Container return/refund system
Bottles and cans continue to buildup in our landfills and litter our waterways despite recycling efforts and attempts to raise awareness. The sad reality is that the average person couldn’t care less where or how they dispose of said waste if it doesn’t affect them directly and immediately, they need more incentive than just moral obligation. So what if those cans and bottles were actually worth something to them? Other states on the east coast like Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut have all set up a system where a small rebate is put on the sale of beverage containers, 5 or 10 cents, and that rebate is paid back when the container is returned to a proper processing center or receptacle. The effectiveness of this system in reducing the amount of wasted recycling is almost instantaneous and phenomenal, as when Michigan first implemented the bottle/can return system, the rate of return for all containers statewide began to average around 90% or higher annually.
Sustainable Farming and Food Recovery
A large source of our runoff pollution comes from the food industry with farms being forced to foot the bill for the waste of livestock owned by the companies, and restaurants and grocery stores throwing out perfectly edible but unused ingredients due to a lack of distribution systems. The waste also hurts the producers as the loss of resources is a loss of revenue. What can be done is to implement legislation that enforces the food companies to cover the cost of their own waste removal, giving the farmers more freedom to transition to a sustainable practice like growing barrier crops to prevent erosion and soil rotation. Working to expand the food recovery and distribution programs and centers in the state by itemizing the values of food donated by stores, restaurants, and farms as a state tax deduction will also incentivize efforts for the managers and workers not to simply take the overstock behind the building to the dumpster.
Styrofoam and Pesticide bans/studies
The biggest way to lower negative environmental impact is to consume less resources, and the biggest resources that can be cut out are chemically processed products that cannot be recycled and already have more natural substitutes, like plastics and pesticides. Montgomery County successfully issued a ban on styrofoam that took effect in 2016, but the ban has yet to expanded statewide. And while Maryland lead the charge to ban neonicotinoids, ever since the Trump Administration’s EPA has ‘delegated’ most of their responsibilities and accountability to state departments, many senior legislators have shied away from ‘smaller’ priorities that could drain their shrinking budget. For example, this year’s chlorpyrifos ban died out of fears of a possible spotted lantern-fly invasion this summer, to which studies on the effectiveness of the pesticide in combating the species hasn’t even been done while the links to human and environmental health have been confirmed by the previous EPA. If studies for effective and alternate pest control are not increased, environmentally harmful inaction like this will continue to put potential capital losses(which could happen anyway) over community health.
100% Renewable and Waste-free
The ultimate goal is to have our state leave no environmental footprint in the years to come, preferably before the end of the next decade. This means phasing out all fossil fuel plants, retraining the workforce to maintain and build solar and wind structures, and adapt our material production and waste disposal systems to a point where all materials can either be reused, recycled, or composted. It will likely take every method in the book and some we haven’t thought of yet, but an uncompromising milestone plan and a fixed funding base for transitioning will be the solid foundation for which all members of the state can rally around. Both bills to raise our Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, the Clean Energy Jobs Act(HB1453) and the 100% Renewable Mandate(HB878), have died in committee this year, and that speaks volumes of how complicit the legislators who are our committee chairs have been to recent actions by our federal government to withdraw from global climate initiatives and have no alternate plans of their own.
Public Transit and Infrastructure
Recent FCC rulings to eliminate net neutrality protections put a vast majority of control in the mega-corporations that provide a monopoly of services, which will no doubt alter content and prioritize certain traffic to benefit their needs before their clients. Our state’s attorney general has bravely filed lawsuit over these actions along with many other states while our governor candidates promise to defy the federal mandate with their own net neutrality laws, but many of these battles are up in the air and may only stall the repeal. When it boils down to it, ownership of your own service is practically the only absolute lifelong defense against mass deregulation and those who would enforce it. Cities like Chattanooga boast not only some of the cheapest broadband service in the county, but also the fastest, and that is because they own their own service! They built their own service provider, laid their own cables, set their own rates, and most importantly, made their own rules, rules that the FCC CANNOT touch because that internet service is property of that city and therefore protected by the city’s rights! The state of Maryland can make this a reality for everyone living in it by incentivizing their municipalities and counties to do the same. And better yet, this will also likely mean GUARANTEED BROADBAND ACCESS FOR EVERYONE IN MARYLAND!
