to increase transparency, accountability and fairness. We have a right to know how ballot initiative campaigns are funded and by whom.

In Closing…

It is my pleasure and honor to represent our communities in the Maryland General Assembly. As a citizen legislator, I would not be as successful without your guidance and I thank each one of you for your calls, e-mails and letters.

I wish you a happy and healthy spring and summer full of friends, family, baseball games and lacrosse matches. Bring on the warm weather! If I can ever be of service to you, please call on me.


Anne R. Kaiser

p.s. I am proud to bring an extra piece of home to my office, by including a painting by renowned artist, Greg Mort.