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?
Flanagan: Yes, I support the Commission and its findings and have acted on that support. I proudly signed the Strong Schools Pledge and I joined a bipartisan super-majority of legislators in favor of a constitutional amendment to ensure that casino revenues are guaranteed to go to public education. This will be on the ballot in 2018 for voters to decide and I am confident that they will do the right thing. The public was promised this funding when gambling was approved in 2008 and they rightfully feel duped. A “slight of hand” trick occurred, by which other money was taken away from education as casino revenues were added. Voters finally have an opportunity to right this wrong. However, we must also establish a statewide inspector general office, like what was proposed by Governor Hogan in 2018. Our school system has seen its share of waste, corruption, public information act violations, health hazards and scandals. I also support legislation giving elected school boards the authority to terminate superintendents. I have and will continue to push for state legislation to provide Howard County with more school construction funding from existing revenues. I supported a successful bipartisan effort that passed legislation to exempt teachers from the transfer tax when they purchase a home in our county and authorized a student loan forgiveness program for our county teachers. Howard County Schools are in competition to recruit and retain the best and brightest teachers. We are grateful for the services they provide our students every day.
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?
Flanagan: I support Governor Hogan’s balanced approach to transportation infrastructure. As the former Secretary of Transportation, I led the fight against the “Road Kill” bill of 2016 and then worked hand in hand with the Governor to achieve a bipartisan compromise in 2017 that put aside political bickering and adopted common sense solutions. Unfortunately, the Red Line was not a solution but a problem waiting to happen. Its cost was grossly underestimated and experts suspect that tunneling under the streets into potentially toxic soil would wildly drive up the cost of construction. One of the urgent needs in transportation infrastructure is a continued enhancement for bicyclists. I support full funding of Executive Kittleman’s Howard County Bicycle Master Plan. I am currently leading the effort to establish funding for a hiker-biker bridge over the Patapsco that connects Main Street Ellicott City to the Patapsco Regional Greenway in Oella. Transit in our larger region needs to be focused on getting people to jobs. Job creation patterns are diverse and that makes flexible cost effective routes the key to adequately serving the needs of a diverse population. This is why BaltimoreLink was the right step forward for transit dependent citizens of Baltimore. In the near term, I support immediate investments in commuter bus and MARC services upon which our citizens rely for every day commuting. Locally, we must collaborate with job creators to provide transit that gets people to work. I am also continuously exploring opportunities to alleviate local bottlenecks and connect neighborhoods.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Flanagan: It is with deep regret that my response to this question has become inextricably linked to organized gang crime in our community. Support for legalization of marijuana has grown and resulted in half measures taken by previous legislatures of our state. Possession of small quantities is now subject to a citation with a minimal fine. Under current law, a user does not even have to provide identification to a police officer and the ticket may have to be written to “Daffy Duck”. This situation we find ourselves in is no laughing matter. Just ask the Howard County Police, who stood guard at the Circuit Court building in Ellicott City, while a double homicide case involving competing gangs was recently tried. Our existing laws create an opportunity for organized crime to enrich itself selling to users who have been who have been relieved of criminal penalties. To extricate our society from this situation, I am supportive of legalization of marijuana for adults who are at least 21 years old. Enough states have passed legalization laws now that we can and must learn from their mistakes and make this change in a manner that protects our children and promotes public safety. There will be a revenue stream to state and local governments, but it is more important that this change be made to reduce lawlessness, gang violence, and over-crowded prisons.
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?
Flanagan: During this term, we have achieved dramatic improvements to the health of the Chesapeake Bay, hand in hand with bipartisan cooperation. In the next term, we will continue to build on that success. A long-time political pundit observed that “nowhere was the contrast between the allegedly Republican President and Republican Governor more apparent than on the environment.” I was proud to work side by side with Governor Hogan to lock in Maryland’s participation in the Paris Climate Alliance, continue funding the Chesapeake Bay Clean-up, fight offshore drilling, and explore improvements in our Forest Conservation Act. Cleaning up the Bay is the perfect issue for enhanced bipartisanship. My letter to the Chairman of the U.S. House of Representative’s Appropriations Committee was signed by over twenty colleagues and resulted in a restoration of federal funding for the Bay clean up. I cosponsored Governor Hogan’s bill that will increase funding incentives for electric automobiles, auto pollution being a major contributor of pollution to the Bay. I supported the phosphorous management tool that gets chicken waste to farms where it can be appropriately used, improving farming without run off. I voted in favor of a bill that would have led to improvements in our inadequate forest conservation laws. Oysters are a natural way of removing toxicity from the Bay. To promote a balance between promoting our oyster population and harvesting for commercial purposes, I cosponsored legislation will result in a study to ensure that harvest limits are based upon sound science rather than politics.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Flanagan: Affordable and accessible healthcare is a necessity. In the 2018 session, I joined a bipartisan coalition, supported by Governor Hogan to stabilize the health insurance industry and prevent Maryland’s health care market place from collapse. We addressed this crisis head-on to prevent Marylanders from rate increases of over 50%. This is an example of what can be accomplished when we work together. Looking to the future, my bill to establish a grant program for asthma hot spots is an example of incentives to proactively reduce costs by keeping people healthy rather than sick going to the emergency room. I will continue to push for legislation addressing the under-identification of Traumatic Brain Injuries in school-aged children. Another item that should be looked at is studying the creation of a health record and payment integration program for health care providers.