Do you support the findings of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education? Are you committed to funding associated reforms, and if so, how?
Benn: I do support the findings of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. I am committed to funding the associated reforms they have found. How can we provide funding? As a legislator I will first discontinue cutting the education budget so it can at least get back to prior levels of funding. Then we need to create multiple approaches to generate revenue such as 1. create an MVA educational license plate similar to the bay tags; 2. a state income education surcharge; 3. a state sales education surcharge; 4. a state education surcharge on medical marijuana use; 5. selling advertising in state-run universities & community colleges campus venues; 6. selling logo wear similar to PBS; 7. creating an education funding credit card similar to a capital one card where for every purchase a donation is made to the educational fund…;8. total funding reform to address funding inequities to ensure all public schools have the same resources; 9. advocate federal legislators to create an education reinvestment fund to address crumbling school infrastructures which will also address school safety issues that exist due to America’s schools resembling 1950’s technology, architecture, and functionality.
Is Maryland’s transportation spending appropriately balanced between roads and transit? Does the state have the resources to meet its transportation needs? With the cancellation of the Red Line and the advent of BaltimoreLink, is the Baltimore region adequately served by transit?
Benn: MD’s transportation spending is not appropriately balanced between roads and transit. The State does have the resources to meet its transportation needs however the State keeps taking from the funding. No, the Baltimore region is not adequately being served by the current transit plan. I have friends who have stood outside for hours for a bus to not arrive or not have any viable way to a job without alternative personal vehicles. Being from NY originally elaborates the need for Baltimore to upgrade and integrate its public transport system within Baltimore and all its surrounding counties.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Benn: Without the complete understanding of the pros and cons of legalizing recreational marijuana, I can’t say I support or am against it. It’s apparent that the war on it has not worked in any capacity and according to your own report, 60% of Marylanders support its legalization. If marijuana is eventually legalized I would support the revenue be directed towards our crumbling infrastructure, educational reform/safety upgrade, school infrastructure, transportation upgrade, and environmental movements to clean energy independence. As a prospective legislator, I would be inclined to change Maryland law to allow ballot initiatives and allow the voters to vote on it. This issue is too polarizing to be left up to legislature alone to make the decision in my assessment.
At a time when the federal government’s commitment to Chesapeake Bay restoration is questionable, what new steps should Maryland take to protect this resource?
Benn: Septic systems contribute increased levels of nitrogen pollution. The MDE proposed regulations to not only retrofit septic systems but require that new & replacement septic systems have technology that reduces nitrogen & phosphorus discharges by half or more, along with sediments, which would restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay & reach water quality standards by 2025. District 34A/MD transportation system requires a massive upgrade. I want to propose a policy to address it titled “Clean Climate Upgrade Initiative fee.” Greenhouse gases cover many different industries. Different industries would contribute more to reducing GHG through the initiative than others, some sectors such as electrical can be priced from the beginning while other sectors such as transportation can be assessed a fee so as not to overburden them by the regulation. To encourage MD transportation systems to upgrade to clean transport there may be grants/loans provided to account for some of the costs of upgrading to clean transport for a specified (X) amount of time & a specified (X) maximum amount of a tax break. Pricing: This legislation will establish a formula for the fee to evolve over time to account for inflation & deflation in the economy. The revenue fee would be used to help repair impacted communities, offsetting the new burdens placed on consumers, producers, & the broader economy due to the upgrade, provide clean energy alternatives research funding, & provide a concerted campaign to encourage & show the benefits of energy industries to upgrade to Clean energy alternatives.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Benn: I support single-payer health care, Medicaid expansion, and no cuts, instituting transparency rules for Pharmacy Benefit Managers and drug corporations as well as creating a drug cost review commission for high-cost drugs which would allow less expensive prescription drugs be accessed by all (though it would affect seniors the most). I believe that in the richest nation, solving the issue of healthcare is a matter of viewing how it is interconnected to the quality of life and productivity of the community – not through the lens of divisive and vitriolic political rhetoric. If you’re too sick to work revenues are lessened. Healthcare is a right if we are to actually live out the words of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” My parents fell ill and without affordable healthcare, I had to become the predominant caregiver and breadwinner for my sickly parents – a reality that is becoming all too often the norm in America, where children of sickly parents receive very little assistance or help. Add that District 34A has been ranked as one of the many areas in America that are struggling with opioid and other drug addictions, yet quality and affordable healthcare still remain elusive for far too many a solution on the State level will be necessary because the Fed legislators have not been able to fix it. I have a plan to help caregivers and Marylanders that find themselves in the gray areas of the law to gain better and consistent healthcare.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Benn: The State should play a role in helping Baltimore address violent crime but not through requiring mandatory minimums and school to prison pipeline policies. Violent crime in Baltimore is a product of lack. Lack of resources, lack of quality and equitable education, lack of food, lack of health, inadequate and insecure housing and services, lack of stable environment….just plain lack. Poverty is the chief reason crime remains prevalent in urban areas as shown through Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson expansive 25-year study culminated into 2014 book called, “The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood.” The sobering and simple conclusion is the poor remained poor; those better off remained better off. Until the State helps to address all the lack and instability within these community economies in Baltimore expect that the illegal crime economies to continue to flourish and violent crime to remain prevalent. The State needs to provide opportunities for these communities to flourish utilizing empirical data as opposed to divisive and vitriolic rhetoric to drive policy.