2002 End of Session Letter
A Message From Bobby
Dear Friends, It is my honor to serve you in the Maryland State Senate. I would encourage you to contact my legislative office with issues or ideas for the Legislative Session. We welcome anyone to come visit us in Annapolis. In the meantime, please use this website as a... Click here to read more.
Delegate Bobby Zirkin’s 2002 Legislative Session Wrap-Up
Thank you for your input and support throughout the 2002 Legislative Session. It is truly my honor to represent the citizens of District 11, Baltimore County, in the Maryland House of Delegates. Your input over the past term has been of tremendous value on issues of concern to all of us – education, public safety and security, protecting our environment, health care, economic development, technology, local issues, and so much more.
As we begin to reflect on the events and accomplishments of the last 90 days, I am pleased to provide you with my annual Legislative Session Wrap-up. I am extremely proud of the steps we have taken on both the state and local levels. It is with great pride that I serve the citizens of District 11, and I hope you will take pride in the accomplishments of the 2002 Session.
Providing for our Children: The Thornton Commission
Over the past two years, the Commission on Education, Finance, Equity and Excellence, otherwise known as the Thornton Commission, has been holding public hearings around the state. Their work product called for a large enhancement of funding for education based on a new funding framework. Landmark legislation was passed in this Session based on Thornton recommendations, which include a bridge of approximately 3 million additional dollars for Baltimore County in the next fiscal year, and over 120 million additional dollars when the formula is fully funded in 2008. Baltimore County will receive a 72% increase in state dollars for education under the new formula, and this money will translate into smaller class sizes, additional teacher training, full-day Kindergarten, and so on. All counties must submit a master plan to the State Department of Education, and our community will have a unique opportunity to have input into where these additional dollars are spent.
Summer Education Pilot Program
I am once again proud to announce the continuation and extension of the successful Summer Education Opportunity Pilot Program. Three years ago, I introduced this program to provide funding for the hiring of additional teachers in the summer school programs of Baltimore County and Prince George’s County. Additional teachers were utilized to reduce class sizes in targeted schools to ratios of 4 and 5 students per teacher. Not surprisingly, test scores and achievement of students in these programs increased dramatically. As of this summer, the program had leveraged over 3 million dollars from both the state and federal governments for these two counties. This Session, I was proud to have this successful program extended for an additional 5 years. The Summer Education Opportunity Program clearly demonstrates the tremendous value of targeting education resources to at-risk youth. I am hopeful that this program will continue to serve as a model in summer education.
Class Size Reduction and Reading Specialists
This year’s fiscal situation made it a challenge to create new spending programs, even for the worthiest causes. Despite the rough economic year, I was proud to once again introduce a comprehensive class size reduction program. The program was called EXCEL (Expanding our Commitment to Excellence in Learning) and was modeled after Wisconsin’s highly successful SAGE program. The bill called for a pilot program of 50 to 75 underachieving schools targeted for mandatory K-3 class size reduction to 17 children per classroom. It was clear that with the passage of the Thornton Commission, no other major education proposals would be passed. However, I am excited to take this approach to our County’s Board of Education for use in its Thornton master plan. I truly believe that real class size reduction, particularly in early grades, can have significant impact on student performance. Perhaps a funding source for the County would be savings from Delegate Morhaim’s recently enacted buying consortium concept.
Another bill that I was proud to sponsor would have allowed for the rehiring of retired reading specialists. Over the past two sessions, our General Assembly saw the value in allowing classroom teachers and principals to return to school without losing pension money as a means to help alleviate the teacher shortage. This year, I hoped to add reading specialists, a select group that is pivotal to our children’s education. The bill passed the House of Delegates unanimously but was defeated in the Senate. I look forward to continuing this effort next year.
Owings Mills Middle School
An issue of great importance to our entire community is that of the overcrowding in our Middle Schools. From Deer Park to Franklin, the Middle Schools in the Northwest Area of Baltimore County are simply too large and overcrowded. I am excited about the construction of New Town High School and the opening of New Town Elementary. However, as highlighted by the overcrowding at New Town Elementary, our county needs to do a better job of education planning. For years, our community has been pushing to have a new Middle School. This Session, we have finally made some progress. The first step in having a school built is acquiring a land bank in our community. Currently, Baltimore County does not own a parcel of land large enough to build a Middle School. Early in the Session, I met with Governor Glendening to request a reservation of a parcel at the Rosewood campus for the School Board. Parcel #6 had been sought by Baltimore County’s Department of Economic Development for use in light manufacturing. I believe that this would have been detrimental to our community, and so I am proud to say that the Governor has agreed to my request for this land designation. I now look forward to working with the next County Administration to move forward on building Owings Mills Middle School.
Public Safety and Security
The Maryland Security Act
Perhaps the most challenging issue in the 2002 Session was that of State Security. The terrorist acts of September 11 brought a new and heightened awareness to vulnerabilities around our State. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, I volunteered to serve on the Terrorism Workgroup, charged with reviewing a number of security bills. The most significant of these was the Maryland Security Act, comprehensive legislation dealing with areas including roving wiretaps, creating new definitions and crimes of terrorism and harboring, drivers license restrictions, and increased powers of our State Police. Concerns expressed by civil libertarians derailed what I believe were some very important aspects of the legislation, and the law that emerged from the two Houses was significantly watered down from its original version. Still, I believe that the bill is an important step forward in providing additional security in our state.
