2003 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 2003 Legislative Session Wrap-Up
Thank you for your input and support throughout the 2003 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 – – the budget, education, public safety and security, protecting our environment, health care, economic development, technology, local issues, and so much more. I hope that this Legislative Report is helpful in understanding some of the major issues of the 2003 Session.
Juvenile Law and Services
At the beginning of the Legislative Session, I was proud to be named as the Subcommittee Chairman for Juvenile Law and Services. That Subcommittee deals with all issues on Judiciary Committee related to Children, Youth, and Families.
Prior to the Session, I had the unique opportunity to tour juvenile facilities in the State of Missouri, widely considered the most progressive in dealing with delinquency. Missouri utilizes the ‘wrap-around’ method and boasts of a 10% recidivism rate compared to Maryland’s 70%. Many of the bills I introduced this year take steps toward a Missouri-model of dealing with delinquency.
I was proud to introduce a full package of bills related to juvenile justice, including a uniform system of outcomes evaluation, mandatory aftercare, state-wide mentoring, intensive case-monitoring, and family focus treatment service plans. In addition, having served on the state-wide Task Force on Juvenile Group Homes, I introduced a package of bills including the creation of a summer opportunity pilot program, an intense education program, certification for Group Home Administrators, mandatory Community Advisory Boards, and expansion of the successful Wilderness programs. Frequent visits by case workers to the detained youth will also be mandated.
Some of the aforementioned bills will pass into law, some will be held for further study, and others will be initiated by the new Secretary of Juvenile Justice (and my mentor) Ken Montague. My Subcommittee has begun the process of raising the bar and raising awareness on this important issue. We have a long way to go.
The budget crisis made it challenging to put any new ideas on the radar screen. In year’s past, I have pushed the concept of a statewide Class Size reduction program and other initiatives. Last Session, under the leadership of Senator Barbara Hoffman, we took a huge step forward with the passage of the Thornton Commission, a $1.3 Billion increase in state aid for K-12 Education. With the challenge of a massive budget deficit and a national recession, the maintaining of K-12 funding became the most important issue in education. With Slots being rejected and only minimal revenue enhancements, the real fight over Thornton has unfortunately been left to next year. It is imperative that we maintain our solemn commitment to the people of Maryland and keep Thornton fully funded and on schedule. Anything less will be an abrogation of our responsibilities.
Other education issues this year included passage of Charter School legislation, MSDE takeover of the Charles Hickey School, and new ideas related to alternative education for kids in group homes.
Owings Mills Middle School
An issue of continuing importance is the building of Owings Mills Middle School. After years of working on this issue, we are finally taking steps in the right direction. The first step has been to find suitable land, and Rosewood’s Parcel #6 was viewed as a suitable site. Thanks to Councilman Ken Oliver, a site survey was conducted and has returned with a positive result. Step two has been to set aside this land for use by the BCPS. Governor Ehrlich has agreed in principal to assist in our efforts. And finally, our new County Executive Jim Smith has agreed to place the land on bond referendum in the 2004 election so as to acquire the property for use as a school if the Governor sets it aside for such a purpose. After this exhaustive process, I will turn my attention to lobbying the County for funding of a middle school. As school construction is a county function, that decision rests with our County officials. But working together, we have moved this agenda forward, and I am confident that we can continue to make progress.
Homeland Security and Chemical Terrorism
With our nation at war in Iraq and our terror alert on high, it is imperative that we address security vulnerabilities at our critical infrastructure. Chemical industrial plants and transportation routes for hazardous materials are widely thought of as some of the most dangerous targets for potential terrorists. I was the proud lead sponsor of House Bill 796, the so-called ‘Chemical Security Act,’ which would have taken the first concrete steps toward a more secure Maryland. House Bill 796 simply required those who handle, maintain, or store massive amounts of very hazardous materials to do so in a reasonably secure manner. Further, the bill required chemical plants to work in coordination with our State Police to analyze and upgrade security. And finally, the legislation would have created a high level task force to make recommendations on security at rail yards, rail lines, the Port of Baltimore, and other transportation routes. Despite intense lobbying efforts by the powerful chemical lobby and its allies, the House Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly passed this legislation. After a heated floor debate, the House of Delegates passed House Bill 796 by a 114 to 16 vote.