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Benn: Maryland’s business climate is good and bad. It ranks the lowest in tax considerations and in the top 20 for costs, labor supply, regulatory environment, growth prospects and quality of life aspects. I support fair lending and fair wages. Many Marylanders with good credit scores cannot get lending at the banks they’ve held accounts at for decades. MD must move towards a supporting community banking models to make lending options more available, affordable, and fairer. Current community banking lacks scale, technology, and regulatory expenses are spread amongst a smaller base. By helping community banks address these issues Marylanders who desire to be small business owners can access the lending they need to create businesses that pay fair wages to those in their communities. Maryland’s business climate will only increase when small businesses are given opportunities to thrive because there is a limitless base of talented entrepreneur’s within Maryland. I am not hostile to corporate interests at all, however, data shows that small businesses are the life’s blood of much of American economy. I also believe that local Chambers of Commerce must begin to include all populations in all their communities to be a part of helping to create economic growth plans. Local Chamber of Commerce’s has to do a better job at informing the larger public that they are there to help all of the constituency to be a part of progressing economy.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Benn: The problem with independent commissions is that they are created by legislators at the time which creates issues and in some cases can cause them to be powerless. Independent commissions will not be free from political influence due to this and other reasons. I think many of the ideas surrounding forming an independent commission is great however we have to install legislation that works from numerous angles and be able to be updated as the population fluctuates to achieve our desired result of less political influence. So I’m not against independent commissions at all but they have cons that would need to be addressed. If addressed they could be a good tool in addition to legislation. But remember redistricting is heavily dependent upon a census system that’s somewhat voluntary, has numerous operational faults, and again not free from political influence based on who has the helm so we need to take that into account as well. I also support creating a State voter’s rights law similar to the Federal voter’s rights act that has been weakened in the past decade. It will address many of the issues such as gerrymandering and voter suppression and would not be dependent upon the Feds altering or reducing its strength. I also support automatic voter registration because we need opt-in programs not opt-out or not even having options to register. Marylanders should never be denied the right to vote. We should be encouraging Marylanders to vote.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Benn: The law enforcement officers Bill of Rights needs a few alterations such as the 10-day non-contact stay which provides for the accused officers to not be interrogated or forced to make a statement, unlike other Marylanders who would be forced to make a statement the same day. The Bill of Rights allows for a “special layer of due process” for officers not afforded to other Marylanders which impedes transparency, accountability, and demonstrates a clear lack of just and fairness towards the general Maryland constituency. But the real solution to balancing protections for the police and the public stems from a process and protocol issues. Police officers are being investigated by the same departments they are in which creates all kinds of conflicts of interests for the investigating officer, prosecutor, and even the investigated officer. The State must propose in law the creation of independent prosecutors and investigative agencies that would address all cases of police & other public officials misconduct to assure the public and police officers that transparency and fairness will be implemented from start to finish. I’m sure I’ll take heat for these statements from some because it seems addressing this issue is all or nothing, however, I have spoken with many retired officer who agrees it’s the process and protocol in these investigations that are the most prevalent issue that undermines public trust. I believe fairness for all parties involved should always be the resultant. Slight alterations to the Bill of Rights and creation of an independent agency will help to ensure that.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Benn: 1. Prevent opioid misuse and addiction 2. Reduce overdose deaths and other harmful consequences of developing and Implement Overdose Prevention and Response Strategies 3. Improve opioid addiction treatment 4. Improve addiction care in the criminal justice system 5. Assess the Prevalence of OUDs and Opioid Misuse Among Individuals Experiencing Homelessness 6. Strengthen Partnerships between Housing and Health Care Providers to Provide Tailored Assistance 7. Improve Access to Medication-Assisted Treatment 8. remove barriers to housing for those who are unstable 9. cleaning up the conflict of interest between Doctors and Pharmaceutical companies that incentivize prescribing opioids 10. Expanding opioid prescribing guidelines and the prescription drug monitoring program 11. Stepping up law enforcement drug interdiction efforts
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Benn: 1. Support sectoral training, apprenticeships, and earn-while-you-learn programs 2. Implement universal pre-K 3. Raise the minimum wage 4. Encourage community banking 5. Encourage financial training 6. Provide better oversight of financial systems and products within the State 7. Level the playing field for union elections to bolster collective bargaining 8. Maintain and strengthen safety net programs like the EITC and CTC, SNAP, and Medicaid 9. Provide good jobs to working-class households with solid benefits so they’re able to contribute to the State economy 10. Building more vo-techs to address the aging electrician, plumbing, and other skilled labor force 11. State tax reform 12. Move towards energy independence which will provide new industries and jobs that have been historically sourced out of the state. 13. Address housing and health inequalities 14. Where inequality exists the good things in life do not such as time spent with family and friends, quality education, better and more reliable public services, stable mental health minus excessive stress, modern technological advances… 15. Environmental degradation 16. unemployment 17. Economic health needs to be measured on GPI and not GDP. GPI calls attention to inequality while illustrating the many ways our prosperity is being undermined. 18. Chamber of Commerce providing more training to their constituency 19. Having more accessibility to resources for disabled kids in the educational setting as well as, health and mental hygiene arena.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Benn: I think the intent of the law is clear however I do believe in many jurisdictions lawmakers are skirting these provisions especially in areas where political engagement with the public is not prevalent due to voter apathy, voter suppression, gerrymandering, sense of hopelessness and trust in governmental agencies, lack of understanding civics due to poor education…