The Chemical Security Act of 2002
Following the horrible acts of 9/11, I became aware of a serious issue regarding the storage and transportation of hazardous materials. Upon further research, it was obvious that a significant vulnerability exists in our population centers due to the storage and handling of large amounts of extremely toxic materials, with little to no security. Working with Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, I introduced the Chemical Security Act of 2002, which called for chemical facilities to store and handle toxic materials in a reasonably secure manner, prohibit unauthorized access to their sites, and monitor the means of access to their property. In addition, the bill sought to place limits on the storage of extremely hazardous materials such as chlorine on our rail yards, which have overwhelming vote despite fierce lobbying by the chemical and railroad industry. The House Environmental Matters Committee chose not to act on the bill and so the legislation was defeated. However, the Mayor and I are pursuing a number of different avenues to accomplish this important goal. It is beyond comprehension that the chemical lobby would work to defeat a bill that simply seeks to prevent a horrific act of sabotage on their property. We intend to insure that they, like all of us, do the right thing in this new era.
Last Session, the Legislature passed landmark legislation lowering the legal limit of blood alcohol while driving to .08. This Session, we followed that up by passing two giant bills regarding drunk driving. The repeat offender law and open container law seek to toughen what has been viewed as lax laws on driving drunk. The combination of legislation passed in this term clearly shifts the burden to the Judiciary Branch to enforce the strong laws we have created.
An important initiative passed the Legislature regarding our system of Juvenile Justice. Reports of abuse at DJJ Facilities prompted calls for independent oversight and independent monitors. I am excited to report that after several hard years of effort, the independent monitors legislation has been passed and will become law. The office staffing the monitors will be the Department of Children, Youth, and Families. This legislation is an important step forward.
Last year, I passed legislation establishing a pilot program for Juvenile Justice group homes modeled after the successful Summer Education Opportunity Program. Unfortunately, the program did not receive funding this past year, and I look forward to its inception next year. Again, it is urgent that we provide at-risk youth with education and mentoring opportunities, to help get back on track.
Chemical Security and Community Right to Know
Research for the Chemical Security Act brought to light a number of additional issues relating to hazardous materials. Chlorine, which is used widely as a disinfectant, is also extremely toxic. Stored in large quantities, it is considered one of the most serious threats to security. In addition, there is growing evidence that its use in our water systems has some detrimental health effects. Working with a Delegate from Montgomery County, I was pleased to introduce legislation calling for an immediate study of the security, health, and environmental effects of chlorine in our wastewater and drinking water systems, with an eye to alternatives. This legislation, combined with a similar bill relating to our sewer systems, passed the Legislature. Findings of this task force should be revealed as early as next Session.
Another issue of concern is the absolute lack of important information relating to what chemcicals are being stored across our state. This year, the Legislature passed an important bill entitled Community Right to Know, which calls for an immediate upgrade in the emergency planning systems, paid for by fees from the chemical industry. It is urgent that our local emergency planning committees have the necessary tools in the case of accident or sabotage.
11th District Projects
Local projects for our 11th District are extremely important, and our community faces many upcoming challenges. As previously discussed, progress has been made on Owings Mills Middle School with the designation of Rosewood Parcel #6 as a potential site. The Cyber-City Technology and Cultural Arts Center has been put on hold as issues relating to the Owings Mills Metro Station Development continue to be worked out. Clearly, this project will be some years in coming. In Randallstown, the important work in saving Willow Glen North Swim Club continues and will be a major focus of the summer. Efforts to bring bond bill funding to the district for the Odyssey School and for Irvine Nature Center passed the House of Delegates but were defeated by the Senate due to fiscal considerations. They will be put at the top of project lists next Session. In Pikesville, I share the community’s frustration and concern at the opening of two methadone clinics. I believe that these clinics belong in commercial and industrial areas, and certainly not near residential neighborhoods and schools. It appears that the federal government and courts have tired our hands as to permissible state regulation, but I will continue to look for ways to work in coordination with the community to insure the best possible outcome. Finally, significant progress has been made on securing a marquee at Deer Park Elementary School, and I am looking forward to reviewing the need for closing of open space at Glyndon Elementary School.
Again, thank you for taking the time to share your views on many of the complex and controversial issues of the 2002 Session. Your participation in the legislative process is essential and I appreciate your efforts. I enjoy working closely with my 11th District Team of Senator Paula Hollinger, Del. Dan Morhaim, and Del. Mike Finifter for the benefit of our district. Please feel free to contact me throughout the interim on any issue. I may be reached at my district office at (410) 581-1192, by email email@example.com, or through my website: bobbyzirkin.
I look forward to hearing from you and I am proud and honored to work for you in our General Assembly.
Robert A. Zirkin
Delegate, 11th District