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?
Ebersole: I support the Kirwan Commission fully. I have been attending their meetings and they have been moving carefully toward very positive funding and policy reform. The current findings, as well as the direction the committee is taking for the future of education, are excellent ones. This year I worked in Education Subcommittee to help enact legislation to support early recommendations. These include initiatives to attract and keep teachers, with attention to attracting a diverse teacher workforce, and also programs to increase early literacy. Going forward, I see the attention to increased funding for English language learners, students with disabilities, and students in families at or near poverty levels as very positive and necessary. Additionally, the commission is moving toward a more universal offering of Pre-K to 3 and 4 year olds. In 2017, I sponsored a bill forming a work group, on which I served, to gather information on the logistics of full Pre-K offering for Kirwan. Kirwan will likely suggest significant increases in educator salaries, a great idea to attract and keep the best. The funding for all this can be found in the education trust fund, which, with the help of the voters in 2018, will be constitutionally locked as additional funding for new educational initiatives and construction.
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?
Ebersole: Maryland’s current focus on transportation spending is badly skewed toward road projects. The transportation trust fund, which was so controversially funded by a gas tax, has been used almost exclusively for roads in the last 3 years. The focus on the future is on roads as well: from widening the Baltimore Beltway (new lanes tend to fill in 2-3 years), to creating toll lanes on I-270, and a $9 billion dollar plan to add second deck toll highways. Too little attention is paid to creating and maintaining affordable and accessible public transportation around the state. The cancellation of the Red Line was the opening salvo in this shift away from public transportation. This Red Line alone would have helped the workforce at Social Security, reinvigorated neighborhoods in Baltimore, and even provided a future possibility of public transportation to Tradepoint Atlantic. BaltimoreLink, while having a nifty logo, has provided little in the way of innovation and change. As a bus system, it is still subject to our current traffic problems and very few significant changes were actually made. The hint of negligence in the recent need to totally shut down the Owings Mills to Hopkins line makes it clear that we have a need for a paradigm shift in transportation policy and a redeployment of the transportation trust fund money.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Ebersole: Yes. Like so many other states, I feel the time has come to acknowledge the proliferation of cannabis here, to regulate it, and recognize it as a valuable revenue source. If we legalize adult use, we will be able regulate its presentation and sale with age limits and dosages. We will have better control of who purchases and uses it. As important, we will be able to list dosages so individuals will can self-regulate. In the same way that beer and alcohol list percentages and proofs, those who partake will be able to manage their use with information. Additionally, the revenue from taxation of sale and manufacture will provide a source of income that can be used for public education and treatment for those who find it difficult to control their use of harmful drugs. Greater enforcement of public use, particularly use while driving will be possible. Centers for treatment can be funded and advertised. Overall, legalization will give us greater control over cannabis use and ameliorate the problems associated with it.
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?
Ebersole: The Chesapeake Bay is not only a beautiful natural resource, its health is also closely linked Maryland’s health. First, it is a recreational gem and provides a myriad of outdoor activities for those in our state contributing to their quality of life. As important, it is a vital economic driver for us. Many industries, from seafood supply to tourism rely on a clean Chesapeake. The question is how to be good stewards of the bay. We need to create and protect oyster beds, maintain the crab population, and keep our fishing resources intact. We must move toward better phosphorus management and cleaner waste management with incentives. Even our air quality effects bay health. We must take further steps to regulate smokestack and vehicle pollution, here and in neighboring states. This takes money and we will do our part, but we must continue to get the federal government, particularly the EPA, to cooperate. The leanings of the federal government away from assisting us with this are disturbing, to say the least. We had this fight and won, in a limited way, at the outset of the current administration. We also need the cooperation of our neighboring states, something that can be accomplished with our efforts as well as that of the federal government.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Ebersole: We have taken several steps already and there is more to be done. Maryland’s unique waiver creates a system of charges for hospital services that keeps costs even, regardless of place of access, which is a big equity factor. We have also taken several steps to control prescription drug costs. We passed legislation allowing a pharmacy or pharmacist to provide a beneficiary with information regarding the retail price of a prescription drug or the amount of the cost share for a prescription drug. This awareness will help control costs. Going forward we need to reintroduce legislation to create a prescription drug cost commission to determine how to make prescription drugs more affordable for state residents. We must also move on to the bigger challenges. The removal of the individual mandate from federal tax law will mean higher costs for health insurance. We will need to introduce a manageable mandate at the state level and control health care costs. Then, going forward, it is time for us to take a serious look at single payer health in Maryland. No one should be without adequate health care - it is a human right.