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?
Hettleman: I strongly support the preliminary recommendations of the Commission. Maryland now falls far short of its duty and potential to achieve high levels of student performance and to provide the necessary adequate funding. That can and must change. The Commission is laying out a clear and promising path to educational excellence for all schoolchildren. Reforms must be based on high standards, adequate resources, and strict accountability for how well the funds are spent. The state department of education must play a stronger role, particularly in requiring the statewide use of evidence-based best instructional practices within a balanced framework that allows local school systems to retain considerable flexibility. Critical priority program areas are: teacher recruitment and retention; early childhood programs including wraparound family services; targeted assistance for at-risk students including students with disabilities and limited English proficiency; and career and technology education. Formula aid must consider regional cost adjustments. The projected cost of around $2b/year will require incremental increases in revenue over a many years, even after some program savings, such as reducing referrals to special education through early interventions. Revenue for the prior “Thornton program” was phased in over multi-years. The phase-in might prioritize funds to improve reading in grades pre-k through 5th grade. State and local fiscal responsibility must be based on local wealth and income, taking into account concentrations of poverty. We must not relax high standards nor shortchange the neediest students. We know the way to educational excellence for all and now must show the will.
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?
Hettleman: Maryland’s spending and commitment towards upgrading our public transportation infrastructure is nowhere near what is should be, and the financial commitment to roads far surpasses our commitment to public transit. While we cannot in anyway abandon road maintenance and construction, we need to do a better job fixing our public transit. The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance recently rated the region’s transit a D, which is unacceptable. A poor transportation system puts us at a major economic disadvantage, and makes it impossible for so many Marylanders to get to work each day and access vital services. The Red Line was a major first step towards finally building a world- class transportation system in Baltimore, and with its cancellation we are left with a shell of what is needed with the BaltimoreLink, which is only a continuation of the same inadequate bus system that preceded it. I was happy to support additional operating and capital funding for the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) in HB 372, a bill mainly focused on creating a dedicated funding source for the Washington Area Metro Transportation Authority (WMATA). The legislation also requires MTA to develop, with stakeholder input, a capital needs assessment as well as a transit plan for the central Maryland area.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Hettleman: I am open to the possibility of legalizing marijuana. I supported the legalization of medical marijuana and do generally support the decriminalization of marijuana. We know that rates of arrest for possession are racially skewed: African Americans, who are 30% of the state’s population, account for 58% of such arrests. In addition, further enforcement of marijuana laws is very expensive and diverts police from more serious crimes. However, I do have concerns about legalization. There is much we do not yet know about the long term effects of marijuana use, particularly with respect to usage by youths and young adults. I would support moving forward with legalization with caution. If we do legalize marijuana, we should limit usage to adults, carefully monitor the consequences (intended and unintended), be open to modifications over time to assure that we address negative consquences, and impose significant taxes on the sale of marijuana (to create disincentives for use and to raise revenue for oversight, education, etc.).
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?
