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?
Bridges: The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education has multiple promising preliminary findings in its draft, but I look forward to seeing the final recommendations and will fight to ensure they include priorities such as universal access to Prekindergarten, adequate funding for Baltimore City Public Schools, teacher incentives for those who are highly effective in the classroom, and a governance structure to guide the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission. There must be a stronger system of governance to ensure that the recommendations are not merely implemented but are also effective. We must identify multiple ways to fund the reforms, including private/public partnerships. We have community assets that can participate in the reform process. For example, hospitals can partner with schools to create opportunities in healthcare and fund those opportunities in collaboration with schools in the community/district.
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?
Bridges: There is a clearly a disproportionate gap between what’s spent on roads and public transportation. The state has not taken a comprehensive look at the transit system and recommendations since 2002! I’m excited that HB372 passed in the general assembly and requires the Maryland Transit Administration to prepare a Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan to identify the resources needed to meet its transportation needs. The Baltimore region is not adequately served by transit. For example, the recent shutdown of the subway system, showed exactly how reliant people are on our various modes of transportation. I want to ensure that we have a truly connected system of transit to get people where they need to go, especially to job centers. Studies show that there is a high correlation between those living in poverty and employment opportunities located 45 minutes or more away. I will work to ensure that the transit plan crafted by the MTA specifically addresses the issue of access to job centers, particularly for those living in poverty.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Bridges: The legalization of marijuana is a step towards reforming the criminal justice system. Too many of our young people have been caught up in the criminal justice system as a direct result of marijuana laws. I believe marijuana should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco. Legalization will create jobs and economic opportunity taking it out of the realm of an illegal drug market. I would, however, like to see more minority participation in the creation of dispensaries or growers. Minorities have been disproportionately harmed in the criminal justice system by the use and distribution of marijuana, therefore, there should be an emphasis on ensuring there is fair and inclusive representation in the legal marijuana industry. In addition, we should evaluate dropping the charges of those arrested for simple pot possession similar to what was implemented in Philadelphia recently.
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?
Bridges: The Department of the Environment has a five-point plan to clean up the bay that has been effective. However, there is always room for improvement. The bay is an asset to our state that stimulates the economy while attracting revenue through tourism. We need to clean up the Bay faster and better and work with our neighboring states to decrease the waste trapped in our waterways, especially behind the Conowingo Dam. Additionally, the Obama-era Chesapeake Bay clean-up plan needs an update, particularly in terms of advocating for responsible regulation of farm runoff and industrial impact. Our State and Federal government have the capabilities to work together to protect streams and watersheds which make up the Bay by providing pathways for true regulation of those responsible for runoff. It is our responsibility to create enforceable guidelines to keep the Watershed healthy.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Bridges: All Marylanders deserve the right to affordable health care. One way to ensure broad access to affordable health care is to uncover ways to increase health insurance carriers’ participation in Maryland’s Health Exchange which stabilizes health insurance cost. Additionally, employers can help improve the healthcare market by negotiating better insurance for their employees and provide preventive care services within the workplace. We also must find ways to protect seniors from the constantly increasing health care costs, especially as it relates to prescription drugs. Our children also deserve to have health services and information in schools which the community school model promotes through its comprehensive process of identifying community needs.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Bridges: The state certainly plays a critical role in helping to address violent crime, from both a policy and enforcement perspective. The state must ensure that the recommendations of the federally mandated consent decree are followed and that there is public input and collaboration as it is implemented. I believe that local control of the police department should be given to Baltimore City to allow for more reflective input in policies by the public and City Council. I will continue to fight for more resources to go to proven grassroots public safety organizations that provide critical assistance to communities by helping curb violence and offer resources for those who are or have been involved in criminal activities. Organizations such as Safe Streets, Cease Fire and Turn Around Tuesday need the financial support, as well as a coordinated effort, to target the communities most in need of the critical services they provide to address violence in our neighborhoods.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Bridges: I believe that while we are moving in the right direction, there is always room for improvement for Maryland’s business climate. We will find ways to incentivize businesses by providing tax relief measures which are essential to spur business growth here in the state. We can facilitate creating more family-supporting jobs by giving people a living wage and supporting workforce training and apprenticeship programs that can be a pathway to the middle class. Additionally, transportation must be aligned to job centers so it’s not a complicated endeavor for our residents to quickly access a variety of public transportation options to destinations throughout the state.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Bridges: I support reform for how we draw our voting boundaries in the state. Having a transparent, independent commission to draw district lines is a popular choice for most Marylanders as demonstrated in a Spring 2017 Goucher poll. I think further research into others states with independent commissions (such as California) is required and should evaluate the processes and outcomes of their endeavors for relevance in Maryland. We must ensure there are equal standards of representation in the process and ensure that there is public input with any process.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Bridges: There is room for improvement in balancing protections for police and the public in the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights that can also help improve police/community relations. While I understand the need for due process, we must do more to ensure the public can address any police misconduct when it is presented. We must make it easier to identify police misconduct by shortening wait times before officers are interviewed following a reported incident. The current practice grants the officers more time to obtain representation which is not what is afforded the general public.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Bridges: The opioid crisis should be treated as a public health crisis and not a matter for law enforcement to handle alone. Simply stated, it requires a multi-pronged approach which incorporates the efforts of many initiatives and agencies. There are a few key strategies we need to look at to target addiction and overdose: • Better monitoring of prescription drugs and their over use • Expansion of programs for drug treatment versus the criminalization of users • Ensuring that those who are incarcerated are provided the services needed for addiction, both during and after their time has been served • Making the overdose drug (Narcan) more readily available
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Bridges: There is no one initiative that will address the disparity. This is some longstanding issues that we must find multiple ways to address. Efforts include: • Increase the minimum wage to give individuals a living wage of $15 per hour • Put people to work to rebuild the state’s infrastructure • Ensure the new housing development includes affordable units for low and moderate-income residents • Fund and promote more financial literacy programming • Invest in public education with an eye toward public/private partnership • Ensure that our public transportation takes individuals to job centers
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Bridges: As outlined in the Final Report of the Office of Attorney General’s report on the implementation of the Public Information Act (PIA), there is still work to be done to ensure adequate oversight of government. There is a volunteer Public Information Act Compliance Board that has already seen a number of requests which has stretched them to their limit. I believe we should investigate combining the PIA and Open Meetings Compliance Board to ensure that the two are not overburdened. They also should be a paid board, not strictly volunteers. As a former manager within a state agency, I understand the requirements of a PIA and it can be very taxing when you have multiple divisions within large state agencies. I would recommend that, moving forward, state agencies have a staff member designated to respond to such requests thus streamlining the process and ensuring rapid response.