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?
Peña-Melnyk: Yes. This session I voted for the “Fix the Fund Act” bill that would dedicate Maryland casino revenues to schools above and beyond amounts provided from the state’s general fund.
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?
Peña-Melnyk: Transportation spending is not adequate and funding for transit should be a higher priority. Road spending should be focused on targeted improvements to existing roads and we should avoid building new highways that simply accelerate sprawl and the loss of Maryland farmland. Although I don’t represent Baltimore, from what I know Baltimore needs more transit service.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Peña-Melnyk: I voted in support of medical marijuana and to decriminalize marijuana. I have not decided whether to support recreational marijuana.
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?
Peña-Melnyk: Maryland has many options to further improve the health of the Chesapeake. We can choose to control fertilizer runoff from suburban lands and agricultural fields by controlling things such as the use of lawn fertilizer and the spreading of poultry manure. We also can do a better job managing development so that septic systems that leak into our waterways are controlled and development that ruins stream habitats is minimized. I was the lead sponsor of a bill that was intended to limit the use of certain lawn fertilizers, but unfortunately that bill did not pass. We need to foster broader awareness of the importance of the Bay and the steps needed to protect it or there will not be sufficient political will to take appropriate measures.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Peña-Melnyk: The rising cost of health care and health insurance is threatening the budgets of many Maryland families and businesses. If healthcare becomes unaffordable it will expose us all to the high cost of ignoring medical problems and publicly provided emergency care. This session I sponsored two major pieces of legislation. One bill would authorize Maryland to seek a Section 1332 waiver from the federal government. This would allow Maryland to implement a reinsurance program to stabilize the individual insurance market. The second bill placed an 2.75% assessment on insurance companies to raise the funds needed to establish a state reinsurance program. I also sponsored a bill that would create a prescription drug commission. The commission would make recommendations to the legislature on how to limit excessive drug price increases.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Peña-Melnyk: We should be “one Maryland” and Baltimore’s issues are all of our concern. We are looking into issues with the police force, school funding, criminal justice reform, and economic development.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Peña-Melnyk: Maryland has a strong business climate that is helped by good schools and vibrant communities. We can foster more job creation with incentives such as job creation tax credits (and tax credits focused on manufacturing jobs). We also need to make sure that our citizens are prepared for the available jobs through things like apprentice training, and career and vocational training. The new medical marijuana law also will create various jobs in growing and dispensing this product.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Peña-Melnyk: Yes. I co-sponsored such a bill many times in prior sessions and in this session.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Peña-Melnyk: The LEOBR may be used to shield officers that are abusing their authority. We need greater civilian representation on hearing boards that review charges of police misconduct. We also need to improve police officer training.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Peña-Melnyk: The legislature has passed several bills dealing with opiods. These measures address expanding access to treatment, boosting overdose prevention efforts by changing doctor prescription practices, and increasing the availability of naloxone. We also have funded schools and providers to teach about substance abuse. Finally, I have advanced a bill that would require Maryland’s public colleges to implement recovery programs.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Peña-Melnyk: Wage stagnation and weak job creation have caused increased income inequality. To address this we have raised the minimum wage and are creating more vocational and training programs through the Department of Labor. We also provided $10 million to help students pay for community colleges. Finally, we expanded the earned income tax credit.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Peña-Melnyk: In 2015 the General Assembly amended the Public Information Act and required a final report from the Attorney General at the end of 2017. There were several recommendations. I don’t know if they have all been implemented. We passed several bills on this topic this session, but the recommendations were numerous.