D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) talks about D.C. being shortchanged in the U.S. Senate's stimulus package. And Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) talks about the state's response to the pandemic.
Governor Larry Hogan recently said that Maryland Senator Will Smith (D-Montgomery County) should not chair the Judicial Proceedings Committee because he won’t allow one of the governor’s bills out of committee. Smith joined The Politics Hour.
- Hogan and Democratic lawmakers have clashed over the governor’s package of crime bills aimed at curbing violence in Baltimore City.
- Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly say they’re unlikely to pass Hogan’s flagship bill, the Violent Firearms Offender Act, because it stipulates mandatory minimum sentences.
- Smith, who leads the Judicial Proceedings Committee, opposes the bill as it’s now written. He said that the governor’s office hasn’t offered them any evidence that mandatory minimum sentences would curb crime in Baltimore City or the rest of the state, Luke Broadwater of The Baltimore Sun reported.
- “It hearkens back to some of the failed policies that we’ve had in the last 30 or 40 years that have essentially taken generations of Marylanders and Americans off of a path of rehabilitation and out of society,” Smith said on The Politics Hour.
Hogan Says That Smith Should Step Down From His Leadership Position
- In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Hogan said that it was “disgraceful” for Smith not to block his bill. “And he probably should not be chairman of that committee,” Hogan said.
- Democratic lawmakers came to Smith’s defense. Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson said Hogan’s comment was “out of line.”
- Smith penned an opinion piece in The Baltimore Sun responding to the governor: “The governor needs to stop polling and start leading.” (The governor used polling data in a press conference last week to show that Maryland and Baltimore City residents support his crime legislation.)
- On The Politics Hour, Smith referenced a report from the Justice Policy Institute that found that 70% of Maryland’s prison population is black, compared with 30% of the state’s population. “It shows you that something is happening, that justice has not been fairly administered over the course of the last few decades,” Smith said. “And mandatory minimums would only tilt that balance and have a more severe impact on the discrepancies that we’ve already seen.”
Smith Makes Headway On The HOME Act & Other Bills
- Smith introduced the HOME Act this session, which would bar landlords from refusing to rent to people with housing vouchers. It passed the Senate.
- Sen. Smith sponsored a statewide version of the CROWN Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of hair texture and hairstyles, which also passed the Senate.
- Last year, Smith introduced an aid-in-dying bill that was defeated by a single vote in the Maryland General Assembly. He’s a cosponsor of the legislation this year, but said that he believes the bill is two votes short of passing the Senate, according to Ovetta Wiggins at The Washington Post.
What could statewide education reform mean for Prince George’s County? And how significant is it that the county outpaces Montgomery County in terms of job growth? County Chair Todd Turner (D-District 4) joined the show.
What Would Maryland Education Reform Cost Prince George’s County?
- As state lawmakers are grappling with how to fund the education changes recommended by the Kirwan Commission, officials in Prince George’s County are also crunching the numbers.
- Prince George’s County would need to pay over $360 million more on education each year when the plan is fully implemented.
- On The Kojo Nnamdi Show, Sen. Paul Pinsky (D-Prince George’s County) acknowledged the high price point for the county. “We are hoping to reduce that liability over the course of the next 40 days,” Pinsky said.
- “We’re a partnership with the state of Maryland with respect to funding school education in Prince George’s County,” Turner said on The Politics Hour. But he has concerns about the price. Turner said that members of the Prince George’s County delegation have come forward with amendments that would reduce the amount that Prince George’s County would put toward education by almost $200 million.
Should Prince George’s County Executives Be Allowed To Take Donations From Developers?
- In Prince George’s County, executives, councilmembers and mayors aren’t allowed to receive campaign donations from developers.
- This ban on developer contributions — a ban which no other jurisdiction in Maryland has — puts Prince George’s County politicians at a disadvantage if they are seeking seeking higher office (say, the governorship).
- Prince George’s Delegate Dereck Davis (D) is proposing two separate bills that could even the playing field. One would lift the ban in Prince George’s County for executives, and the other would enact a statewide version of the ban.
- “The issue is it only applies to Prince George’s County. It doesn’t apply to any other jurisdiction in the state of Maryland,” Turner said on The Politics Hour. “So that is a fairness and equity issue.” Turner also said that county executives aren’t “directly involved in approval of land-use items.”
Prince George’s County Police To Expand Body Camera Program
- A Prince George’s County police officer was charged with second-degree murder for fatally shooting a handcuffed man in late January.
- The officer, Corporal Michael Owen, was not wearing a body camera.
