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?
Lierman: Yes, wholeheartedly. I have been actively involved in reviewing the Kirwan Commission’s work and progress, and was a lead co-sponsor of its initial legislation this year. Ensuring that the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations translate into a transformative piece of legislation in 2019 and passing that bill will be the most important work of the next term. The Kirwan Commission’s recommendations demonstrate that we know what needs to be done to create a more equitable and effective school system that truly ensures that every Maryland child graduates career- or college-ready. The question next session will be whether we are able to implement and fund those practices. We will need legislators who are champions for students and schools to ensure that the emphasis remains on what is best for Maryland students. Additional state funding will be required to implement the recommendations, and we must be open-minded and creative as we review our state’s taxes and fees to address the additional revenue needed. It is not an overstatement to say that Baltimore’s future success hinges on achieving a more equitable funding formula and additional resources for our schools. As the mother of two small children, one of who will be attending a Baltimore City Public School in the fall for Kindergarten, I understand the urgency of addressing the inequity that exists in our school systems. Every year that passes represents a lost opportunity for a child. We must act boldly and thoughtfully next year to create the world-class school system that our kids deserve.
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?
Lierman: In short, no. Although Maryland has many needs, our failure to create a 21st century public transportation system is one that will hamper our progress for generations if we don’t act now. Employers depend on transit options, millennials and seniors often want non-car travel options, and reducing commute time has transformative effects on reducing poverty. Not only does Maryland not have the resources to meet its transportation needs, it has over-invested in highway and road projects rather than making the transformative investments in public transit that we need. Especially in Central Maryland, we lack the transit service necessary to make the region’s jobs accessible to all. Without additional robust transit options, BaltimoreLink cannot serve enough people to end commuting woes. For all these reasons, I have worked over the past four years to highlight the need for creative thinking on transportation issues, and why I will continue to champion bold actions on transportation options if I am re-elected. After passing legislation to end the farebox recovery mandate last year, this year I championed the MTA amendment to HB372. With passage of that bill, MTA will (1) receive required additional operating and capital dollars for the first time in many years, (2) be required to produce an updated Central Maryland Transit Plan (with input from stakeholders), and (3) develop a comprehensive capital needs assessment. This plan should provide the blueprint we need to rally around a goal for our region. We need legislative leaders to make the plan a reality.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Lierman: Yes, I support legalizing and regulating marijuana (either through legislation or by referendum). We should learn from the work of other states to avoid some of their mistakes, and learn from the mistakes made during the rollout of medical marijuana in Maryland. The money gained from regulated marijuana should be dedicated to two or three specific funds, including the Education Trust Fund and funding to expand or pay for health insurance for Marylanders.
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?
Lierman: As the federal government has retreated from protecting our natural resources, we must step up to fill the void. Maryland’s economy, tourism industry, and natural habitats largely rely on government intervention to protect the Bay and its environs. Although we have largely dealt with point source pollution, we have not yet fully resolved our stormwater runoff pollution issues. Moreover, the level of trash – including plastic trash – in the rivers and inlets and even out in the open Bay – shows no signs of abating, and we cannot keep the trash TMDL for the bay without taking action to ban EPS foam and single-use plastic bags (bills that I championed this past term). We must take steps to reduce trash and help contain runoff both from urban areas and from large farms. Enforcement of our existing laws is also critically important. Recently, the Departments of the Environment and Agriculture have failed to adequately enforce existing laws – refusing entirely to hire enforcement officers and using negotiations where fines and decisive action are needed. We need active oversight and enforcement from these agencies, as well as a return to smart growth planning by the Department of Planning. Looking forward, we must implement more comprehensive policies to (1) limit deforestation and increase tree canopies in Baltimore City and elsewhere, (2) clean our state’s neighborhoods and waterways of plastic trash, and (3) more aggressively implement existing laws to ensure Marylanders can enjoy clean air and clean water.