Like the net neutrality ban, banks are facing the same level of deregulation with the gutting of the Dodd-Frank act, which admittedly was weak at best. What will happen next? Likely an accelerated market crash as the so called finical institutions gamble with their depositors’ money for a quick payoff, leaving no money left for anyone else. So what role can the state play in this? Well, did you know that state tax revenue is stored in those commercial banks? That means if those banks go broke gambling on wall street, SO DOES THE STATE BUDGET!! And with virtually little to no regulations in place, you know they’re going to gamble. This is where practice of public ownership once again safeguards your assets. If the state were to set up its own bank to store its own revenue, the commercial banks wouldn’t be able to play dangerous games with it. Also a plus, the state would be able to loan it out at rates much lower than those other banks would to citizens of the state seeking to build businesses, infrastructure, and even cover in-state tuition and home mortgages so people aren’t saddled with debt and can become more productive. One state has been practicing this for about a century, North Dakota, and unlike many states suffering from budget deficits, it has enjoyed a decades long surplus(even through the housing crisis!) which it also used to cushion the blow to lost revenue from its oil industry during the 2016 oil crisis. When was the last time Maryland had a budget surplus?
Cheaper internet with your own public provider, more affordable loans with your own public bank, I’m sensing a pattern here. Could it be you can also get lower energy costs with your own public power station? Why, yes you can. Community solar/wind projects are all the rage with people wanting to go 100% renewable, especially those who live in shaded and/or non-windy areas. Here’s how it works, members of a neighborhood community buy and set up a solar farm array that is connected to their grid. Members of the community that paid for the array now own shares of it that supply their home with power, while those that didn’t can pay a subscription fee to get power from the array at a lower rate than green power plans from third party utilities. So, what if a city, with funds allocated from the state, was able to get it’s own solar array? Combined with energy storage technology, you would essentially have a self-sustaining microgrid, capable of disconnecting from all other areas when no extra energy is needed and supplying other grids with surplus power as well, raising energy efficiency on a macro level while lowering energy costs for just about everyone.
More trains and buses = less traffic
We have a metropolitan transit system, it connects to the heart of our nation and even into northern Virginia where all the federal jobs and tech and law firms exist. Yet more workers continue to choose driving a car alone over the crowded and congested capital beltway over using this, why? The short answer is, its become run down and unreliable. Road and oil subsidies gave the illusion that highway building and car commutes was cheaper in the long run, and funding for other transit was cut as a result. The problem now is too many roads were built than could be maintained in the long run, and they were built in a way that minimized construction costs of new additions by shifting the burden of new traffic to the already congested, older thoroughfares, so now the road system is also run down and unreliable. What a mess! And that’s not even factoring in the environmental impact emissions and runoff cause. Our best bet to fix this is to reinvest in transportation infrastructure so fewer cars will be needed on the road. Dedicated Metro funding is the first step, next would be to have Bus Rapid transits incorporated into main thoroughfare stretches for inter-county travel. Lastly, rail expansions like a third rail for MARC trains into Fredrick and a Red Line extension into Onley would provide commuter options for areas that don’t have other means of transport.
This is the hot button issue since 2016, and for good reason too. Our medical bills are around one of the highest in the world, yet our service is more or less mediocre. Everyone wants their state to push for their own single payer system since the federal government continues to dig their heels in the ground over this issue. But here’s the catch: Due to how the federalist level of authority and bureaucracy is currently structured, all states must adhere to a ‘national standard’ of healthcare and any experimentation or deviations from that standard must have a waiver from the federal government or else they’re obligated(or sometimes obliged) to shut it down. Gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous highlights it best in his 19 page healthcare plan, and even swears to fight the federal officials tooth and nail to get those waivers needed to build a state single payer system. Now I’ll join his fight wholeheartedly if it comes to that and never let up for those 4 years I’m in office, but what about right now? Well, Maryland is unique in this fight as it already has one of the waivers required to set the basis for single payer, the all-payer rate model for hospital fees, which keeps operation costs from rising and eliminates overhead. What I can do is strengthen what bargaining power Maryland does have in order to extend coverage availability from insurers statewide and cut overhead further as State Senator Pinsky is attempting to do with his Healthy Maryland Act(SB1002), while I join what I hope to be a unanimous legislation in demanding that the federal government give us the waivers required.