- According to WAMU’s Jenny Gathright, Prince George’s County has a pilot program where 80 of the county’s 1,500 police officers have body cameras. A spokesperson for County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said that the county executive has money in the budget to fund body cameras for all officers.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIWe're coming to you from WAMU 88.5 at American University. It's The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Todd Turner, who is the Chair of the Prince George's County Council. He represents District 4. Joining us now by phone is Will Smith. He's a Maryland State Senator representing District 20, which is in Montgomery County. He is also the Chair of the Judicial Proceedings Committee in the Senate, which is what we'll be talking to him -- in that capacity mostly about today. Senator Smith, thank you for joining us.
WILL SMITHHey, thanks for having me. Greetings from Annapolis.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, what's dominating a lot of conversations today is the Coronavirus, which is not according to a CDC official not a matter of if. It's a matter of when it comes here. And we know that there have been cases in Maryland, the District and Virginia. What's each jurisdiction doing about this?
SHERWOODWell, each jurisdiction is making sure that the medical services, the hospitals and other medical support are aware and prepared in case there is a significant outbreak. I wasn't very encouraged by the president's press conference yesterday. It felt more like a political campaign, but I was glad to see Anthony Fauci there from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases as for a national response.
SHERWOODBut, you know, it's hard to realize that just this came on to our conscious just in late December and it's already spread around the world. And I like the fact that the health officials are telling people, "Treat this as you would, you're supposed to treat the flu. Wash your hands frequently. Sneeze into your arm. Just be aware of getting around in public." It's a very serious matter. I know people who have canceled trips. I'm considering canceling a trip to California and other kinds of things.
SHERWOODThe problem is we don't know how bad it can be and so maybe the senator has something you want to say about it.
NNAMDIWell, there are no cases in Maryland, Virginia and the District. People have been tested in all three jurisdictions, but no one so far has been contracted.
SHERWOODTrue. But there's no clear understanding of how it's being passed either. So there's a lot -- the worst thing you can have and that's why the Stock Market and others are reacting to partially about this is the worst thing you can be is not know. So I would people just pay attention to health authorities and not political pundits.
NNAMDIAnything to say, Senator Smith, about this?
SMITHNo. I would say that the governor held a press conference yesterday on the matter. And I have to commend him for marshaling our resources and applying, you know, for some resources federally and distributing them statewide for -- if this were to escalate. And here at the State House the presiding officers have told us this exactly the same way. Folks are not symptomatic so it's hard to tell. But to do the same that you would do to prevent yourself from getting the flu. So wash your hands. Hand sanitizer has been distributed to all of our offices. And folks are just doing good general health practices. So I have to commend the governor for his forward looking approach to getting ahead of this.
SHERWOODAnd similar stuff has been said in Virginia and Maryland. You know, I started paying more attention when I realized in Japan the government there has asked that the public school system close down for a month.
NNAMDIIndeed. We'll be keeping you abreast of developments in this region on that issue. On the political front, Tom Sherwood, next week is the Virginia Presidential Primary. Of course, the Maryland Presidential Primary doesn't come around until April 28th. But it's my understanding Senator Smith you already have a favorite candidate.
SMITHI do. I came out and endorsed Mayor Pete. I met him a few years ago at an organization, the National Organization for Young Progressive Leaders. And I was very impressed with his vision. And we both actually served in the same role or similar roles in Afghanistan. So I have an appreciation of his service to the nation and then also to his community back home, so really impressed with him and proud to support him.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he's going to do a lot of making up in Virginia if the polls are any indication.
SHERWOODWell, do you agree with Mayor Pete that if the party nominates Bernie Sanders that it will have negative impacts down the ballot with state senate and house races? That it could be a disastrous decision. Even if you like some of Bernie's policies, his doubling down on being a democratic socialist could really play down the turnout for the Democrats?
SMITHSo I think that there's something there. I mean, certainly, Senator Sanders bring an energy to the race that we haven't seen before. And I think that can galvanize a lot of folks that maybe wouldn't have participated in the political process in years past to bring them out to the polls. But certainly in places like Virginia where it's a little bit more purple than Maryland, you can certainly expect some of those consequences to ripple down. I don't think that's without the realm of possibility.
SHERWOODThe important thing for Virginia voters is the Super Tuesday is on Tuesday. And Virginia is part of the 14 states that are having elections that day. There is a new poll from the --
NNAMDIThe Wason Center.
