Washington County delegation catches up with colleagues on opening day

January 09, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU |
  • Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, and the chair of the Washington County delegation, whisks his way across the House of Delegates floor Wednesday on opening day of the Maryland General Assembly.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

ANNAPOLIS — The day is largely ceremonial.

Yet, sometimes, the opening day of the Maryland General Assembly sets the tone for the rest of the session.

And even though Gov. Martin O’Malley told the House of Delegates on Wednesday that this is “going to be the best session we ever had,” the legislators of the Washington County delegation said they were busy sorting through the issues that will affect residents the most.

Chief among them is the issue of the disparity grant, which could bring some much needed money to the county. Among statewide issues, the local delegation said they were focusing on gun-related bills and the possible repeal of the death penalty.

Counties with per-capita income tax revenues less than 75 percent of the state average are eligible for the disparity grant, but the program was capped in 2010 and Washington County has not been part of the program since. If the county was eligible for the grant money, it would have received $6.7 million in the 2013 fiscal year.


Justin Hartings, Washington County Board of Education member who was a guest at the opening session, said that the issue of the disparity grant was on his mind.

“It [the disparity grant] has been one of our legislative priorities ... that’s something that would help the county and help the school system with the cost of pensions that was pushed down to locals last year,” Hartings said.

Sixty-five percent of the funding for the school district now comes from the state, Hartings said.

“So what happens in Annapolis has a big impact in the classrooms of Washington County,” he said.

Although it was only the first day of the session Wednesday, top state officials were already making predictions that the death penalty would be repealed.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat who supports capital punishment, predicted a repeal would pass in the Senate, perhaps by as many as five votes, the Associated Press reported.

Miller also said he believed the measure would clear the General Assembly and be sent to the ballot for voters to decide in the next election.

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, supports a repeal as does the governor. Both O’Malley and Busch support a ban on assault weapons.

Neil Parrott, R-Washington, who serves on the house judiciary committee, said that the issue of guns and death penalty repeal would keep him busy.

“The governor says he is going to eliminate the death penalty … I think that is completely wrong,” Parrott said.

Nothing short of the death penalty would bring justice to some victims, Parrott said.

The delegate said he was hoping for common sense when it comes to new legislation.

“We are all colleagues … it is almost like the first day of school,” Parrott said, referring to the opening day.

Hagerstown mayor David Gysberts, who was scheduled to be at the opening session, could not make it because he was ill, said Sen. Christopher Shank, R-Washington.

Shank said he heard a “lot of patting on the back” when it came to the O’Malley’s address to the senate.

“All too frequently, on an opening day, people will be talking about working together in a bipartisan way … and very soon the gloves come off,” Shank said.

And even though there are partisan wrangles and geographical battles at the General Assembly, Shank said he was hoping for political consensus rather than the two parties “sending out dueling press releases.”

“As is always the case, the further we go in the session, the more tension there is,” said John Donoghue, D-Washington. “I want to stay focused and make sure that I am fighting for my constituents back home.”

John Delaney, the newly elected U.S. Congressman for Maryland’s 6th District, was a guest at the session Wednesday.

Later in the day he hosted a meet and greet for some constituents and local legislators.

Some legislators brought their children to the session Wednesday including Del. Michael Hough, R-Frederick/Washington who recently became the proud father of a daughter.

Andrew Serafini, R-Washington, and the chair of the Washington County delegation, said the opening day was a chance to catch up and greet colleagues.

“From [Thursday], we start our work,” Serafini said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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