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Flanagan: Maryland should continue to play an active role in addressing both violent crime and providing resources for preventative measures. I joined Governor Hogan and a bipartisan coalition to target the repeat violent offenders who are terrorizing communities. This legislation passed with a large majority of legislators, which included many representing Baltimore City. I also strongly support the safe-streets initiative and other proposals aimed at prevention and community support. These measures will have a large impact on reducing violent crime in both the city, and across the state.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Flanagan: Since Governor Hogan’s election, Maryland’s business climate has begun to recover from the effects of the O’Malley administration’s anti-business mentality, but more work must be done. I joined Governor Hogan in working across the aisle to pass creative and innovative legislation that puts Maryland at top of the pack to compete for Amazon’s HQ2. We also passed legislation to further develop Maryland’s already dynamic cyber industry, and ensure that Maryland workers are trained for the cyber jobs of the future. We must also expand the state’s successful ‘More Jobs for Marylanders’ program. I will continue to support reforming our states burdensome regulatory laws that harm small business owners and will support efforts to give Marylanders more of their hard earned dollars back. In order to continue to improve our business climate and subsequently attract new jobs, we must address all these subjects.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Flanagan: Yes, we must have non-partisan and independent redistricting reform. I strongly oppose gerrymandering that draws up Congressional and state legislative districts based on back room politics to benefit those already in power. The rise in gridlock and partisanship in Washington is directly tied to this practice. Maryland itself is home to one of the most gerrymandered Congressional Districts in the United States. Maryland’s Congressional and legislative districts have been called “grotesquely gerrymandered”, and it is not hard to see why. Maryland’s 3rdCongressional District is so disfigured that it reminded a federal judge of a “broken-winged pterodactyl”. The gerrymandering of our state’s legislative districts is equally as upsetting and harmful to the goal of bipartisanship.I have and will continue to fight for reform. For the last three years Governor Hogan has introduced legislation based on the recommendations of the Redistricting Reform Commission. The bills, which I strongly supported, would put both Congressional and legislative redistricting in the hands of a transparent, nonpartisan, commission. Prior to Governor Hogan’s legislation being introduced, one of the first bills I authored during this term would have created an independent redistricting commission for both legislative and congressional district lines. It is unfortunate that the entrenched old guard of the majority party in Annapolis has continuously killed these efforts at reform.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Flanagan: In Howard County we are lucky to have one of the best Police Departments in the country. Our officers are actively engaged with the community and have a record of exemplary service. I do understand however that other jurisdictions are not as lucky. We must promote a culture of trust and appreciation across the state. The Law Enforcement Bill of Rights carefully balances the rights of officers who risk their lives to protect the public and the need to adjudicate, with the benefit of 20⁄20 hind sight, their decisions often under extreme pressure. The problems of corruption and need for reform in Baltimore City is being addressed in our federal court under the supervision of an appointed monitor. There are also ongoing prosecutions of corrupt officers. This is a better remedy than upsetting carefully crafted due process laws in dealing with police officers in Howard County and similarly situated jurisdictions.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Flanagan: The legislature came together to pass several important pieces of legislation, including the Overdose Data Reporting Act, the Volume Dealers Act, and the “Pill Mill” Tip Line and Overdose Report. I am proud of the work that the legislature has done thus far, but Maryland needs to continue this aggressive strategy to tackle the opioid epidemic. In the future our strategy must continue to target dealers and corrupt doctors, increase treatment options and accessibility, build on educational programs and make the public abundantly aware of how addictive and destructive opioid-based pain pills can become. We must take this message into the schools. In Howard County, there must be a place in the curriculum for students to hear from enlightened prosecutors, police, recovering addicts and family members who have been traumatized. Let’s listen to members of the community who can offer innovative ideas to combat addiction. I’ve talked to many thoughtful residents who have experienced the pain that addiction causes and have ideas well worth a state level discussion. Another issue needing attention from the legislature involves overdose induced hypoxic brain injuries, which occur when there is little or no oxygen to the brain. This is an under-recognized consequence of opioid overdoses that further complicates recovery and must be looked at carefully.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Flanagan: We must increase our focus on vocational and career training for students, eliminate barriers to entrepreneurism, and continue to ensure equal pay for equal work. The best way to give everyone an equal opportunity is to improve educational opportunities in under achieving schools and promoting educational opportunities after individuals have left school. Employers who offer entry level jobs can be encouraged with public private partnerships to promote further education. The public sector cannot do this alone. We must harness the ingenuity of the private sector.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Flanagan: At a time when the public is losing confidence in government, transparency needs to be preserved. During my term, the Howard County delegation heard from advocates who had been stonewalled by the prior public school administration. Their request for public information was being denied or ignored and high fees were charged to deter future requests, unhealthy mold in schools was being ignored, and many felt totally in the dark. In an earlier cover up, grade fixing by central office personnel had been swept under the rug. In response to these glaring issues, I took a leadership role in drafting a critical amendments that opened the door to enactment of a bill directing the state Public Access Ombudsman to investigate charges of non-compliance. This report served as guidance to our new superintendent as he came into office and led to important reform in providing requested information and fostering a culture of openness and trust. This an example of how state legislative action can support and enhance the public right to know. The issue of transparency and trust in government is never a settled one. We must bear in mind that technology moves at warp speed, and what may be adequate today, will not be in the future.