Charles County Delegation reflects on 2017 assembly
The Maryland General Assembly has adjourned its session until January next year, but that does not mean that the work is done for the Charles County Delegation.
Delegation Chairwoman Edith Patterson (D-Charles) said she is looking forward to seeing the results of the pieces of legislation the overall General Assembly passed and seeing how the discussion shapes itself out on things that did not pass.
From achieving paid sick leave for workers across Maryland to now allowing the Charles County Government to take over trash collecting duties from private companies in the county, there were many things that were accomplished Patterson said.
The most important of which, she said, was probably the paid sick leave bill which requires companies with 15 or more
employees to offer seven days of paid sick leave to their employees.
“The majority of us voted for that,” Patterson said. “I feel good about that.”
There are hundreds of thousands of families and people who will be impacted by that bill, Patterson said. They do not have to live in fear of losing their jobs because of any illness or health issue in their family.
Their benefits are not culpable to what most workers have in benefits, she said.
But not everyone in the delegation supported the bill. Patterson and Del. Sally Jameson (D-Charles) both supported the bill on the house side and Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) supported the bill for the senate, but Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) said he could not support the bill as it was written.
“We’re holding small businesses and small business owners to the same standards as big business,” Wilson said. “We didn’t do enough for small businesses in the session. I’ll call it a regret.”
Wilson is the chair of the business regulation subcommittee for the Economic Matters committee. He said many of the business owners in Southern Maryland who he came in contact with said this bill could hurt them.
They will now have to pay for workers who aren’t there on certain days and pay for someone to do that work in their place, he said. They may have to hire more employees, he said.
Wilson said he supports paid sick leave, but said there should have been a different regulation for smaller businesses and more specificity in the bill
between business sizes. That would have made it easier to support, he said.
But Jameson and Middleton both said they have been in contact with small business owners who already offer a similar policy for paid sick leave.
“For many of them, there won’t be much change,” Middleton said. Jameson said she agreed and thought many business owners would be able to adjust to the policy without struggle.
Despite the disagreement on paid sick leave, Wilson said he saw the session as a success. Wilson’s bill that would increase the statute of limitations for individuals who have been sexually assaulted was passed after three years of presenting it in the General Assembly.
During the last general assembly session, the bill was not voted on because of opposition from fellow legislators. This time around, Wilson said, the vote was unanimous from both the House and Senate.
“It’s a weight off my shoulders,” Wilson said. “That’s not something that I really wanted to do, to put my personal history out on a state level. But I hope that I’ve helped people. I’ve got lots of letters and calls from individuals that suffered through.”
Wilson was repeatedly beaten and raped by his foster father from in his early childhood until he was adopted and taken out of foster care. Prior to that, he was also moved from foster home to foster home without a family.
Wilson’s bill would allow sexual assault victims to pursue civil charges against the assailant up until age 38.
Wilson said he did not know before the session if the bill would pass, but had it failed he said he would have brought the bill back up during the next session. Luckily, he said, many people were open to it after representatives from the Catholic Church supported it.
Another success, Wilson said, was the Trust Act not moving out of the Senate. The discussion was worthwhile, Wilson said, but ultimately the bill protects felons and convicts who would otherwise be deported.
“There are people who end up in our country for the right reasons, they work hard and want to make a living,” Wilson said. “But for those who do the wrong things, we should not [have] more protections for them than we do for American citizens.”
The Trust Act would have limited government officials and law enforcement interactions with federal deportation agencies. As a lawyer, Wilson said that puts local law enforcement agencies in a place where they would not be able to do their jobs well.
But Patterson disagreed. Many people who are in the country and undocumented are here without protections, she said, despite being hard working citizens who are not doing wrong.
There are some people who are afraid to call authorities, go to the doctor and get proper care, she said, because they may be deported despite searching for help from local authorities.
“We don’t need people living in fear,” Patterson said.
Aside from those bills, both Middleton and Jameson said renewable energy strategies were a priority for the delegation this year. Jameson sponsored a bill requiring the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to conduct a study on the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard and related issues.
The state has put a premium on looking for renewable energy resources over the last few years with funding increasing year after year. And now, with a state law requiring businesses to use more renewable energy resources like solar panels, wind turbines and dams, finding more resources is becoming more important.
The bill Jameson put forth gives the department $263,000 each year until 2020 to research renewable energy, the costs behind it and to ultimately find the most efficient and cost effective resources.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to try to narrow the path we’re going to move forward when it comes to making our energy cleaner and greener here in the state,” Jameson said.
Overall, Patterson said, this session was a success. This was her first year as the chairwoman of the Charles County delegation and, she said, there was a real bipartisan effort to get things done.
There were not always agreements across the board, she said, but there was always a good discussion.
“That, for me, is the good news,” she said.