MACo to Ways and Means Committee: Prioritize Schools, Behavioral Health, Local Decision-Making

MACo’s 2020 President, Baltimore City Council Member Sharon Green Middleton, First Vice President, Caroline County Commissioner Wilbur Levengood, Chair of MACo’s Education Subcommittee, Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice, and MACo Associate Director Kevin Kinnally today presented MACo’s 2020 Legislative Initiatives to the House Ways and Means Committee. The MACo panel followed the Department of Legislative Services’ analysts, who presented the annual Overview of State Aid to Local Governments.

2020 Legislative Initiatives-for web

Substance use disorders and mental illness remain two of the most pressing health issues for every county in Maryland. Local Health Departments are the “first responders” for public health emergencies, including these crises, but have been forced to do more with much less after significant state Core Funding cuts.

Council Member Green Middleton discussed Baltimore City initiatives to address mental health crises, including the passage of the Trauma-Responsive Care Act and the Baltimore City Health Department’s commitment to save lives with naloxone, increase access to on-demand and evidence-based treatment, and fight stigma with education.

According to Council Member Middleton:

MACo advocates for unwavering vigilance and State partnership in support of innovative and gap-filling behavioral health initiatives that improve access and availability of services, resources, facilities, and staff.

The State’s commitment to school construction funding needs to remain strong – to best serve the modern needs of our schoolchildren, educators, and communities. Commissioner Levengood advocated for reviewing and updating the State’s school funding formulas and guidelines to promote the smartest and most effective funding for modern schools.

According to Commissioner Levengood:

The State’s partnership on school construction is especially meaningful — for a small county, the cost of building a school can easily equal its entire operating budget and threaten advancement of other needed capital infrastructure projects.

The 2020 Session will feature a generational debate about school funding, outcomes, and expectations. Along with a new state commitment to education through broad formulas and targeted programs, the legislation will likely oblige new county resources toward these goals.

Council Member Rice expressed the importance of adequate, fair, and reasonable funding for all of Maryland’s students, and urged State policymakers to sustain a robust level of public education funding without unduly burdening county budgets or slighting other essential local services.

Rice also asked that any newly-identified or authorized revenue sources developed with school funding in mind support both the state and local efforts to meet education goals.

According to Rice:

As the chair of MACo’s Education Subcommittee, I can tell you that counties remain committed to education.

In fact, this year counties will exceed the required “maintenance of effort” funding by at least $85 million. The additional $85 million does not include the additional dollars that counties spend on capital infrastructure, like school buildings.

Further, each year counties spend millions on schools – money which is not accounted for in the “maintenance of effort” calculation – with commitments through their health departments, law enforcement agencies, after-school activities, and other programs not technically inside the school budget.

MACo Associate Director Kevin Kinnally advocated for the repeal of the “implied preemption” court doctrine.

Maryland courts have adopted, albeit inconsistently, a novel theory of State preemption over local actions – finding that counties may be preempted even without any State law explicitly stating so. This principle was used years ago to invalidate multiple local tobacco regulations, and more recently on local pesticide restrictions and land use decisions for energy facilities.

MACo is joining forces with the LOCAL Maryland Coalition — a coalition formed to defend communities’ rights to respond to local matters, and when appropriate to tailor state laws to fit their needs — to fight against state preemption.

According to Kinnally:

Legislation should clarify, prospectively, that preemption should not take place in the courts, but in the open and accessible lawmaking process, where all stakeholders may be heard on the merits of their arguments.

Learn more about MACo’s 2020 Legislative Initiatives.