Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Anne Kaiser's End of Session Letter

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

I’m writing to you just minutes after the 2011 Maryland General Assembly’s legislative session ended. For nine years, I have proudly served you as our community’s common-sense voice in the Maryland House of Delegates. But I have to tell you: this session was the most emotionally draining, the most challenging -- and in some ways, the most disappointing thus far.

I am not at all a single-issue person. Over the years, I have honed my knowledge of our state’s tax policies; I have pushed for education reforms; I have marshaled key legislation aimed at preserving Maryland’s status as having the best schools in the nation. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that others in the chamber see me as having great expertise in education policy.

But on Friday, March 11th -- my heart sank when the House of Delegates could not come up with enough votes to pass marriage equality legislation. This bill would have legalized same-sex marriages in our state. The proposal practically sailed through the Senate, but hit several roadblocks in the House -- including opposition from several legislators who had pledged their support on the campaign trail.

As a gay woman who has been in a committed relationship for the last eight years -- I’m sure you can imagine my heartbreak and disappointment. You see, like thousands of others in long-term, committed same-sex relationships in our state, my girlfriend and I want to get married in Maryland and in my parents’ lifetime.

I wanted to start with this issue -- obviously because it is personally important to me -- but also because many people have asked me why the House of Delegates didn’t cast an actual up-or-down vote on the issue. Ultimately, we believed that putting up a vote on the issue would have unnecessarily locked legislators into a position that would be hard for them to change in the future.

Knowing that this issue has gained unprecedented public support in just the past few years, we thought it would be best to give members of the House more time to consider this issue before insisting they cast a vote. I fully expect that the legislature will consider marriage equality next year. I’m proud to have worked on the bill, but I’m saddened that we were just a few votes shy of the votes needed for passage.

I am really proud that the entire District 14 delegation -- Senator Karen Montgomery, Delegates Eric Luedtke and Craig Zucker -- stood for marriage equality. Together, we represent nearly 120,000 people who reside in Ashton; Brinklow; Brookeville; Burtonsville; Calverton; Cloverly; Colesville; Damascus; Laytonsville; Olney; Sandy Spring; as well as parts of Silver Spring and West Laurel.

Each and every voice in District 14 just got a little louder since I was appointed to a leadership position in the House of Delegates, as one of two Chief Deputy Majority Whips. In this role, I help the Speaker of the House round up votes on key priorities of the House of Delegates, including the budget, school funding issues and raising the alcohol tax.

State Budget Highlights

Like our nation’s economy, Maryland’s economy is still on somewhat shaky ground even though the economic recovery has begun to take hold.

In Wisconsin, Ohio and other states dominated by a much more conservative bent, governors and legislators have targeted public employee unions and severely watered-down their collective bargaining rights. Other states have cut health care programs, education, and delayed needed infrastructure projects.

In Maryland, we have kept our promise to ensure adequate pension plans for teachers, police officers and other public employees. We have put our money where our mouths are by investing in public education, biotechnical research, and infrastructure. I believe these decisions will position our state to recover much more quickly from the national economic downturn.

Maryland Schools #1 in the Nation -- Three Years in a Row!

I serve as chair of the Education Subcommittee, and in that position, I play a key role in the decisions our state makes to strengthen our schools. We still have a huge education achievement gap to address; bullying is all too rampant in our schools; and there are still too many temporary/portable classrooms, especially in our inner-city schools.

For three years in a row, Education Week magazine has ranked Maryland schools as the number one in the nation. But we have a moral obligation to keep improving our public schools before we can look ourselves in the mirror and say we are providing a top-notch education for all our state’s public school kids.

To continue the fight against bullying, I introduced a bill that would have required schools to inform parents of the health risks that children might experience as a result of being bullied. While the bill passed by an overwhelming vote of 120-17 in the House, it unfortunately stalled in the State Senate. I plan to reintroduce the bill next year. And in the meantime, if your child has been a victim of severe bullying, please contact my office.

I also introduced a bill to create a standard set of qualifications for substitute teachers across the state. While it’s true that substitute teachers don’t spend much time with our children, we must take advantage of all of the 185 days of the school year if our children are to succeed. Establishing fair standards and qualifications for substitute teacher is a modest, common sense step we can take to improve public education at very little cost to the taxpayer.

