Counties Wary of Costly School Safety Mandate, Possible Compromise Emerges

On February 8, 2023, MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson testified before the Senate Education, Energy, and the Environment Committee in opposition to SB 95 – Counties – Construction of Sidewalks and Crosswalks – Safe Alternative Routes to Public Schools.

This bill would obligate county boards of education to conduct an annual study that identifies safe alternative routes public school students may use to travel to school on foot. It further stipulates that county governments must construct the sidewalks and crosswalks required to address whatever safety concerns might be raised in these studies. While counties do not object to the intent of SB 95, the bill has the adverse effect of imposing a costly, unfunded mandate on county governments if they are to comply with its provisions – as evidenced by the bill’s weighty fiscal note.

At the bill hearing, the bill sponsor, Senator Ellis, noted the availability of federal funding to target needs identified in the school safety survey. Mr. Sanderson expressed optimism that a bill seeking to prioritize and pursue available funding options, rather than the strict mandate in the bill as introduced, could “help find a middle ground,” adn pledged to work with the sponsor.

From the MACo Testimony:

As a rule, MACo resists state policies that result in costly or burdensome local implementation. SB 95 would implement a costly, logistically difficult mandate for counties to adhere to… Under state law, counties would have no choice but to fund the significant costs associated with SB 95 – competing for limited local funds against education, school construction, public safety, and other essential public services. Counties agree with the merit of SB 95 and that the information it seeks to collect is important in understanding the needs of Maryland students, but this legislation goes too far in mandating county resources of an unknown amount, all while neglecting the logistical capacitates of counties to implement it

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Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties