The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland outlined its list priorities for this year’s 90-day General Assembly session in Annapolis that includes education, medical cannabis and criminal justice.
The session also marks the first time ever one of its own members in House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) leads the House of Delegates.
“We are excited to support her and stand with her 100 percent,” said Del. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro, who also chairs the caucus. “With our legislative priorities, we are charging ahead and making sure that we address concerns that affect the African American community.”
One major item will be improving public education based on recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission named after William E. “Brit” Kirwan, former University of Maryland System chancellor.
Some of the proposals in the $4 billion plan ($2.8 billion from the state and $1.2 billion from counties and Baltimore City) include early childhood expansion, increase in teacher salaries and counselors and mental health providers for schools in schools with a high concentration of poverty.
However, a funding formula proposal suggests the majority-Black jurisdiction of Prince George’s County would have to shell out the highest amount of nearly $360 million toward the plan by 2030.
Del. Julian Ivey (D-District 47A) of Cheverly, who supports the Kirwan recommendations, said an item within the funding formula could affect areas with underserved communities.
“There is a clause that if you don’t adequately implement these recommendations, then the state could send 25 percent less of those promised dollars back to the local jurisdiction,” he said. “We could run into an instance because a jurisdiction does not have enough revenue … they would then be punished for not having enough money. We do champion that our dollars are used the right way, but we also want to make sure we are not punishing poor people for being poor.”
Sen. Obie Patterson (D-District 26) of Fort Washington serves on the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, which held a briefing Tuesday, Jan. 14 to discuss the Kirwan plan.
Before the committee session, Patterson said Friday, Jan. 10 procurement opportunities for, small, minority- and women-owned businesses should be included in the proposal. For instance, a minority business could be hired to paint a building or tutor students for a specific academic program.
“We need to make the school systems that are going to be administering these monies … to make every effort to include minorities, women and small businesses in our community,” he said.
Another agenda item will be pushing to add more Blacks in the medical cannabis industry.
The caucus seeks to eliminate caps on licenses for growers and processors to ensure more minority representation. Only one Black has a processor license so far.
“If you open it up to the free market, then that cuts down on any corruption or any bad deeds that one may want to do,” he said. “It opens up the playing field for all that qualify to participate.”
He said a closed-door meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 16 with an invitation for the state’s attorney general and industry officials to discuss the cap proposal and any updates on the medical cannabis business.
He also mentioned how former Del. Cheryl Glenn (D-Baltimore City) helped bring the industry to Maryland.
Glenn, 68, resigned Dec. 18 and five days later, federal authorities charged her with wire fraud and bribery for allegedly accepting more than $35,000 in exchange to pass medical cannabis legislation and other offenses between March 4, 2018, and Feb. 11, 2019.
The state’s Medical Cannabis Commission is named after Glenn’s mother, Natalie M. LaPrade.
Glenn, who chaired the Baltimore City delegation and served as former chair of the state’s Black Caucus, has a court appearance and arraignment scheduled for Jan. 22 at U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
“Del. Glenn was a friend to me and I made no bones about that,” Barnes said. “I do not condone the things she is alleged of doing, but I do commend the work she did. I think all of us stand with her as being a delegate that was advocating and fighting for African Americans to be a part of an industry that we were left out of.”