Your New District 14 Team Delivers

One of the most important things your legislators can do in Annapolis is to ensure that worthy projects in our communities earn the state funding they need to come to fruition. I was proud to work with my District 14 colleagues on a number of great projects for our community.

A few years ago, our team secured $100,000 in state funding for the Damascus Heritage Museum for a permanent building to replace the temporary one in place now. Several reasons prevented the construction from being completed on time and the state typically rescinds funding that has not been spent within a specified time period. Fortunately, we got that timeframe extended so that this outstanding and worthy project can be finished. We expect the building will be completed and open to the public in the near future. Stay tuned.

The state will also be dedicating an additional $100,000 (in addition to the $150,000 allocated in prior years) to renovate Falling Green -- a historically significant house located on property owned by the Olney Boys and Girls Club. I am especially proud to help support this project because in doing so, we will not only restore a part of our county and region’s history -- but will also provide much needed office space for the Boys and Girls Club.

Did you know that more than 7,000 children play sports (football, baseball, soccer, softball, lacrosse, etc.) through the Olney Boys and Girls Club?

And speaking of sports… the issue of concussions has earned a great deal of media attention in recent years. As chair of the Education Subcommittee, I was proud to play a key leadership role in making high school and youth sports safer by increasing awareness of the risks of concussions.

A new law that takes effect in October will require a coach who has reason to believe a youth has suffered a concussion on the field -- to consult with a qualified health care professional before that child can play again. We must take the repercussions of concussions very seriously.

Now, we in Montgomery County absolutely love our community theaters. And the crown jewel of local theater is undoubtedly our award-winning Olney Theater. We should give a standing ovation to our state’s budget because it includes a $150,000 allocation to offset the cost of recent capital improvement projects that have contributed to the growing excellence of our theater.

Energy and the Environment

While our collective energy costs are rising, the energy companies we depend on have faced circumstances that have reduced their reliability. In part due to harsh storms and overgrown trees in sections of Montgomery County, some people have complained specifically about PEPCO’s reliability. That’s why I voted in favor of a bill that requires all energy providers to meet reliability standards and pay fines when they do not.

Of course, we know that on a global scale, we must find alternative energy sources and those sources must be cleaner and renewable. I supported Governor Martin O’Malley’s initiative to establish wind farms off Maryland’s coastline. I hope this initiative will be successful next year.

For the first time in my legislative career, I decided to test the waters -- so to speak -- in the environmental arena. Of course, funny enough, the one environmental issue I pursued was directly tied to education. I introduced a bill to require our state to examine the feasibility of making modest investments in hybrid-electric school buses. It didn’t pass this year, but I will try again next year.

Tax Issues

There’s really no other way to say it: it’s amazing -- and sometimes it’s shocking -- how unfair certain federal and state tax policies are. I introduced a bill to close a gaping loophole in current law that allows corporations to abdicate paying their fair share of taxes by essentially creating phantom companies.

The legislature considered raising the gas tax and also the tax we pay when we purchase beer, wine and hard alcohol.

Did you know our state’s gas tax hasn’t increased since 1992 and our tax on beer and wine has remained flat since 1972? It’s amazing to think that the legislature hasn’t increased the tax on hard alcohol since 1955. Eisenhower was president then!

While the legislature decided against increasing the gas tax, we did feel compelled to increase the alcohol tax. The tax on alcohol will rise from 6 percent to 9 percent with the increases going to fund needs for the disability community and, for just one year, money for school construction, including $9 million for Montgomery County Public Schools.

Like you, I want to keep more of my money in my pocket. None of us likes paying more taxes -- but as the famous quote goes -- taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society.

Leadership and 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 was delighted this year to be appointed by House Speaker Mike Busch as one of two Chief Deputy Majority Whips, meaning that I am now part of the House leadership.

Thank you for trusting me to represent your values and your perspectives in our citizen legislature. As corny as it may sound, since I was five years old (just ask my brothers), I knew I wanted to launch a career in public service.

I wish you a happy and healthy spring and summer! Bring on the warm weather and break out the barbecues! If I can ever be of service to you, please call me. And speaking of barbecues, I’d love to drop in on yours -- please consider inviting me! I promise to bring something delicious!


Anne R. Kaiser

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