Ji’Aire’s law resurfaces in legislative proposal session
Business tax credits, collective bargaining for rescue workers among 18 items
The Maryland General Assembly’s legislative session is months away, but residents, representatives and government officials came out on Tuesday evening to propose bills they would like to have supported by the Southern Maryland Delegation.
Presenters gave presentations to delegates representing Charles County as well as the Charles County Board of Commissioners. There were 18 proposals in total — some of which were tweaks from prior pieces of legislation from last year.
Among them were proposals for Ji’Aire’s law, which did not make it out of committee in the previous legislative session; a law authorizing collective bargaining
for public safety officers in the Charles County Department of Emergency Services; and a law authorizing the county to offer business tax credits.
Ji’Aire’s Law was presented by Vontasha Simms, the mother of Romechia Simms who was found pushing her 3-year-old, Ji’Aire Lee, on a swing in La Plata after he died.
Simms said her daughter, Romechia, has an unprecedented case in the state of Maryland and does not deserve to be put in jail. Ji’Aire’s Law would allow parents who are in a “mental crisis” to have a parent, guardian or close family member gain authority to care for that person and any children they have.
Despite not having success with the bill last year, Simms said, she is still going through the mental health system and seeking help for her daughter, who does not deserve to be in jail.
“Although it may be too late for my grandson, there are other people in this state that need help. There are other children who are dying with mental illnesses and parents with mental illnesses,” Simms said.
Simms said Maryland is one of four states without adequate mental illness laws or help available to people who need it. There is no longer “that stigma” to it, she said, and people who need help should receive it. This bill would help them.
“They can maintain a normal life. They can function in society,” Simms said. “The law, it died in committee. But I’m still alive and well. I will be here.”
Along with Ji’Aire’s law, a proposal amending the state labor policy for emergency worker personnel was proposed by Ryan Degruy, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4658.
The proposed amendments would expand collective bargaining capabilities to all “full-time merit system employees whose primary duties include providing emergency medical services, fire operations and rescue operations,” DeGruy said, for the emergency services department.
“We’re not trying to ask for the world with this, we’re just trying to ask for what is considered by many [to be] a human right,” he said.
Employees are searching for empowerment, DeGruy said, and these amendments would do that. Charles County, emergency services’ employer, he said, would only benefit from it.
Another piece the delegation may consider is granting the Charles County Economic Development department the ability to grant businesses tax credits. Darrell Brown, the director of economic development for the county, presented the bill along with Marcia Keeth, the deputy director.
Brown said the department wants to create a “business tax incentive program” for current and prospective business owners to attract more businesses to Charles County.
The department previously explored putting a system in place without state help, Brown said, but the county attorney’s office informed them they would need to seek authorization from the state.
Keeth said the county is looking to create legislation giving the county the opportunity to create and implement incentives at the county level for their businesses. The legislation at the state level would simply give them permission as opportunities are identified.
There are already tax increment financing programs in place at the county level, which finance projects and increase their real estate value. There is also a recordation tax available as well, Keeth said.
Brown would like to do a tax stabilization credit, which is used in other jurisdictions, Keeth said. But it is unclear how much of the groundwork on the credit would need to be done at the county and state levels.
The state’s department of commerce is going through an “extensive review,” Brown said, of its tax incentive program and will eliminate some programs that are not being used or taken advantage of.
Southern Maryland Delegation Chairwoman and Charles County Delegate Sally Jameson (D-28) said the department has “pushed hard” at the state level to ensure the county has not been hindered by any changes from the state’s department of commerce.
“If the department of commerce does change and they have to come before us, we will make sure that your concerns have been realized at that level,” Jameson said.