With great momentum, the Chemical Security Act moved to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee where I was excited for a positive response. However, at the personal request of Senator Paula Hollinger, the Chemical Security Act was re-referred to the EHEA Committee chaired by Mrs. Hollinger. This important measure was defeated in her Committee, and our state is left with a continuing vulnerability at our chemical plants. It is unclear on what substantive grounds this bill was defeated, and I vow to continue to work to pass this meaningful legislation. I am concerned with the process that defeated this bill, and more importantly, I am gravely concerned that this process in the Senate has left our citizens vulnerable to terrorism.
The 2003 Session saw an array of healthcare legislation on a number of topics. The state insurance commissioner rejected a plan for CareFirst BlucCross Blue-Shield to convert to a for-profit company and be sold to a California firm. This year’s Assembly restructured the Board of Directors and increased oversight.
Perhaps the most controversial healthcare bill related to the Board of Physicians Quality Assurance and the licensing of doctors. The Board was set to ‘sunset’ by law and needed to be re-initiated by statute. The legislation unfortunately called for a series of restrictions and rules that I believe would have had an extremely detrimental impact on healthcare in our state. For example, alleged (not actual) malpractice against physicians would be posted on a website, the entire current Board would be replaced, and standards of evidence would be lowered in license revocation. I believe that this legislation, as introduced in the Senate, could help to create a crisis in healthcare on the level of our neighboring states Pennsylvania and West Virginia. I opposed the BPQA legislation, and will work hard to strip the provisions that were imposed on our doctors.
Other issues related to healthcare included the important battle to maintain
Medicaid funding and the medicinal use of marijuana. Former Delegate Murphy’s bill to create a medical necessity defense for marijuana use passed both Houses.
Mental Health Initiatives and Children with Disabilities
At the beginning of this Legislative Session, Governor Ehrlich announced the formation of a commission on Children with Disabilities related to the issue of custody relinquishment. In addition, I sponsored a series of three bills in coordination with Senator Nancy Jacobs dealing with these issues. Maryland has set up a system where families are forced to choose between relinquishing custody of their children or getting the mental health services they need. In addition, families that leave their children at a mental hospital with a reasonable fear for the safety of the child or other family members are placed on a central registry of abuse and neglect. These parents are often trying to do the best for children with severe emotional problems and are punished for trying to do the right thing. Everyone agrees that this is a ridiculous system. I am proud to say that our legislation dealing with voluntary placements of children with disabilities without the need to relinquish custody and with the central registry both passed the legislature.
Budget, Slots, and Taxes
The most intense discussion of the 2003 Session revolved around the slots debate. The 417th Session of the Maryland General Assembly began with one of the worst fiscal crises in our state’s history. At stake was billions in school construction and K-12 education funds, Medicaid and other healthcare programs, juvenile justice, and so on. The Legislature was faced with the difficult task of bridging the budget gap and restoring structural balance to the budget. Governor Ehrlich’s plan for slot machines was passed by the Senate but was defeated in the House Ways and Means Committee. I sit on the House Judiciary Committee and therefore never had the opportunity to vote on the Governor’s proposal. There were several critical issues in need of revision in the slots proposal, but the full House never got the opportunity to work on the proposal as the bill was defeated in Committee. In lieu of slots, the Legislature was forced to work on revenue enhancements to bridge the gap in our deficit, but Session ended without a resolution to our fiscal crisis. It is my strong opinion that we should have taken bolder steps in regards to revenue enhancements and worked harder on the slots proposal. We will face this crisis again when we return for the next session.
Again, thank you for taking the time to share your views on many of the complex and controversial issues of the 2003 Session. Your participation in the legislative process is essential and I appreciate your efforts. I enjoy working closely with my 11th District colleagues Dan Morhaim and Jon Cardin for the benefit of our district. Please feel free to contact me throughout the interim on any issue. My firstname.lastname@example.org or through my website WWW.BOBBYZIRKIN.COM.
It is truly my honor to represent you, and my best for a happy and healthy summer.
Bobby A. Zirkin
Delegate, 11th District