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Lierman: Every Marylander should have access to high-quality and affordable health care. Although moving toward a single-payer system may be possible eventually, right now we must (1) shore up the insurance markets and (2) protect our waiver programs. Maryland has long been at the forefront of health insurance innovations, starting with the Medicaid/Medicare Waiver program that allows a state commission to set global prices for hospital services. In 2014, we took the ambitious step of requiring hospitals to improve population health while decreasing admissions. This requirement has saved $500 million in the last few years and has resulted in better population health overall. We should continue to expand this model and idea of improving population health. For the non-Medicaid/Medicare population using the Maryland Health Benefits Exchange, we must ensure access to affordable, quality insurance. Because of actions at the federal level, our insurance premiums have exploded. This year the General Assembly passed a reinsurance program to save the individual marketplace by using a new fee paid by the insurance companies. The fix is temporary, however, and we need to explore alternative models to make health insurance affordable for individuals of all ages, as well as small businesses. Maryland is also home to excellent senior care models, including the PACE program at Johns Hopkins Bayview. Replicating patient-centered, coordinated-care models like this will improve the health and well-being of seniors around the state.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Lierman: The State is responsible for ensuring the safety of all Marylanders. Based on evidence from other states with lowering rates of urban gun violence, I believe that violence prevention must approach violence like a public-health crisis, and fund programs that are preventative and diversionary. Additionally, for the handful of criminals that repeatedly cause violence and lead gangs, there must be successful prosecutions and consequences. To prevent violence, this past legislative session I authored and passed important funding legislation (HB432) to ensure that (1) the State is investing major dollars into proven public-health based violence prevention and intervention programs, and (2) the City has the resources necessary to implement the strategies of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and to meet the needs of the State’s Attorney. We also passed a bill that will triple the number of Safe Streets programs, ensuring that the success of this program in places like Cherry Hill and McElderry Park can be replicated City-wide. The General Assembly should continue to monitor and provide resources for efforts like these. The Executive Branch – including the State Police and the Department of Public Safety and Corrections – must work with City government and our police department to provide information and form strategic partnerships. Moreover, because the Police Department is technically a State agency, State oversight is necessary and important. I worked with Sen. Ferguson to establish the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, a body charged with reviewing the crimes committed by the Gun Trace Task Force.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Lierman: Maryland has the highest median income in the country, a highly-educated population, some of the best universities in the country, and a nationally-important port, but we are not nearly meeting our potential in economic growth, and the growth we do see is not evenly shared, leading to high rates of income inequality. Unlike our most successful peer states, we have no coherent state plan or strategy to develop targeted industries for growth, create partnerships among universities and businesses, or realize the full potential of the transportation and logistics fields associated with the Port of Baltimore. State political leaders should work with business and education leaders to develop pathways to successful careers, relying less on tax incentives and more on easy access to qualified, dependable employees, transportation options, and ready capital. Although we have to be mindful of Maryland’s tax rates to remain competitive, tax rates are but one issue in the overall analysis of our state’s business climate. We should use comprehensive studies like the Opportunity Collaborative’s Regional Plan for Sustainable Development to create strategies for the state, take advantage of opportunities, and identify impediments to growth. This strategy would require leadership from the Governor and Secretary of Commerce, but would be transformative in laying out a road map for building a more equitable state with access to good-paying jobs and careers. The plans would require investment in targeted areas of our education system and on transportation options, and would create an economic development blueprint for the next 50 years.