Shore del­e­ga­tion an­tic­i­pates changes

The Star Democrat - - LOCAL - By LEANN SCHENKE [email protected]­coun­

CH­ESTER­TOWN — The Eastern Shore del­e­ga­tion is pre­dict­ing a lot of change dur­ing this year’s 90-day Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion.

State Sen. Steve Her­shey, R-36-Up­per Shore; Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent; Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s; and Del. Jeff Ghrist, R-36-Caro­line, as well as Kent County com­mis­sion­ers Tom Ma­son and Ron Fithian, at­tended the an­nual pre-ses­sion leg­isla­tive break­fast held Jan. 7 at Heron Point.

The break­fast, which is hosted by the Kent County Cham­ber of Com­merce and the League of Women Vot­ers of Kent County, al­lows elected of­fi­cials the op­por­tu­nity to give their take on what the pub­lic can ex­pect from the Gen­eral Assem­bly.

“I think the big word is go­ing to be ‘change,’” Her­shey said. “What we saw in the elec­tions just in Novem­ber is go­ing to bring an aw­ful lot of change in leg­is­la­tors in the way that we are go­ing to in­ter­act.”

Her­shey said after the midterm elec­tions, 17 new sen­a­tors were elected out of 47 to­tal, and 43 new mem­bers were voted in out of 141 to­tal in the House of Del­e­gates.

He said it is go­ing to be “a num­ber of new in­di­vid­u­als are com­ing with new ideas and new ways of want­ing to get things done.”

He high­lighted changes at the lead­er­ship level after Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr., the coun­try’s long­est serv­ing se­nate pres­i­dent at 33 years, lost most of his lieu­tenants in the elec­tion.

“He’s get­ting pushed hard from the far left,” Her­shey said. “A lot of changes oc­curred in their elec­tions.”

Her­shey called hav­ing new chair­men “a learn­ing process” es­pe­cially in ref­er­ence to how the com­mit­tees will in­ter­act with Miller.

“He’s go­ing to have three new com­mit­tee chairs. As peo­ple know in An­napo­lis, that’s the way things get done. That’s where all the work that we do as far as legislation and bills are con­cerned. It all goes through the com­mit­tee process,” Her­shey said.

He called for­mer state Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton, D28-Charles, a “great friend” to the Eastern Shore be­cause of his sup­port of Ch­ester­town’s hospi­tal. That Mid­dle­ton was voted out in his pri­mary was “dev­as­tat­ing news” to Her­shey.

Mid­dle­ton was chair­man of the Se­nate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, leav­ing ques­tions for some state law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing Her­shey.

“It could be very dif­fer­ent. So a lot of peo­ple are kind of stand­ing on the out­side and won­der­ing how we’re go­ing to op­er­ate in An­napo­lis,” Her­shey said.

Jacobs said it’s go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing ses­sion this year.

“We’re go­ing to have to see what kind of ideas the enor­mous amount of new leg­is­la­tors. A third of my com­mit­tee are go­ing to be brand-new peo­ple,” Jacobs said.

Arentz, who serves on the House Eco­nomic Mat­ters Com­mit­tee, said he has “a lit­tle dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on things” due to the re­sults of the mid-terms.

“I think in Mary­land right now with this last elec­tion, we al­most have three par­ties. We have the Repub­li­can party, the Demo­crat party, and then we have this far left party that’s come in here with some of these pro­gres­sives, if you will, and I think it’s go­ing to be an in­ter­est­ing dy­namic in how we work through those is­sues,” Arentz said.

Arentz said the assem­bly should be “in­ter­est­ing and it’s go­ing to be fun and it’s al­most go­ing to be a shoot­ing match if you will.”

Ghrist said spoke about the shift­ing dy­namic within the assem­bly. He said he was talk­ing with a Demo­cratic se­na­tor who does not know what to ex­pect.

Ghrist called Mid­dle­ton one of the most ef­fec­tive leg­is­la­tors in the assem­bly and crit­i­cized him be­ing voted out.

“Un­for­tu­nately, his dis­trict voted him out and voted in a much more pro­gres­sive Demo­crat in his place, which to me makes ab­so­lutely no sense,” Ghrist said. “After some of these out­stand­ing mod­er­ate leg­is­la­tors lost their seats to very, very far left pro­gres­sives. So we don’t know. The Democrats don’t know what to do. The Repub­li­cans re­ally don’t know where we are headed, so time will cer­tainly tell.”

Her­shey touched on top­i­cal is­sues facing this ses­sion like re-dis­trict­ing, min­i­mum wage, so­lar en­ergy and health care.

“One of (Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s) big­gest is­sues that you may have heard about al­ready is he’s talk­ing about re­dis­trict­ing. He wants to get an in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion to draw the lines as we are com­ing up with our 2020 cen­sus that will oc­cur,” Her­shey said, not­ing that by 2022, the next gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion, new dis­tricts will be drawn.

Her­shey said Ho­gan wants to have “fair” dis­trict lines drawn, which he said is “some­thing we can all get be­hind.”

“We’re 100 per­cent be­hind that,” Her­shey said. “That’s the way we want to go. We want to see fair dis­tricts and make sure that the lines are drawn fairly and make sure we get groups that are con­tigu­ous to­gether that are rep­re­sented by like-minded peo­ple.”

