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?
Sydnor: Yes, I support the findings of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education. To fund the reforms noted by the Commission, I supported HB 1697 during the 2018 session to achieve the promise made years ago when casino gambling was first allowed in Maryland– to supplement funding for our public schools. If approved by the voters at the next general election, HB 1697 would require the Governor to provide supplemental State funding dedicated to public education through gambling revenues beginning in fiscal 2020.
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?
: No, the Baltimore region is not adequately served by transit. Maryland could spend more on its public transportation system. Earlier this year, the Baltimore Subway system was unexpectedly shut down for emergency inspection and repairs. This hindered many passengers, including my constituents’, ability to get to work. Many riders were forced to find other means to reach their workplace. If proper investments were made to our transit system, we would not have found ourselves in the situation we did. According to the Opportunity Collaborative, “transportation barriers present additional challenges for residents who depend on public transportation to get to work. A quarter (25%) of job seekers indicate that they can’t get to jobs accessing public transportation. According to workforce development directors, most transportation problems are linked to the distance between where most low-skilled or low-income workers live (e.g. in Baltimore City) and where most new jobs are being created (outside the city). For parents, the transit travel times can be very long if they must first travel to child care and then again access transit to go to work.” See https://www.baltometro.org/phocadownload/Publications/OpportunityCollaborative/170508_Barriers_to_Employment_Opportunity_in_the_Baltimore_Region-June_2014.pdf
So we need to be sure the right investments are made in order to serve this region by a system which serves all of our residents. I certainly would enjoy being able to ride a connected subway system around the Baltimore Metropolitan area as I do in Washington, DC and its suburbs.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Sydnor: Not at this time. While I have supported the decriminalization and medical use of marijuana, I am still waiting to see how legalization of recreational marijuana plays out in the states that have decided to take this step.
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?
Sydnor: There are likely multiple things we can all do and many things may not be new. Maryland must continue on its path to ensure that the TMDLS protects this resource. I think we also need to work with our federal elected officials to make sure they have what they need to ensure this administration does its job. Marylanders also need to understand that Chesapeake Bay restoration actually starts out in our community streams which feed into the Bay. In my district, we have Patapsco State Park and the streams in my community feed into the Bay. Annually communities get out and clean their communities to stop waste upstream from affecting the bay downstream.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Sydnor: We took an important step this past session when we voted to create the Maryland Health Insurance Coverage Protection Commission. The Commission is required to provide recommendations for individual and group health insurance market stability in its report by December 31, 2019. I am hoping that within that report, we will have an answer on how we can ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Sydnor: While there is no silver bullet to this complex issue, the State should ensure that Baltimore has the resources it needs to address the problems. I believe the establishment of the Maryland Violence Intervention and Prevention Program Fund and a related advisory council within the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention is something that should be beneficial to helping Baltimore address violent crime. I also think removing barriers which ultimately hinder people, who are working to be self-sufficient, must be reexamined. By way of example, denying applications for occupational licenses or certificates based solely on the applicant’s criminal history is unjustifiable if that individual demonstrated that they are a constructive and contributing member of their community.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Sydnor: I think it really depends on the community. In some areas of the state, business seems to be booming. In other parts of this state, businesses are hurting. We need to ensure that in those communities where, businesses do not want to open shop, we provide the communities with skills to be entrepreneurs and create their own jobs. Jobs in industries like transportation, information technology, healthcare, and manufacturing offer some of the best opportunities for family-supporting careers. I introduced House bill 1606 this past session based upon legislation in Virginia which supported those industries most in need. The bill would have established a Workforce Shortage Vocational Certificate Grant Program for students who pledge to work in fields of critical shortage in the State on receipt of a vocational certificate. We also should ensure that Maryland once again is rated number-one for public schools and we should continue to support our colleges and universities.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Sydnor: I do support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census. The concern for me is how the non-partisan, independent body would be formed and how reflective of the state’s diversity it will be. While I support the work of the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, I did not agree with the recommendation that it be composed of a nine member panel with 3 Democrats, 3 Republicans and 3 nonaffiliated members. The makeup of this commission is likely where support will either be won or lost.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Sydnor: Over the past few years, we have observed some officers acting with impunity. This issue with Baltimore City Police Department’s the gun task force has really brought to light complaints about corruption that were often buried. This is evidence that something is not working. So yes, something more needs to be done; whether it is the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights or something else, that can be addressed legislatively we need to find the answer and fix it. We need to determine whether the LEOBR hinders transparency with regard to whether officers are held accountable when they cross certain lines. If not, we need to understand where things went so wrong that the Baltimore City Police department would miss such criminality over such a long period of time. The public has to feel comfortable with how police departments deal with records pertaining to use of force complaints and actions by law enforcement officers.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Sydnor: Where the state is using its resources to address this as the public health problem that it is, I believe the state is doing a good job. I believe we need to ensure more funds are there to help those addicted as well as to address the underlying problem that drive people to drug use. Where I think we have gone wrong is criminalizing addiction. I think the stabilization center being financed in Baltimore is a great step. In fact, during my first session Senator Shirley Nathan Pulliam and I championed legislation to examine how law enforcement was dealing with people with substance abuse and mental health issues. The bill created a pilot program for Baltimore City and County to establish behavioral health units with officers who were trained to deal with the general public exhibiting mental health issues or even substance use disorders. We brought in an expert from Texas to describe how they used these stabilization centers so that these populations were not longer being sent to jail, but to a place where they could obtain wrap around services.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Sydnor: Ensure that people have great schools to attend so that they can obtain good paying jobs to own a home and support their family. The barriers to home ownership must be addressed to alleviate income inequality. I also believe that we have to ensure that we support legislation like Delegate Shelly Hettleman’s 2018 $15 minimum wage bills. If her bill was not the answer than we have to continue working towards something that we can move forward and pass.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Sydnor: While Maryland’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws do ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government, there is room to consider improvement to the law. By way of example, we need to reexamine how we deal with records pertaining to use of force complaints and actions by law enforcement officers. This issue with Baltimore City Police Department’s the gun task force has really brought to light complaints about corruption that were often buried. What we learned was that there was corruption, but because of the law governing personal records, we were never able to put forth evidence of what was really happening.