Prescriptions and Prevention
While there are many things the states have their hands tied by the federal government about when it comes to addressing healthcare costs, making sure pharmacies don’t overcharge for prescription drugs isn’t one of them. States like Vermont have looked to considering Canadian imports to set the price by their standards, but another option would be for a state to set its own board that set a fixed price for all prescribed medications in the state, similar to our hospital rates, and this one we don’t need a waiver for.
Also, in order to promote a healthy healthcare budget for the state, we need to promote a healthy environment. Many countries overseas have healthcare budgets lower than the states, yet healthier populations, and this is a result that fewer people get sick in those countries and need expensive treatments. This brings truth to the saying, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. If we can adjust our healthcare spending budget to bring more check-up facilities and doctors available to every Marylander, we’ll soon find ourselves spending less on serious treatment operations that cost hundreds of thousands a pop while having a more sustainable healthcare budget.
Marijuana and Opioids
The legalization of marijuana is a common sense issue in this day and age for so many reasons, I can think of at least three off the top of my head. First, it opens a new tax revenue for funding state programs and projects. Second, it brings down the crime and incarceration rate as many of those locked up have been charged with merely processing a single bag. With it legal, fewer Marylanders will have criminal records hampering their job opportunities and restricting their rights and access to helpful programs, and prisons will cost the taxpayers less since there will be fewer prisoners to contain. Third, it directly fights the opioid crisis by acting as a non-lethal substitute for painkillers. No one ever had DEATH BY MUNCHIES written on their tombstones, you know!
Which brings me to the other half of the drug issue, addressing the rising number of deaths due to opioid overdose. Maryland leads a robust drug rehabilitation program compared to most other states, but it can always be, and probably needs to be, expanded so that it is available to all communities. This will probably tie into the state healthcare battles, so it could get messy, but another thing to do is work to steadily decriminalize all drug substances. Do not equate decriminalization to legalization, that’s a common mistake most people make. Decriminalized substances are still illegal, but possession and use of them would be considered a misdemeanor, like getting a speeding ticket. This is because current drug law restrictions mainly target the addicts, but addicts don’t care about the fear of criminal prosecution like others because that’s what it means to be an addict, you don’t care about anything else except the thing you’re addicted to! And you certainly can’t get access to the rehabilitation programs if you’re locked up in prison. If the case was even severe enough on rare occasion, an addict could die in a jail cell from withdrawal symptoms because they weren’t able to detox safely. Bottom line, you hurt more people than you help with such strict and steep penalties.
4-degree programs are not for everyone, especially in an economy that has banks shoving student loan debt in their faces every chance they get. Most parents many think the tech and business center is all there is to the future of careers when they’re preparing to send their high school graduates off, but in a nation where infrastructure gets an overall grade of D, it’s clear there’s going to be a big demand for builders, fixers, the whole journeymen list! Current programs and apprenticeships are scarce though, and expansion as well as building a path to the vocation’s local union builds a good network in addition to skillset. Just ask yourself this, do you know how to fix your own oven or dishwasher? Have you got any neighbors who don’t have to drive their car to the dealership just for an oil change or spark plug replacement? Who among you can set up drywall, electrical wiring, and insulation? Drawing a blank on any of these? Then there’s a good chance there’s an opening in your area for vocational service.
School Improvement, Transparency, Equity, and Expansion
If you haven’t heard about Baltimore’s schools going without heat last winter, take a long cold shower to wake yourself up. Teachers are underpaid without many benefits, classrooms are overflowing, facilities are outdated, yet education is the second largest item on the state budget. The schools need more than currently offered of course for the improvements we all have in mind, but the current money is going somewhere and it’s clearly not to them first. What I have in mind is locking a portion of the education budget for direct funding straight to the schools for the teachers and parents themselves can pay for their improvements and expansions. As for the rest of the money, I will push to bring budget transparency to our Department of Education and their boards, as it is clear there is a level of corruption at play with our administrators and their aides that will only be exposed if the parents and teachers know what they’re doing with their tax dollars.
