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?
Leonard: Yes. As someone who has taught remedial math courses at CCBC and who has represented cognitively disabled and impoverished children as an attorney, I know first-hand the inequities of our public education system. We don’t currently know what the final cost is for the associated reforms, but we can assume it will be a hefty bill. Many of the Kirwan Commission recommendations can be achieved without increased funding. However, the most important recommendations need to be funded. I support the ballot question to create an education lockbox for Maryland’s casino revenue and I also support Governor Hogan and the Maryland legislature’s plan to use our windfall tax revenue caused by federal tax reform for our schools. Furthermore, new revenue should be considered such as legalized marijuana. Nine states (two this year with Republican governors) and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana and have reaped the tax rewards. Washington State saw $1.3 billion in sales and Colorado is continuing to see increased tax revenue that is funding their schools. I’m more than happy to lead this effort in the Maryland State Senate.
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?
Leonard: Most drivers probably underestimated the benefit of our subway until it was closed for a month. The added buses, Ubers, and cars on our road backed up I-83 enough to cause a few headaches and miserable commutes. We all benefit from a world-class public transportation system and Baltimore is far from that. We do not have an appropriate balance between roads and transit spending. I am encouraged by legislation that was passed this year to add funding to WMATA and MTA. Somehow we need to revive the Red Line and have a larger conversation about regionalism. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz originally balked at our county paying its fair share for the Red Line. All of Baltimore City’s neighbors need to chip in because we all benefit from less congestion and providing opportunities for low-income individuals to get to jobs and school.
Do you support the legalization of recreational marijuana?
Leonard: Absolutely. See above answer about education funding. Also, when I was at the Office of the Public Defender, I was a leading and successful advocate for marijuana decriminalization. There are too many reasons that this should become law. States that have better marijuana laws have fewer opioid deaths; our current medical marijuana program has been a joke; racial disparities in drug enforcement have a devastating effect on low-income communities, etc…
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?
Leonard: In 2014, The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board gave me credit for having the courage to stand up for the stormwater management fee. We saw the devastation recently in Ellicott City which showed the need for flood planning and the dangers of development in high-risk areas. On a regular basis, rain carries pollution down impervious surfaces. Our stormwater management program if implemented well can protect the Bay from soil erosion and poultry farms. Hopefully, in 2018, we can elect an administration who won’t roll back environmental policies, like Hogan did with septic pollution. I would also encourage incentives for groups like Gunpowder Valley Conservancy to help homeowners install rain barrels, and eliminate use of lawn fertilizers. Furthermore, limiting development while promoting common-sense regulations for stormwater runoff will help our Bay. The Innovative Technology Fund is a great program that should be fully funded. I also support any oyster restoration program.
What steps should Maryland take to ensure the broadest possible access to affordable health care?
Leonard: This legislative session, Maryland stepped up to lead the nation by protecting our marketplace in the wake of the dismantling of Obamacare. I support the legislature’s decision for an individual mandate and tax on insurance companies. I am also intrigued by Ben Jealous’ plan for a Medicare-for-All system. I am a believer that universal healthcare should be our goal.
What role should the state play in helping Baltimore address violent crime?
Leonard: This is a problem that will not be fixed with mandatory minimums or increased sentences. That is a failed policy and will solve nothing. I am at least grateful that the state will increase its funding for community-based programs like Safe Streets. Rethinking our war on drugs and focusing on rebuilding Baltimore’s school system and economy will have a greater effect on crime than any sentencing proposal. Of course we need to also focus on short-term crime fighting. More community policing and patrols in high crime areas should be the focus.
How would you characterize Maryland’s business climate? What can the state do to foster the creation of more family-supporting jobs?
Leonard: Maryland, like most of the country, has done well coming out of the Great Recession and now has an unemployment rate hovering around 4%. I think everyone in Annapolis will call that a success. At the time that the unemployment rate was declining, Maryland’s minimum wage was incrementally increasing. I support its continued increase and will fight for a new bill to index the minimum wage to inflation. To make Maryland a place that a business like Amazon would want to call home requires our state to be forward thinking on all of the questions in this survey. Not just an enormous tax package.
Do you support the creation of a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census?
Leonard: Yes. Hopefully, the Supreme Court addresses gerrymandering in Maryland, Wisconsin, and North Carolina all at once and sets a national standard. For now, I am okay with acting first. Yes, Maryland might lose a Democrat-held Congressional seat (probably not in an election year like 2018), but it’s the right thing to do.
Does the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights adequately balance protections for police and the public? Should it be changed, and if so, how?
Leonard: The Board needs to be modified to include civilians. Faith in the Baltimore City Police Department is at an all-time low following the Gun Task Force scandal and Freddie Gray before that. And it doesn’t seem to matter who the police commissioner is. Maybe the citizens of Baltimore will feel more comfortable knowing that the police won’t be the only ones policing themselves.
What strategy would you adopt to address the opioid addiction and overdose crisis?
Leonard: Continue to go after pharmaceutical companies and doctors who over-prescribe. Legalized marijuana will help at lowering the use of opioids by providing an alternative for pain relief and other medical reasons. I support additional funding for treatment and less incarceration.
What if anything should the state do to address income inequality?
Leonard: See above regarding minimum wage. Also, if we are successful following the Kirwan Commission recommendations and create equitable schools, then we might be able to create economic mobility. Housing needs to be addressed so that we are not concentrating poverty. It is easier to climb up the ladder when you have resources in your community. I follow the research of Raj Chetty closely and would like to work to evidence-based solutions.
Do the state’s Public Information Act and open meetings laws adequately ensure Marylanders’ ability to exercise oversight of the government?
Leonard: I’m not aware of serious problems in this area, but I would be interested to learn more.