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?
Lafferty: I certainly do. We need to be bold and address issues of inequity in the state’s schools, strengthen support systems in the schools, recruit and retain high quality teachers, expand career and technical education and strengthen accountability. I am committed to supporting funding for reforms laid out by the Kirwin Commission. As a legislator, I voted to support a “lock box” to provide additional funding for education from casino revenues and to fence off $200 million for future reforms from the Commission. Individual aspects, such as improvements in teaching education and preparation can also be funded through departmental and institutional budgets.
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?
Lafferty: I believe there is an imbalance in favor of roads. We must ensure our roads and bridges are safe. I supported a new formula to provide more highway revenue to counties in the state so they can also address local road improvements. However, road widenings and improvements, alone cannot address the transportation needs of the Baltimore Region. Cancelling the Red Line was short sighted and damaging to east-west transportation. We must expand transit in order to meet the needs of those who do not have motor vehicles and for the growing employment centers like Trade Point Atlantic, the airport and Arundel Mills and Hunt Valley. Early analysis indicates that BaltimoreLink has not improved service nor benefited more people. I also hope that a new Baltimore County Executive will support and provide transit services. The transportation needs of the region, and state, are greater than the resources we currently have.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Lafferty: I look forward to more discussion and debate about legalization. I believe that more Marylanders support such a change in the laws regarding the use of marijuana. I would like to see a study, however, of the social, health and economic impacts in other states where it is legal before finally committing to legalization.
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?
Lafferty: As a legislator for 12 years, I have worked tirelessly to protect the Chesapeake Bay and the waters of the state. I have been honored and recognized for my work. We need to double down on all sectors that contribute to the Bay’s pollution. We need to continue supporting new technologies to find ways of disposing of, or reusing, chicken litter. We need continued attention to agricultural run-off. We should expand the use of the best available technology to reduce nitrogen pollution from septic systems. My legislation this year should enable more counties to address septic pollution. The Department of the Environment (MDE) needs to be more aggressive in enforcing discharge permits so that wastewater plants comply. We must also expand and increase funding to reduce stormwater run-off and the pollution it creates. It is unclear whether each county has allocated adequate funds to address their problems. This needs to be revisited with MDE. Finally, since Maryland cannot compel Pennsylvania to help address problems with the Conowingo Dam, we must find a strong partnership with Exelon to do so.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Lafferty: This year’s legislature made great strides towards creating a “back-stop” with a reinsurance program in order to reduce risk to insurers so more people will have health insurance coverage. We must continue to examine ways to stabilize the individual market and to provide appropriate health care insurance and services. I support efforts to provide health care services as part of the community school initiative. Bringing health care directly into the communities would broaden access to populations where there are few providers. Similarly, the struggle to increase the number of health care providers in remote parts of the state must remain a priority by increasing incentives for doctors, nurses and others and financial support for those who go into underserved areas.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Lafferty: The state has an obligation to work with Baltimore City to address violence. Violence in the city is destructive to families, communities and the surrounding jurisdictions. Violent crime is due to many underlying causes that must be part of the state’s efforts to help Baltimore. However, this is not only Baltimore’s problem. Long term solutions include more job opportunities, greater emphasis on early childhood education, after-school and summertime programs for learning, skills development and to provide nutrition. Drugs fuel much of the crime, so efforts are needed to provide more drug treatment services and facilities. The state needs to seriously examine the criminalization of drugs and how drug related crimes are addressed. The proposed Task Force to examine what occurred with the Gun Trace Task Force is also an important step to restore confidence in the police. We also need to have stronger sentences for those who repeatedly commit violent crimes.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Lafferty: Maryland’s economy is growing. With the growth of cybersecurity, greater investments in new technologies and new economic developments such as Trade Point Atlantic and Port Covington, there are new opportunities for family supporting jobs. The state needs to continue its commitment bringing industry and educational institutions together to prepare workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow. Community colleges are vital to this effort and lower cost, or free tuition, must be part of the solution. The state needs to strengthen the incentives and benefits available to promote and support small businesses as part of community revitalization. This includes areas of Baltimore City and County as well as small towns throughout Maryland. Vast improvements are needed in our transit/transportation network to enable more people getting to jobs more easily.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Lafferty: I would support the use of an independent and non-partisan body to draw district maps depending on how the membership is chosen. It is not clear to me, based on the structures of the commissions in other states, how a commission can be established that is independent of politics. I believe the next General Assembly should address the manner in which electoral boundaries are determined.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Lafferty: I do not have an answer to this question at this time. It is not an issue with which I am very familiar and would need to do more research.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Lafferty: I believe the legislature has taken some very important steps to address the growing opioid crisis. We have committed more funding for treatment and intervention, expanded the hotline for those in crisis who want help, directed prescribers to discuss the risks and benefits of opioids and are working to expand communications and to work with local governments to identify and build upon best practices. We have increased the criminal penalty for those trafficking in volumes of fentanyl. We need to fund additional research to find alternatives to treating chronic pain. Employees in our schools and other government agencies, where there is interaction with the public, should also be better educated about the signs and symptoms of addiction so that actions can be taken before there are overdoses. We should work to improve the training and education of physicians and other health care who prescribe medications so that correct dosages are provided to patients. I would support a substantial expansion of treatment services and facilities.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Lafferty: The state has to be involved in addressing income inequality. The legislature has set a minimum wage, providing earned sick leave and expanding the EITC, for instance. We have funded funds to eliminate blight and to address food deserts. Economic disparities, and the divide between those with wealth and those without, have grown in Maryland. The multiple issues required varied approaches. Additional support is needed in schools where there is a large percentage of students who receive free and reduced meals. Nutritional assistance is essential for students to learn. Their poverty reflects the communities where they live. Emphasis on job preparedness and job opportunities should be focused in those communities as well. Attention to health risks and health care should also be focused. The state’s Sustainable Communities program creates a structure for focusing and directing multiple resources to communities. It could be a base for a strategy to tackle income inequality.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Lafferty: The state has improved its open meetings laws and now requires all agency and Boards to have training in the law. The state established an ombudsman as well to provide assistance. It is time for the legislature and the Executive Branch to provide more information for the public. Public hearings in both branches should accommodate electronic, remote sign-ins for those who want to testify as well as for the acceptance of testimony. Agency meetings need to be identified on the websites and minutes retained for public access. While some legislative sub-committees are open, all of them should be. Live streaming of delegation meetings should also become the norm. It is time to revisit the Public Information Act standards to better clarify when documents should be disclosed and address the cost of disclosure for the providing documents.