There are those in the richer communities who cite the underfunded education crisis as proof that public education facilities will eventually be rendered insolvent without aid from private interests. Most of these same people don’t seem to realize that the private schools they send their kids to are unnecessarily subsidized by the same underfunded public education trust thanks to the voucher programs the state has to pay out of its own pocket for. And as almost any public education parent knows, vouchers mostly help those already attending private schools. Cutting the state vouchers out of the budget frees up quite a bit more money for public education. “But that’s still not enough,” some might argue, “At least let them have be sponsored as a charter school so private interests can still fund them, that way everybody wins!”. And while they may raise a point that public schools will still be underfunded without an extra source of revenue, transforming a public school to a charter school is very risky as without strong charter law protections/enforcement and public boards to oversee the facilities, private interests will have extremely large power over influencing education policy, structure and curriculum to suit their interests before the teachers and students.
Government and Election Reform
Decentralizing state power
Maryland is ranked among the state as having one of the most powerful governorship in the nation. Combine that with the expansive power of the House speaker and Senate president, and you have a very small group of people who can run almost everything in the state without input from anyone else. It’s why so many budget cuts are made to the areas most people don’t want cut, why so many bills the majority have supported for years die again and again in committee, it’s why we are not as progressive a state as we’d like to believe we are. To that end, I would do at least two things to break up this centralization of power. One, I would move to make amendments in article II of our state’s constitution to redefine the powers of the executive branch in Maryland, cutting out certain abilities most other governors do not have. Two, I would also push to have the speaker and president of the legislation have their roles more evenly distributed to other members(for example, instead of having the president appoint the chairman of legislative committees, the committee chairs can vote on it instead).
Maryland is infamous for having some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation. Some democrats may argue they’ll drop the act when the Republicans in the other states stop playing dirty first, I say that’s hypocrisy at it’s finest. We got a Republican governor because he championed an independent redistricting committee, and he still has that bullet in his barrel because he’s been blocked at every turn by the legislation’s leadership. Holding out until a Democrat sits in the governor’s chair or someone takes this to the supreme court to start talking about fair redistricting is petty and procrastinating in my opinion. What matters is proper representation, no matter what party is dominant by demographics, otherwise you bring out the worst in opposition and create an environment for hyper-partisanship that brings all options for a civil discourse to a close, and I do believe we’ve all had enough name calling for one lifetime after 2016.
There’s more, did you know we have an amendment in our state constitution that defines how our state legislative districts are drawn? It is written that they must be compact, concise, and drawn with as much respect to city/county boundaries and natural barriers as possible. However, our state constitution mentions nothing about guidelines for drawing congressional districts, imagine that. Perhaps if it did we wouldn’t have a broken winged pterodactyl lying smack dab in the middle of our state! So that’s another thing to do in addition to founding an independent redistricting committee to do the redistricting instead, writing it so congressional districts adhere to the same restrictions legislative districts do.
Ranked choice voting
Lots of talk of how outdated the electoral college is has surfaced since the advent of President Trump, but by that logic the winner-take-all voting process is also outdated as winners are determined by a minority of the population in general these days. It promotes low turnouts and voting in opposition as opposed to preferences. If we really want democracy we must further democratize the process by ensuring a win through majority vote. That’s where the ranking choice voting system comes in. By numbering a preference for candidates instead of just checking a single box, lowest ranking candidates have their votes distributed to the remaining candidates as the next best preference, and so on until a candidate has a majority number. Maryland won’t be the first, as Maine has had the honor of implementing the RCV in 2017, but I would love nothing more than to see Maryland follow suit come the 2019 legislative session.
Police Accountability and Gun Control
Gun control a big issue from both sides here in Maryland that has only gotten hotter in this climate of fear/hate-mongering. There can be no doubt gun laws are extremely slack compared to other nations, but those whose preach 2nd amendment rights must understand control is not the same as prohibition, and those who want no guns of any type, anywhere, anytime, on anybody need to realize removal of the tool does not get rid of the violent/murderous intent of the would-be assailants. Now reforms and additional checks are necessary, as it now someone could just walk into a shop and buy a gun without even needing to show any ID. Background checks, safety training, secure storage requirements, mental health tests, restricted areas, and carry permits are all reasonable reforms that would likely not even affect most current gun owners in Maryland who view shooting ranges as a social outlet, are in a game hunting club, or protect their crops from deer.
