Del. Adrienne Jones (center) is officially sworn in as Maryland House Speaker on Jan. 8. She is the first Black and first woman to hold the position. (Brigette Squire/The Washington Informer)
Del. Adrienne Jones (center) is officially sworn in as Maryland House Speaker on Jan. 8. She is the first Black and first woman to hold the position. (Brigette Squire/The Washington Informer)

ANNAPOLIS — State Sen. Jill Carter said the first several days of the Maryland General Assembly aren’t too challenging because she and other lawmakers are used to multitasking.

For instance, the Democrat from Baltimore City must handle constituent services, maintain a law practice and draft policies.

Unlike most of her colleagues, she also plans to run for the 7th Congressional District previously held by the late and popular Elijah Cummings, who died of cancer in October.

Carter will face more than two dozen challengers in the special election for the seat that includes parts of the city and neighboring Baltimore and Howard counties.

“We always have to juggle a lot of things,” she said Friday. “There is an endless string of community meetings. Neighborhood association meetings. Community events. It is absolutely not even close to a part-time job, but we do full-time work for the people.”

Although there hasn’t been a huge flurry of activity in the session’s first week that began Jan. 8, dozens of bills have already been introduced.

The first two bills in the House and Senate, labeled the Built to Learn Act, focuses on a $2.2 billion public school construction plan that would authorize the Maryland Stadium Authority to issue bonds and support from the Education Trust Fund of $125 million annually.

In terms of education, hearings are scheduled for this month for the ongoing $4 billion recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission.

Gov. Larry Hogan, a staunch opponent of the proposal’s price tag and no specific mechanisms to pay for it, targeted this year’s 90-day assembly as the “accountability session.”

The legislation he will introduce includes granting the state’s Ethics Commission the authority to assess civil penalties on state employees and public officials charged with wrongdoing. Currently, the commission must request a court to consider fines of at least $5,000.

“I’m all for accountability. I think taxpayers work hard for their money. I pinch taxpayers’ pennies as hard as I pinch my own,” said Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery County). “We all should live on tight budgets and that includes the state.”

In the meantime, lawmakers could review thousands of bills during the 90-day session. Here are a few of the proposed bills scheduled for discussion:

HBCU lawsuit

Led by the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, a settlement of $577 million to end a more than 13-year-old lawsuit could be presented as legislation. That’s because the plaintiffs rejected Hogan’s counteroffer of $200 million.

Del. Darryl Barnes (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro, who chairs the caucus, summarized how Mississippi settled during an HBCU lawsuit for $517 million 20 years ago. The dollar amount from Maryland plaintiffs’ lead counsel, Michael Jones, equates the dollar amount to $791 million in today’s dollars based on inflation adjustments.

Voting rights

The ACLU of Maryland has a draft bill to ensure eligible inmates and returning citizens receive the right to vote.

According to the bill, it would require the state’s Department of Public and Correctional Services to display information stating that any person no longer incarcerated has the right to vote. The agency must also provide each person with a voter registration application and other voting informing.

In addition, it would establish a program with state and local boards of elections to inform returning citizens how they can vote.

Vocational training

A bipartisan bill from Sens. Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) and Chris West (R-Baltimore County) would authorize a local school board to credit high school students with a diploma, postsecondary credential, or both, for achieving one vocational course per semester.

As long as a career and technical program receives approval by the board, a student would also receive credit toward school attendance. The time could include work-based training with an employer under a registered apprenticeship program.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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