Hettleman: A clean Chesapeake Bay is incredibly important to Maryland’s economy. With 18 million people residing in six states and D.C. living along the largest estuary in the country, we need to be sure that the waste and pollution generated by the residents of the Bay’s border states has as minimal an impact as possible on the Bay. There has been much progress in cleaning up the Bay through the Total Daily Maximum Load (TMDL) program, ensuring that harmful runoff is limited by capping the amounts of pesticides and other harmful materials that can be used in a given day. I am a strong supporter of the state continuing to ensure that the TMDL program is strictly monitored. We also need to be sure that nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants are reduced so that sunlight is able to reach the important undergrass, so essential to a clean Bay ecosystem. I support the Wastewater Treatment Plant Fund as well as the storm water management program so important to effectively managing runoff. Annually, this program generates over $100 million dollars for the Bay Restoration Fund. Individuals can also have an enormous impact on the health of the Bay. How we care for our homes, yards, roads, and the foods we eat are just a few of the ways that individuals can reduce our negative impact on the Bay.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Hettleman: The Affordable Care Act made tremendous strides towards ensuring that those who were not covered by health insurance obtained access to coverage. The rate of the uninsured in Maryland has dropped from 14% in 2010 to 6% this year and Maryland ranks high among states in new enrollees and the numbers of young people signing up for coverage. We also have among the lowest number of uninsured. However, the Trump Administration has done its best to roll back this expansion by removing the individual mandate, causing uncertainty in the insurance market, which has resulted in a rise in the cost of healthcare. In an effort to provide a short-term fix and a longer-term solution to this rise in healthcare cost, which is fundamental to blocking access to healthcare, I was pleased to support both HB 1795 and HB 1782. These bills will enable Maryland to seek a federal waiver and use this flexibility to collect fees that the insurance companies have been paying, but were waived this year under federal tax reform, to pay for state-run reinsurance program. The legislation will also require a study to address the longer term issues around stabilizing the market. The state also needs to take an active role in regulating the pharmaceutical industry, especially in light of the federal government’s unwillingness to. I supported legislation in 2017 that enables the Attorney General to prevent prescription drug price gouging of off-patent drugs and requires pharmaceutical companies to justify price increases.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Hettleman: The state should play a significant role in curbing violent crime in Maryland. This session we passed funding initiatives to prevent violent crime. I supported the Violence Intervention & Prevention Program funding evidence-based programs that prevent gun violence. I also supported expanding Safe Streets, a program that has been very effective at using formerly incarcerated individuals to prevent violence in high-crime neighborhoods. Individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system should have opportunities once they return to the community. I supported the Second Chance Act, shielding certain crimes from employers as well as “Ban the Box” legislation that prevents colleges and universities from denying admission to applicants based on whether they had a criminal record. I was one of the legislators who wrote to the Attorney General inquiring about the constitutionality of our bail system. Now, individuals who pose the most dangerous threat to the community are jailed. Finally, we are moving away from a system where people were imprisoned because they could not afford to pay bail. I advocated within the Appropriations Committee for $1 million in the budget to fund expanded pre-trial services so that they are comprehensive enough to link participants with services to support a transition away from criminal activity towards productive community activity and employment. HB 447 will guide how those funds will be distributed. The best crime program is one that prevents crime. Strengthening our educational system will provide students with the skills they need to get jobs in our changing economy.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Hettleman: We need to recognize that the economy is changing and that jobs in manufacturing that were once dominant in Baltimore are no longer viable. The healthcare, technology and cybersecurity sectors are ripe for expansion and would build upon our already existing strengths. We should train students before they graduate from high schools. I’m very interested in knowing whether the P-Tech schools launched between high school and industry will be an effective means of supporting growth in these industries. Local community colleges should work closely with industry to craft clear career pathways that will be responsive to the labor needs of local business. One of the major hindrances in Baltimore is the lack of reliable public transportation for people to get to work. Companies will locate in places with comprehensive transportation systems. We also need to be responsive to workers’ needs. Low income workers’ wages have not risen as quickly as those on the higher income workers. In order to make sure that every working Marylander is valued, we should phase in an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour, a bill I sponsored this session. Businesses would have a chance to plan and by indexing the wage to inflation, they would have predictability, something they’ve argued is paramount to their planning. I also support policies that would make work-life balance better for workers with children, such as a state insurance plan that would support a paid family leave policy.