But that also means no exemptions on those we know to have firearms, our police. Baltimore’s no Chicago or Detroit, but the level of police violence and brutality there is certainly far above average for the typical American city on the east coast, and paints a stark reality on how lax officials hold any misconduct of our officers to same degree of the people who do the same to them, and the fact that said attitude actually contributes to a great chunk of the gun violence in Maryland. Many attribute this problem to both the Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights(LEOBR), which has been significantly strengthened with little oversight several times since it’s inception during the peak of the civil rights movement, and practices within the force that seem to encourage confrontation than deescalation such as arrest quotas and militarizing equipment. While I am no major opponent to giving civil liberties to police, officers of said position have access to resources and networks that could be used to nullify the incrimination of a suspect average civilians do not have access to, and that’s not even mentioning that the most recent additions to the bill give the police some legal benefits others don’t even have, such as having the records of an investigation wiped clean from their record as if it never happened after a couple of years. Incentives to seek violence plus a set of laws that seem to kill any justification for transparency and claim plausible deniability whenever possible add up to this kind of thinking for less morally upright characters in the departments: “If you can’t find a criminal to arrest, make a criminal to arrest! Everyone’s a suspect except you!” If we want to avoid another Freddie Gray incident that led to the Baltimore protests, or riots as some others would say, we must expedite the reforms on police accountability and practice, like citizen trial and oversight boards, deescalation training, the removal of unfair laws that promotes criminalization and incarceration like the cash-bail system, and expanding public awareness on the process of police conduct to restore trust between the two factions of citizen and law enforcement.
Equality in the workforce
Since the past gubernatorial election cycle, legislation has passed to give equal salaries to working women in comparison to working men on the job. But what of women who don’t have a job? Has there been a equal ratio of new women hires compared to men, and have they been relative to demographics in the regions? The short answer is no, and in fact, companies may now see equal pay laws as an incentive to overlook female hires as much as possible. What’s more, replace the term women with minorities, LGBTQ, or disabled as you’ll see virtually the same result. For this, I would suggest creating a state program that prioritizes these hires for businesses and jobs within the state once elected. It’s been done for veterans, so why not the rest of the passed up clique?
In my opinion, the right to organize runs as much parallel to the right to free speech, yet current law prohibits certain groups from doing that very action. That’s right, if you have a particular job like a community college teacher and want to unionize, you don’t just run the risk of getting fired, but sued too! Our former Maryland governor and 2016 presidential candidate has championed a Worker’s Bill Of Rights that has yet to see implementation let alone ratification in this state due to a lack of vigorous effort to raise public awareness and support as well strong lawmaking leadership inclined(or at least pressured) to give full backing. The 11 points he gave on his short run in the primary are still available to see, and are, with the exception of the last one due to federal/state constraints, what I believe can be the basis of a Maryland Worker’s Bill Of Rights achieved through a series of legislation and/or executive decisions. These bills that I would introduce/support in the legislation to formulate worker rights in the state would include predictable work scheduling, collective bargaining and striking power to be available for all professions, affordable higher education opportunity for all workers in the state, and retirement and pension plan protections.
Here’s the biggie that’s after gun laws. What about immigration laws, are they too soft or too hard? Is current enforcement a violation of their rights, or is sheltering them grounds for incrimination to take away yours? First, let’s back up and look at what’s ironclad between what an immigrant and citizen does/doesn’t have. Immigrants don’t vote, immigrants don’t pay taxes, immigrants don’t have access to state/federal welfare programs, and until 1986 there wasn’t a single immigrant allowed to have a job inside the country without a work visa. What they do have are the basic human liberties provided by the 1964 civil rights act and the fourteenth amendment of the US constitution, meaning they have right to due process under court of law, access to the public facilities like schools and hospitals, protection of personal property, and by no means can be evicted, expelled, or deported under non-criminal circumstances.
So bottom line, even if someone is living here illegally, it is actually illegal in itself to forcefully raid where they live, separate them from their families, lock them up, or send them on a one-way trip to another country on those grounds alone. And if I have to write that into state legislation that declares Maryland a sanctuary state and prohibits state aid to federal agents like ICE to get the point across, so be it. Being allowed to work is another issue, one that’s up for debate, but action on that should be directed more on the employer if violated, not the immigrant.