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Lierman: Baltimore City is facing a crisis of confidence in our police force, and the LEOBR is partly to blame. The LEOBR is partially responsible for disallowing the Commissioner the leeway needed to enforce rules within the Department. The lack of discipline results in false records of overtime, abuses like those listed in the DOJ report, and the egregious behavior of officers in the Gun Trace Task Force. The lack of civilian members on trial boards remains a major impediment to trusting the Baltimore Police Department and its officers, and we should pass legislation to require it. To be clear, most Baltimore officers perform their jobs honorably and are dedicated to serving and protecting Baltimore residents and families. But the DOJ report and the testimony from the Gun Trace Task Force trials has severely undermined the credibility of the Police, and major steps must be taken to restore the faith. One of those steps was to pass the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, a bill that I worked on with my colleague Sen. Bill Ferguson. Creating this state-level Commission to examine the origins of the problems at the Task Force, how they were able to persist for so long, and to recommend changes to the Consent Decree Monitoring Team, are essential to helping the City move past this horrible incident.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Lierman: Our strategies need to be evidence-based and focused on both prevention and treatment. In 2017, I was proud to support the HOPE Act, a comprehensive bill to fight the opioid crisis in our State. The HOPE Act (1) requires increases in funding for community behavioral health services; (2) requires health crisis treatment centers be established, (3) creates a 24⁄7 crisis hotline, (4) increases naloxone availability, and (5) requires hospitals and jails to develop protocols for discharging individuals treated for or suffering from drug addiction. The state has also supported Baltimore City’s opening of a new stabilization center, which will lead the way in preventing overdoses and bringing those who are addicted into contact with medically-trained staff who can help guide them (if they are willing) to resources to treat their addiction. This year in the budget I supported creation of a local grant program that will award local competitive grants to jurisdictions to expand behavioral health crisis response programs that serve local needs, meet national standards, integrate the delivery of mental health and substance use treatment, and connect individuals to appropriate community-based care upon discharge. We will only overcome the crisis by expanding on-the-ground, comprehensive treatment and this bill and budgeted funding will allow local governments to implement proven and comprehensive strategies tailored for their communities. We must then review what programs are successful and ensure the funding is there to support them.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Lierman: Maryland has made important investments in education and health care over the years, has many thriving businesses and higher-ed institutions, and now has the highest median income of any state. Unfortunately, the prosperity in our state is not shared by everyone. In Baltimore, the difference in income and life expectancy can change in a matter of blocks; the difference in resource availability between the City and surrounding counties is also stark. We have much more work to do. We must make investments that will create a more equitable state with shared prosperity in every corner. To do this we must make strategic investments in: 1) Transportation: As revealed in a long continuing study at Harvard, the single strongest determinant in escaping poverty is commute time. Thus, creating a well-connected and reliable transit system in Central Maryland is essential to reducing poverty. 2) Eliminate waiting lists for child care support, tax credits, and services for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. 3) Invest in Public Education, including workforce training: Fully fund the Kirwan Commission recommendations. 4) Increase availability of affordable housing: MD has high housing costs and more than 8,000 homeless men, women, and children. Increasing the availability of affordable/workforce housing in desirable areas is a must-do. 5) Create a transportable safety net for the gig economy, including portable benefits so individuals working in the gig economy can save for retirement. 6) Increase the minimum wage and index it to inflation while also creating more low-cost loan opportunities for small businesses.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Lierman: The State has made progress on making government more transparent, but there is more that we can do. A strong democracy depends on having open and accessible government. During my first session, the General Assembly passed legislation to update the Public Information Act and Open Meetings Law that included enhancing training, reducing fees for access, and creating an ombudsman with the Office of the Attorney General. This was important work and in the next term, we should build upon it to continue our pursuit of a well-regulated but open and transparent State government. One of the first things we should do is update the General Assembly’s technology. It is still not possible to view online either (1) a list of who testified for/against a bill or (2) the actual written testimony. This absence of information makes it difficult for members of the public to understand which groups or individuals are promoting or trying to defeat legislation. We must also work to ensure that agencies are being held accountable for open meetings and we should create incentives for placing information online in an accessible format, rather than requiring PIA requests. Cybersecurity threats continue to exist and grow and our technology systems must be updated regularly to ensure that the copious amount of personal data stored by and used by the State government is safe and protected.