Her­shey said he is ex­pect­ing a lot of la­bor bills, in­clud­ing one to raise the min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour.

He said there are pros and cons to rais­ing the min­i­mum wage.

“We feel that hurts a num­ber of busi­nesses, es­pe­cially in the hos­pi­tal­ity tourism busi­nesses, that we rep­re­sent. We are go­ing to try to find ways that maybe we can zone that or make dif­fer­ences based on ge­og­ra­phy,” Her­shey said.

He said in ru­ral ar­eas, a higher min­i­mum wage “might not be ap­pro­pri­ate.”

“Maybe we can get a dif­fer­ent type of num­ber of get or get a fair wage that is based on sea­son help,” Her­shey said. “We’ll look to see if we can make changes like that.”

As far as re­new­able en­ergy, Her­shey said there is a big push to in­crease the state’s re­new­able en­ergy sources to 50 per­cent by 2030 where as the state is cur­rently at 25 per­cent by 2020. He said there is push for so­lar carve out, or a state’s so­lar-in­cen­tive pro­gram that pro­vides panel own­ers with so­lar re­new­able en­ergy cred­its based on the amount of en­ergy they pro­duce.

Her­shey said cur­rently the carve out is at 2 or 2½ per­cent for so­lar. There is a push to in­crease the carve out to 14½ per­cent. He said to get to 14 per­cent, there would need to be about 45,000 acres of so­lar.

“We know here in the ru­ral coun­ties that we’ll be tar­geted for these big, mas­sive so­lar projects,” Her­shey said. “And we’ve fought hard in the past to make sure that coun­ties have some say in the mat­ter as far as zon­ing and that they’ll have the abil­ity to plan the ar­eas where they will have so­lar and will not have so­lar.”

In re­gards to health care, Her­shey said he is look­ing at get­ting a “dif­fer­ent type of re­im­burse­ment sched­ule” for Ch­ester­town’s hospi­tal. He said cur­rently, Mary­land’s hos­pi­tals re­ceive money in one lump sum that is di­vided be­tween all the hos­pi­tals.

“If we get any more money, ob­vi­ously one of the other hos­pi­tals would lose money,” Her­shey said. “How­ever, we also want to make sure we have the ap­pro­pri­ate level of qual­ity med­i­cal ser­vices pro­vided, so some of the other hos­pi­tals are start­ing to rec­og­nize that that would be im­por­tant.”

Jacobs, who serves on the House En­vi­ron­ment and Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, said the record rain­fall the Shore has ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing 2018 is im­pact­ing the health of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and will be a sub­ject of dis­cus­sion dur­ing the assem­bly.

“The Bay is re­ally in pretty rough shape,” Jacobs said.

He said the health of the Bay had made a lot of im­prove­ments in years past, but this year has taken the health back again. How­ever, he said de­bris from the Conowingo Dam wash­ing into the An­napo­lis har­bor helped make the western shore lead­ers aware of is­sues the Eastern Shore has been dealing with.

“It was good for us. We’ve been talk­ing about this for years. They got to ex­pe­ri­ence it in An­napo­lis and at Sandy Point, so it will make legislation a lit­tle eas­ier for me,” Jacobs said.

He called the reser­voir at the Conowingo Dam be­ing filled a very se­ri­ous prob­lem.

Ad­di­tion­ally, he said raw sewage com­ing out of Bal­ti­more se­ri­ous is an­other se­ri­ous is­sue.

“It has a huge im­pact on us as far as qual­ity of the Bay and what it means to farm­ers meet­ing goals. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff in play right now en­vi­ron­men­tally,” Jacobs said. “I’m sure I’ll have some legislation that has to do with the Conowingo and its de­bris clean up.”

He said the first bill in his com­mit­tee will be one on the pro­hi­bi­tion of dredge oys­ters.

When asked about a po­ten­tial third cross­ing of the Bay land­ing in Kent County, Jacobs said “we’ll vote it down.”

Jacobs said he also ex­pects to see a big push to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana. He said he is not sure what will hap­pen with it, how­ever, be­cause of the change of leg­is­la­tors.

He said he also ex­pects a push to raise the age for pur­chas­ing cig­a­rettes from 18 to 21.

“That’s go­ing to be a big push this year. I’m not sure who is go­ing to en­force all that. We’ve got a big push with opi­oids, and I hope it doesn’t take any po­lice time away pa­trolling cig­a­rette use,” Jacobs said.

Arentz said he also will fo­cus on health care with re­gard to the opi­oid cri­sis and men­tal health care in Mary­land.

Arentz said Comptroller Peter Fran­chot is push­ing for al­co­hol regulations to be more friendly to micro-brew­eries.

Ghrist, who sits on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, said there may be about a $1 bil­lion sur­plus in rev­enue. He said the is­sues is to de­cide what to do with this money, put it in reserve or spend it now.


State Sen. Steve Her­shey, right, R-36-Up­per Shore, speaks about what he ex­pects to see dur­ing the 90-day Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion, which be­gan Jan. 9, dur­ing the pre-ses­sion leg­isla­tive break­fast held Jan. 7 at Heron Point. Also shown are Del. Jay Jacobs, left, R-36-Kent, and Del. Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s.

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