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?
Szeliga: A parent, grandparent, a former teacher, and a legislator, I am committed to ensuring access to a world-class education for every child in a safe neighborhood, regardless of their zip code. Baltimore City Public Schools are failing our kids and lack educational and fiscal accountability. I cosponsored Gov. Hogan’s bill for an Inspector General to bring accountability and investigate fraud, abuse and waste in all the schools across our state. We need more efficient use of tax dollars to get more resources to the classroom. It did not pass but will come back next year. To ensure the safety of all our students, teachers, and school personnel, I voted for the School Safety bill and sponsored a bill to put a School Resource Officer in every school. Expanding school choice, especially for kids in chronically failing schools, is a great idea. I supported Governor Hogan’s BOOST scholarship program for income eligible K-12 students to be used in any eligible nonpublic school. This bipartisan measure has been a big success. This year, in a partisan reaction to Governor Hogan and Comptroller Franchot, the liberals in Annapolis transferred the accountability for public schools from Hogan and Franchot to an unelected and unaccountable bureaucratic commission. I voted against this and I am concerned about a big expansion of funds into a system without an Inspector General or elected officials’ oversight. The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education did not support this radical move. They did have some other good ideas.
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?
Szeliga: I am proud to partner with Governor Hogan as we have done a good job of repairing crumbling roads and bridges and addressing the congestion in Maryland. The innovative program to sync traffic lights using technology should help get traffic moving more efficiently. Also, widening of the Baltimore beltway by adding a lane through re-striping will have an immediate effect on traffic. Maryland transportation spending is too heavily weighted on mass transit. With 92% of the population using cars and only 8% mass transit, the funding should be more aligned to how people get around. Local highway and road funds should be restored. When motorists fill up their vehicles, they expect the gas taxes they pay to be used to fix all the roads they drive on. The state needs to fully fund local and county transportation funds.
Do you support the legalization of 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?
Szeliga: The Chesapeake Bay is the centerpiece of Maryland and our national treasure. Continuing to clean up the Bay for our kids and grandkids is the priority we can most directly impact. Ensuring the pollution behind the Conowingo Dam is cleaned up and that neighboring states enforce clean water and environmental standards is a challenge we must meet. This needs to be a local, state and regional partnership.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Szeliga: The predicted demise of the Affordable Care Act has caused skyrocketing health insurance rates and the destabilization of the individual market. The Affordable Care Act has become unaffordable as we were facing another huge insurance premium increase of 50% this fall. Without action from Washington D.C., states are forced into repairing the ACA. As a member of the Health and Government Operations Committee, I worked with Governor Hogan, and Maryland Insurance Commissioner Al Redmer to create a bipartisan one-year fix for next year. A reinsurance program, also being considered at the national level and passed in other states, will stabilize the individual insurance market and may even bring reduced premiums. I also introduced a bill to offer lower premium plans in the individual market. This value plan, the Copper Plan, offered a higher deductible and covered the ten essential benefits mandated in the ACA. The Copper Plan reduced monthly premium costs significantly. There are too many people who would like to have health insurance but cannot afford it. I hope to get it passed next year. We must work to reduce the overall cost of health care and drugs with innovation and incentives for healthy lifestyles. Finding ways to help people to manage chronic diseases like diabetes will help reduce health care costs for patients and everyone.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Szeliga: The violent crime and murder rate in Baltimore City has garnered national attention. I joined Governor Hogan and others in calling for legislative action this session. I voted for three good crime bills that passed. They will help address violent crime not just in Baltimore City, but across our state. We mandated tougher penalties on repeat violent offenders who are terrorizing our communities. Criminals convicted of drug trafficking while using an illegal gun will be subjected to a mandatory minimum 5 year sentence on top of their other sentences. Violent offenders will face at least ten years in jail. We made it easier to prosecute high-volume drug dealers and increased penalties for dealers selling deadly fentanyl. There were also provisions in the crime bills that increase penalties on those convicted of witness intimidation and we toughened sentences on sexual abuse of a child. This is a good start to turning around the violent crime in Baltimore.