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?
Merrill: Yes and yes. My time working in Baltimore City Public Schools revealed two crises facing public education: the chronic underfunding of our schools, and the chronic misalignment of our educational practices from international best practices. The Kirwan Commission presents the greatest opportunity in a generation to do something about these challenges, and I fully support the preliminary findings. We need to improve and expand early childhood education, invest in our teachers and administrators, enrich our curriculum, provide more resources for at-risk students, and provide stronger governance and accountability. Who we elect in these 2018 elections will determine who is at the table when decisions are made about how an entire generation of students experience public schools in the state of Maryland. I believe we need former educators at the table when these decisions are made. The stakes are high. And not just for our kids. Maryland’s economic future is on the line. We have to get this right. This isn’t a matter of whether we can afford these reforms, it’s a matter of whether we can afford not to.
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?
Merrill: No. Many of my students had to travel three hours a day round trip just to get to school and back on public transit. Things aren’t any better for adults. It’s hard to have a job you can’t get to. We need to expand and improve our rail and bus systems. We already have revenue generating mechanisms to pay for these improvements, it is a matter of priorities.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Merrill: I support the further decriminalization of marijuana and expanded availability of expungement for marijuana related offenses. I believe that we should proceed very cautiously toward legalization by focusing on Maryland’s current efforts to make medical marijuana accessible while also watching closely what is happening in states where legalization has already occurred.
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?
Merrill: The Chesapeake Bay and the waterways that feed into it are precious resources we must take actions to protect. We need to reduce trash, litter, and other types of pollution that hurt the bay and threaten the quality of life in our neighborhoods. To that end, we should increase penalties for point-source and run-off pollution, and increase enforcement capabilities. The state should also be more aggressively restoring wetlands along our rivers and coasts to protect against rising waters as well as helping to naturally clean the Chesapeake. But pollution in Maryland is about more than just the Chesapeake. Sixteen percent of the state’s worst polluters are located in the poorest one percent of its neighborhoods. With a federal government so intent on dismantling environmental protections Maryland has to step up and protect its residents from polluters and the effects of climate change.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Merrill: I believe that everyone should be able to buy-in to an affordable healthcare plan. Most existing government health care programs are controlled by the federal government, but Maryland can use its control over Medicaid to greatly expand health care coverage. Maryland should institute Medicaid rules that either cover all Marylanders or allow Marylanders to buy in to Medicaid at an affordable rate. Getting more people on Medicaid will lower healthcare costs for individuals and increase the bargaining power of Medicaid, allowing it to negotiate lower prices.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Merrill: The state can play a stronger role in helping Baltimore address violent crime in a variety of ways. In the short term the state should offer grants to help improve crime-fighting technology and should insist on coordinated cross-agency warrant efforts between local and state officials. In the mid-term we need to overhaul our criminal justice system to connect those in incarceration to education and job training. Baltimore City has a 70% recidivism rate by some estimates. Improving our criminal justice system to connect inmates to the services they need to re-enter society should be a top priority. In the long term, Maryland can help us reduce violent crime in Baltimore by fully funding and modernizing our public education system. Good schools create healthy neighborhoods, attract business, and lead to more people being fully employed. Implementing the Kirwan Commission’s reforms will help Baltimore reduce violent crime in the years and decades to come.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Merrill: Unemployment in the 41st district is twice the national average and wages are stagnant. While there have been high profile efforts to attract national corporations to the region, we need to remain focused on investing in our local economy by investing in local businesses and local workers. I support a statewide $15 minimum wage and expanding collective bargaining. To attract more jobs to Baltimore the state should be improving services in the city and all over Maryland. Better schools and adult training programs will ensure that businesses have qualified workers. Safer streets will make Baltimore a more attractive place to live and work. A better transportation system will connect businesses to the workforce. Cities with better services are more attractive to employees and employers, and the state of Maryland should help Baltimore with all of these priorities.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Merrill: Absolutely. Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. I support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw our maps by 2020 – and I hope other states do too.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Merrill: No. The Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR) protects police at the expense of the public. Police officers are highly trained, yet they face a standard for the use of deadly force that is no higher than the average Marylander. And they receive protections from investigation that go far beyond those afforded to most of us. We should establish a statewide use of force policy to clearly explain when and why force is necessary, and officers suspected of a crime should not be afforded protections that the rest of us cannot expect.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Merrill: Low-level users of drugs should be treated, not incarcerated. Maryland should be greatly expanding access to effective treatment, and its enforcement should be targeted at high-level dealers and suppliers along with those who carry out violence on their behalf.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Merrill: It is the role of government to create opportunity for all residents – the opportunity to receive a great education, to live in a safe neighborhood, to access affordable health care, and to earn a living wage. In this spirit, our campaign has released a Roadmap to Upward Mobility (jdmerrill.com/plan), which outlines bold actions that can be taken in twelve different policy areas at the state level to address income inequality, create opportunity for all, and grow and strengthen the middle class.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Merrill: The Public Information Act and open meetings laws are a great start to helping provide oversight of the government. But it is still too easy for our government to ignore or work around these laws. We need to do more to make the work of government visible to the public. Attendance and voting records are currently hidden in hard to understand and difficult to access journals and websites. The rules of the General Assembly and past pay records are difficult if not impossible to find for the general public. Legislators should be willing to open their books and publish, in real time, when they show up to work, their excuse if they have an excused absence, and how they voted on every bill and amendment in committee and on the floor. The Maryland General Assembly’s website should be user friendly and allow residents to clearly understand how their government works.