During the annual Maryland General Assembly, state lawmakers review legislation for its respective jurisdictions and hope for approval from their colleagues in the House and Senate chambers.
The usual in-person meetings, public hearings, negotiations and handshakes with lobbyists and activists during the 90-day session won’t happen this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
According to proposed legislation from the Prince George’s County House Delegation, lawmakers from the majority Black jurisdiction have begun online discussions on items such as vehicle height monitoring systems, to require the livestreaming of Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission meetings and regulation of concrete batching plants.
A few bills that may receive a little more discussion include alcohol-related bills such as one to entice grocery stores to sell beer and “light wine” with at least three liquor stores within a square mile.
One of the strategies seeks to open supermarkets within food deserts.
“[The bill] can help address the issue of food desserts that have been pervasive in the county,” said Del. Jazz Lewis (D-District 24) of Glenarden, who plans to sponsor the bill. “Here’s what our community needs. Let’s work this out.”
The 24th legislative district houses three municipalities in the 20743 zip code with poverty rates above the county average of 8.7 percent.
According to 2018 U.S. Census data, those locales are Capitol Heights (10.7 percent), Fairmount Heights (13.6 percent) and Seat Pleasant (17.8). These municipalities are located inside the Beltway that border the District.
Del. Wanika Fisher (D-District 47B) of Hyattsville has a similar bill grant class A licenses to grocery stores permitting the sale of beer and light wine, but prohibit consumption on the store premises. The county’s Board of License Commissioners would grant approval for no more than three supermarkets to occupy a license within a legislative district.
Beer and wine are already sold at two Food Lion stores, one in Upper Marlboro and the other in Laurel. Both grocery stores are located outside the Beltway.
Prince George’s lawmakers with the delegation’s education committee reviewed two proposed bills Dec. 30.
One focused on a previous bill submitted last year by Del. Jay Walker (D-District 26) of Fort Washington to incorporate 150 minutes of physical activity, including includes 90 minutes of physical education, into the daily curriculum for elementary students.
The other measure would reconfigure school board members to convert all members to at-large representatives in the county.
Del. Ron Watson (D-District 23B) of Upper Marlboro said he contacted officials in neighboring Montgomery County. According to that county’s website, its board has a hybrid structure with two members who serve at-large, five who represent districts and one student member.
“The intent of that piece of the legislation was to remove parochialism and ensure that each member of the school board was properly bedded by the entirety of Prince George’s County residents,” Watson said. “It is not looking at the county in a wholistic manner. Wherever you represent from a district perspective, it’s important you keep a countywide focus.”
Del. Julian Ivey (D-District 47A) of Cheverly has a similar bill to Watson’s, but it seeks to keep each member representing nine districts.
Both bills would eliminate the four appointed members whose terms expire by 2022 and 2023. In addition, refer to the chief executive officer of the school system to the better-known title as “superintendent.”
The school board has been an all-elected body before, but it became a mix of elected and appointed members after state lawmakers approved a bill in 2013 led by former County Executive Rushern L. Baker III.
Baker said while in office the current structure allows for the county government to become more involved in the school system which includes the superintendent to appoint school board chair, the county executive appoint three members and County Council chose one person.
During the meeting, Lewis asked if there’s any data to show if the proposed at-large structure has any influence on outcomes in the classroom.
“There have been no significant gains in student achievement with the different configurations of the school board,” Watson said. “What it is in fact is bringing our school board in line and in the norms that other school boards operate effectively.”