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Hettleman: I conditionally support the creation of such a body for the stated purpose. Our democracy is rooted in principles of representation of and accountability to all of our constituents. Extreme partisan gerrymandering threatens these principles, lessens the consequences of failure to listen to broad perspectives and compromise in adopting policy and undermines confidence in government. I support efforts to make the redistricting process fairer and more transparent. For state legislative offices, I support a nonpartisan commission to make recommendations on redistricting. With respect to Congressional districts, I am concerned about the impacts on Maryland if we modified our districts while other states (particular those closest to us geographically) did not. I believe that any similar effort to redraw Congressional lines should be part of a consolidated, simultaneous effort to redraw lines in “red” and “blue” states; neither Democrats nor Republicans should have an advantage nationally because some states follow a nonpartisan process and other don’t. Therefore, while I would support the goal of a nonpartisan commission to make recommendations on Congressional redistricting in Maryland, I would only support making this change if a sufficient number of other states were doing the same.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Hettleman: We are deeply indebted to the police officers, and all first responders across the state that sacrifice so much for our safety. We must ensure that both they and the citizens that they protect feel valued. The Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights may need changing in order to provide more accountability and responsiveness to public mistrust. Recent crises have contributed to the growing community mistrust of the police that must be addressed. Certainly, the abuses of the Gun Trace Task Force has contributed to the cynicism that public has about the police. I believe the vast majority of police are honest, hardworking individuals who are dedicated to public service, but it is quite concerning that the GTTF lasted for as long as it did and I’m concerned there may be a culture that somehow condoned its operation. I was happy to support legislation this session creating a commission to examine these abuses and make recommendations for policy improvements. Additionally we need to do a better job at improving police community relations, by having more community focused policing strategies. Programs like the Citizens Police Academy need to be expanded statewide, and other opportunities for the public, especially students, to get involved with the police department should be made available.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Hettleman: In order to start to solve the opioid crisis we need to have a dramatic change in the way physicians, of all specialties, treat pain. I support limiting physicians’ ability to prescribe opiates and we must continue to hold them accountable through the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Limiting dosages is only one aspect. We need to take a serious look at which doctors are permitted to prescribe opioids, and in what circumstances they should be allowed to do so. While this issue is finally receiving the public attention it so desperately needed, we also need to raise the awareness of how people can become addicted and what we all can do to address the issue. I was pleased to support bringing education about opioid addiction into schools as well as to fund more treatment programs. Learning from a young age how destructive these drugs are can have a significant curbing effect on use of opioids in the first place. But the focus also has to be on treatment, and the availability of treatment, as well as insurance coverage for it, and providing it on demand for those who truly need it. Addiction is a disease and we need to be sure that insurance coverage recognizes that quick fixes and short-term treatments are largely unsuccessful. I am also in favor of exploring alternative treatments that are being used in other countries, including the use of Ibogaine that is having some success in Mexico and other countries.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Hettleman: Addressing income inequality requires urgent action. We must uncover and understand the roots of the inequality, among them racial and gender discrimination. And over the past four years, it has been a constant priority of my legislative work and I’ve worked closely with Associated Black Charities to understand making policy through a racial equity lens. I believe in a progressive income tax and believe that we should be regularly reviewing the tax credit system we’ve developed to provide incentives to larger corporations. These are potential losses in taxes that may be better spent providing relief to lower middle class workers. I was happy to support an increase in the minimum wage, an expansion of the childcare voucher system, paid sick leave, and an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit as methods of addressing income inequality. Just yesterday, a front page story in The Sun reported on a study showing that women in Maryland were paid 84 cents for every dollar paid to men. And the gap is increasing. I support legislation to address pay equity, but the long quest to reduce income inequality also involves other priority steps like growing businesses and good jobs. No less important is improving public education so Maryland can offer a skilled workforce of good-paying jobs that would help attract businesses. The recommendations of the Kirwan Commission call for a complete, bold overhaul of career and technology education that elevate the content and image of career readiness programs and move Maryland to the top.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Hettleman: I was pleased to support improvements to the Public Information Act in 2015, but there is still room for expanded public access to information. I support a presumption that the public should have access unless there is a good reason to keep the information confidentiality. There are still many issues where it is too easy for a Public Information Officer to deny access to the media. For example, it is still inconsistent when the public has access to body camera footage and under what circumstances a denial is appropriate. While this is still new technology, policies need to keep up with technological advances. When PIO’s deny access they should have to provide a reason for why they are denying rather than redacting, a change which I support. A flat denial may be easier for the institution, but it denies the public the right to know. There should be regular Ombudsman reviews to ensure that our policies are keeping up with the public’s need and right to know.