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Ebersole: The state needs to offer whatever support we can to the city, without impinging on local control. These initiatives are best left to the Baltimore City delegation in Annapolis, as well as the city council and the mayor. I will honor and support what they, as the knowledgeable representatives of their jurisdiction, feel will be the most effective.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Ebersole: Maryland has a strong business climate and that is due to its workforce. We have one of the strongest educational systems in the US, from k-12 education right up to college and workforce development. We attract businesses based on the workforce this creates. We go further by offering tax incentives to 21st businesses like cybersecurity and biotech, while keeping our strong and present businesses, like Marriott, Northrop Grumman and Tradepoint Atlantic, with incentives for job growth. We also support small businesses with a myriad of job and apprenticeship creating incentives. For job creation, merely stating how many new jobs are created in a given time period is too clumsy a statistic. If it takes two of these jobs to support a family then, in my mind, these two jobs only count as one. The jobs we create must be those that provide a living wage and reasonable work conditions. We passed, despite the governor’s veto, a mandatory sick leave bill. This will, I believe, ultimately strengthen the continuity of our workforce and be an ultimate benefit to the businesses they work for. We will take a serious look in the future at an increased minimum wage. We will need to initially provide small businesses with some relief to help them provide these well-deserved and badly needed measures at work. I sponsored a bill this year to begin the establishment of a living wage for education support personnel on the basis of the need for continuity and fair treatment.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Ebersole: I believe we need more compact and fairly drawn districts. One of the great dangers of unfairly drawn districts is that voters feel powerless and disenfranchised. Voting may be suppressed. The most significant thing we can do to advance the democratic process is encourage voters to the polls. Drawing more representative districts will do that. The process needs to be as non-political as possible, a difficult task, but one that can be accomplished with a fair appointment process to a commission that would draw the district lines.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Ebersole: The LEOBR, enacted in Maryland well after the 1975 court ruling, is controversial on both sides. Some argue it helps to protect officers from disciplinary actions, making them feel less accountable. Others argue that it actually suspends some due process protections that should exist for officers. In any case, the arguments are clearly responses to some bad actors. There are perceptions in the community and in the police force that a single policy will not change. What is needed is significantly better communication and understanding of the need for law enforcement and its limitations. Community meetings and outreach to community events and schools by law enforcement will help the population to see officers in a positive light and will ensure that law enforcement understand the communities they are sworn to protect.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Ebersole: The most important place to stem the spread of addiction and overdose is at the source. We need to control opioid prescriptions and we are doing that by simply raising physician awareness, but there is certainly more to be done. The prescription drug management plan (PDMP) that allows doctors to monitor overall drug use by a single patient is an important tool and we need to encourage doctors to use it. We also passed legislation in 2017 that requires a health care provider, on treatment for pain and based on the clinical judgment of the provider, to prescribe the lowest effective dose of an opioid. The quantity must be no greater than needed for the expected duration of pain. We also passed legislation that requires pharmaceutical drug companies to file reports of suspicious orders to the Attorney General’s office and have funded a local grant program for behavioral health organizations to expand capabilities of crisis response programs and services. These sorts of checks on prescriptions are essential and need to be furthered. Doctors’ offices that are essentially “pill mills” need to be regulated or shut down. Public education on the dangers of opioid access in the home, as well as programs for disposal and safe storage, need wide support.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Ebersole: Income inequality is a huge issue of national breadth, but I will speak to what we have done in the past several years to stem some of the causes of this inequality in Maryland in gender, race, and middle to lower class communities. We have taken several measures to move toward fairer hiring and salary practices. In particular, the legislation to limit employers from gathering information on past employment compensation is a good step. This helps stop the continuance of lower pay for the same jobs of certain races, ethnicities, and genders. Going forward, we can incentivize creating workforces that are representative of the population in our communities. Additionally, I have supported workforce training measures to help create new jobs for communities that have lost major industries so that no one in Maryland falls behind.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Ebersole: Generally speaking, our public information laws are very thorough. It is when they are violated that we sometimes have trouble with enforcement. Take, for example, the trouble the public had with getting document information from the Howard County School System. The county delegation tried several avenues to get intervention on the state level, with some success, but not enough to fix the problem. The problems were clear, but it took the election of a new board in 2016 to create better compliance. There need to be clear paths to fixing and stopping violations immediately.