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Szeliga: I am proud of my lifetime A+ rating with the top business association, Maryland Business for Responsive Government (MBRG). They rate legislators votes on taxes and business issues. Under Governor Hogan’s leadership and with my full support of good legislation, Maryland’s economy is turning around. I voted for the single-sales factor bill this year that will favor Maryland based businesses and allow them to grow and support more Maryland jobs. This will improve Maryland’s business climate as it is phased in. Businesses in Maryland are having some trouble finding workers with the skills necessary to fill specific job requirements. We have been delivering education for the same way for the last 100 years. It’s time to get creative and innovated and makes sure high school graduates have the educational and work places skills needed for jobs in the 21st century.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Szeliga: I have been a cosponsor of Governor Hogan’s redistricting reform bills. We need to implement a non-partisan panel to draw our state and federal districts. Maryland has some of the most gerrymandered districts in the nation. The Supreme Court is reviewing Maryland’s congressional districts now. Governor Hogan’s redistricting bill was voted down again this year on a party-line vote. Hopefully, Governor Hogan will get a chance to lead redistricting in 2021 after the 2020 census is complete and all 50 states undertake this decennial charge. The current process deprives Marylanders of real choices and a fair political debate. Voters should choose their representatives instead of politicians choosing their voters.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Szeliga: Law enforcement is essential to the maintenance of our freedom and liberty. I support law enforcement. The men and women who risk their lives daily to protect us deserve our respect as well as the families of officers who worry if their loved ones will return home. There will always be bad actors in every sector of our society, including law enforcement. The corruption in the Baltimore City Police Department darkened the reputation of law enforcement at every level. Ensuring that corruption is routed out and removed is important for maintaining public trust in law enforcement. The LEOBR is adequate now and, as with all things, it should be monitored.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Szeliga: As a member of the Health and Government Operations Committee, I am proud to be a partner with Governor Hogan in addressing Maryland’s opioid crisis. Governor Hogan was the first governor in the nation to declare a State of Emergency to ensure that all levels of state government were deployed to fight this crisis. Over the last four years, we have committed more than $500 million towards fighting this epidemic. Expanding access to overdose reversing drugs like narcan, expanding access to rehab and recovery programs, and educating our children about the extreme dangers of opioids have saved lives. Creating a pill mill tip line, tracking overdoses to fight fentanyl laced heroin, and heightening awareness to overprescribing and overusing opioids for medical care are a few things we accomplished this year. There is more to do and we must use all the tools in our toolbox.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Szeliga: Every citizen deserves an equal opportunity to succeed and the tools to achieve their dreams. Our American Dream should be attainable for all American citizens. Education is a key component of earning power and ability. Every child deserves a world-class education in a safe neighborhood, regardless of their zip code. Expanding job opportunities including the trades and technology is essential in high schools across our state. Every one of our public high schools should have access to trades and technical training. Not every student wants to go to college and a career in the trades or the military are a great options that are often not offered to our kids. Remedial classes are needed for more of our college bound students every year. Our public K-12 schools must do a better job of preparing students for higher education. Baltimore City Public Schools are failing too many of our kids and we need accountability to ensure that kids are not left behind. Of Baltimore City’s 39 High Schools, 13 had zero students proficient in math in 2017. If none of the students in these high schools are proficient in math, it will be almost impossible for them to get ahead. This cannot be ignored.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Szeliga: It is appalling that the Maryland House and Senate floor proceedings are not available by video for the public. We are one of only seven states without public video access to legislative actions in the house and senate chambers. For the last three years, I have introduced a bill to require public video access. Governor Hogan has also introduced his own bill and provided funding in the budget. The liberal leadership in Annapolis continues to block this common sense transparency measure and they have refused to pass a bill to make the Maryland legislature fully transparent to the public.