Here's a roundup of recent happenings from Annapolis.
Schools' Funding Cuts Primary Concern at Baltimore City Delegation Meeting
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake assured members of the Baltimore City delegation Friday morning she will support their effort against budget cuts for the city's public schools.
Gov. Larry Hogan's proposed budget includes $35.5 million in cuts to city schools. Rawlings-Blake said she sympathized with Hogan about the difficulties of constructing a budget, but that hurting Baltimore schools in unacceptable.
Delegate Curt Anderson, D-Baltimore City, said the cuts are the top priority for Baltimore legislators. While Anderson, the chairman of the delegation, said the restoration of the school funding is pivotal, he does not know where the money will come from.
The state had been facing a projected shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars. Hogan's 2016 fiscal year budget closes that gap, but left some agencies, like schools, with less money than they had expected based on prior year funding.
Measures of Public School Facilities May be Misdirected
In judging the usefulness of Maryland's public school facilities, "age is a surrogate for condition," David Lever, executive director of public school construction for the Interagency Committee on School Construction, told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee's Education, Business and Administration Subcommittee Friday.
Public school facilities are currently measured in average years since initial construction, but a formula that measures a facility's condition and ability to perform as a sustainable educational environment would be more appropriate, he said, taking into account renovations that were not complete remakes.
The committee was established by the Board of Public Works in 1971 to administer the state's public school construction program. They would be responsible for overseeing the management of $291 million for public school construction in Gov. Larry Hogan's proposed budget for fiscal year 2016.
Bill to Ban Indoor Tanning by Minors Draws Large Crowds, Controversy
Four full panels testified in favor of a bill that would ban minors younger than 18 from the use of tanning facilities, in a standing-room-only chamber of the House Health and Government Operations Committee on Thursday.
This is the third session that Delegate Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery, has introduced the bill. He said that he intends to help people develop better habits, not to put the tanning industry out of business or be mean to teenagers.
"How often does every medical organization and CareFirst (Medical Health Insurance) line up on the same side of an issue," he said, citing the extensive support for the legislation banning minors from the "human panini presses."
Delegate Clarence Lam, D-Baltimore and Howard, testified as a practicing doctor in favor of the bill. UV rays are more potent as a carcinogen to children than to adults, he said.
A 10 percent tax was imposed on tanning services nationwide with the Affordable Care Act.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently mandated a "black-box warning" be placed on every tanning bed, advising against minors' use of the devices.
Current Maryland state laws require parental consent for minors younger than 18 to use tanning services, in line with at least 17 other states. Howard County laws ban minors under 18 from tanning services, as do 11 states and the District of Columbia.
Referencing other FDA rules and restrictions, Luke Golueke, owner of Aruba Sun & Spa, which has several locations in Maryland, said that there was no need to add another layer to an industry that has been compliant with strict regulation and oversight.
Lobbyist Bruce Bereano, representing the Maryland Indoor Tanning Association and SunSeekers, said that an outright ban, as the bill proposes, would interfere with parent-child relationships, while the current parental consent rules for minors encourages communication.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Enlists Parents to Change Washington
As students bustled out of Wiley H. Bates Middle School in Annapolis Wednesday afternoon, about 100 parents, teachers and principals crowded into the school's cafeteria to hear U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan present his goals to improve the nation's education system.
At the top of his list were a "common sense approach to standardized testing," including a limit to the number of tests each year and a move away from traditional "fill in the bubble" tests, as well as additional resources for disabled, poor and special needs students.
"Budgets aren't just numbers. They're about our values," said Duncan.
Duncan called Bates' integrated arts community a great example of how the country's education system should work and said that, in many ways, Maryland is a national leader in education, but should not yet be satisfied with their success. Parents have to go beyond the bake sale to make a real impact, he said.
"Washington has been broken for quite a while, but don't think it will change itself," he told the crowd. "It takes an outside effort. Your voice, your leadership, your challenging is what will be the change."
Also present at the town hall were National Parent-Teacher Association President Otha Thornton and Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery.
New Latino Caucus Launches in Maryland General Assembly
The formation of a new Maryland Latino Legislative Caucus was announced Thursday, after the most recent election doubled the number of Latino representatives in the General Assembly from three to six—all Democrats.
The National Hispanic Caucus was formed with five members of Congress, and formation of a Latino caucus in Maryland just "made sense with the numbers," said Executive Director Michelle Garcia.
State Delegate and Caucus Chair Joseline A. Peña-Melnyk, D-Prince George's and Anne Arundel, said that the caucus was formed to bring the "unique perspective of being Latino" to the table.
While caucus meetings started before Gov. Larry Hogan announced his proposed budget, many of the group's top priorities, including education and reducing health disparities, are related to cuts Hogan has included in his budget plan. Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, will serve as vice-chair.
State Senator Proposes Hit-and-Run Alert System
Senator Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, has proposed a "Yellow Alert" system to help police catch drivers who flee the scene of an injurious or fatal collision.
"In my district alone, we've had five hit-and-run fatalities in the last two years," Simonaire said. "It's devastated our community—and all five remain unsolved."
The Yellow Alerts would reach the public through the Emergency Alert System in the same way as AMBER Alerts (child abductions), Silver Alerts (missing persons older than 60 with cognitive impairments) and Blue Alerts (a missing offender who injured or killed a law enforcement officer).
Hit-and-run incidents have killed 96 people in Maryland since 2010.
"If you don't get the suspect in probably the first couple hours, you're probably not going to get them," Simonaire said.
Simonaire is also scheduled to present a bill that would increase the maximum prison sentence for failure to remain at the scene of an injurious or fatal collision, from 10 years to 15.
"It's over 18,000 hit-and-run cases a year" statewide, he said. "I think we have an epidemic in the fact that people don't realize they should stay at the scene of the crime."
Legislators Aim to Protect Dogs from Extreme Weather
Senator Ronald Young, D-Frederick, is fighting animal cruelty with a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to leave a dog restrained and unattended outside in dangerous weather.
Young's bill would prohibit a dog's owner from leaving it tethered or chained outdoors during a snow emergency called by state police, or when it is 32 degrees or colder outside for at least an hour.
Meanwhile, Delegate Dana Stein, D-Baltimore County, is sponsoring a similar bill that would make it illegal to restrain a dog outside for longer than 15 minutes during a National Weather Service hazardous weather warning, or for longer than an hour when the temperature is 32 degrees or colder, or 100 degrees or hotter. Delegate Karen Lewis Young, D-Frederick, Ronald Young's wife, is a co-sponsor.
"We have three rescue dogs," Ronald Young said. "I think one of 'em was tied up like that."
He is scheduled to present his bill to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Wednesday.
"Just that a dog can't be left out in extreme temperatures without someplace to go to get out of the weather, out of the heat, out of the snow or whatever," Ronald Young said. "Some people put 'em on a chain and tie 'em to a tree and forget 'em."
Young said he also wants a statewide animal abuser registry, which would prevent convicted abusers from buying or adopting pets.