SHERWOODThe Wason Center at Christopher Newport. It shows that Former Vice President Joe Biden is ahead at 22 percent. But that Sanders is close by at 17. And Mike Bloomberg is at 13 percent. The other candidates are back in single digits. So be part of the big test. You know, Mike Bloomberg is coming into the state. Bernie Sanders was in Richmond yesterday. Elizabeth Warren has been there. Mayor Pete has been there. It's quite the time. Just don't forget to vote on Tuesday.
NNAMDIOur guest is Will Smith. He is Maryland State Senator representing District 20 in Montgomery County. If you have questions or comments for Senator Smith give us a call 800-433-8850. Will Smith, Governor Larry Hogan called on you to step down from your position as the Chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee since the committee has not passed a part of his crime legislation. Before we get into the governor's comments, let's talk about the legislation itself. It's my understanding that there is one bill in particular the Violent Firearms Offender Act that you take issue with. Why is that?
SMITHThat's right. Well, so the governor had three, you know, bills in his package. And, obviously, senators have offered similar legislation to mirror each one of them. They differ slightly, but in the same general direction. The one sliver of the package that I took exception to was the piece that would have implemented six additional mandatory minimums and had several provisions in which there were some significant enhancements or penalties.
SMITHAnd so the reason that I took such exception to them is the governor, when his staff came to present the bills, didn't offer us any shred of information that implementation of new mandatory minimums would increase the security proposition in Baltimore City or our state. It harkens back to some of the failed policies that we've had in the last 30 or 40 years that have essentially keeping generations of Marylanders and Americans off of a path of rehabilitation and out of society for a period of time.
SMITHThat doesn't service well in terms of getting people back into the stream of society, getting the jobs that they need, getting the training that they need, getting them rehabilitated essentially. And so now you have a situation in Baltimore City, which we had record violence that we've ever seen, and less economic opportunity than we've ever seen. So it just didn't seem to me to be the sound way to approach the complicated problem of crime in Baltimore City and the State of Maryland.
NNAMDICan we talk race for a second here? Because it would appear to me that your opposition to the mandatory minimums has a great deal to do with not only the fact that you mentioned that it hasn't had a great deal to do with rehabilitation, but it's also had in the eyes of many people a devastating effect on the African American community.
SMITHThat's absolutely right. So the first thing I did when I became chair was I arranged for a series of briefings to start us off with the session. And the first briefing I had highlighted a report by the Justice Policy Institute that showed that 70 percent of our prison population was African American, and that we were actually the worst in the state with respect to racial disparities in our prison population than any other state including Mississippi, which was the next closest. Now, no disrespect to Mississippi, but this is not the company you want to keep with respect to racial disparities in our Criminal Justice System.
SMITHSo it shows you that something is happening. That justice has not been fairly administered over the course of the last few decades and mandatory minimums would only tilt that balance and have more severe impact on the discrepancies that we've already seen without yielding any real results. And so I took great exception to that. And frankly I was -- I took exception to the fact that he called on me to resign, because I wouldn't move that piece forward.
SHERWOODLet me ask, mandatory minimums makes stop and frisk look like child's play given the impact on the African American minority communities in general. Now the governor called it disgraceful that you wouldn't move these things, but even the Baltimore Sun said what's more disgraceful is not the bills, but the fact that the governor has done -- taken no affirmative action to work with the legislature. He hasn't appeared before the legislature committees. He hasn't had any conversations with the General Assembly leadership. Since his call for you to resign, has he in any way reached out to you or to the leaders of the Assembly to have a conversation as opposed to a spitball fight?
SMITHNot directly. No. I mean, the first thing I did was I invited him to come before our committee and governors in the past have done so. Both Democrat and Republicans have come before our respective committees to make their case. One thing that I point out is that the governor has an unparalleled ability to convene folks from all across the nation, all across the state to get the expertise and the background and knowledge that you need to develop good policy.
SMITHOne other thing is that he neglected to approach -- I mean, Baltimore City is a Council, a 15 member Council, a mayor. We have a delegation here in Annapolis from Baltimore City, the second largest in Annapolis. He didn't consult any member of the Baltimore City Delegation or the City Council.
SHERWOODLike the senate president.
SMITHCorrect, including the Senate President, who is from Baltimore City. And so that was something that I thought was fundamentally flawed about the approach that he took when he went about crafting these pieces of legislation. Now since all this has happened I will say that we've had some, you know, communication with his staff. They've been remarkable and they've been great to work with.
SMITHAnd I think the thing that got lost in this exchange was that Democrats and Republicans on my committee have been working day and night over the course of the session to craft a comprehensive package of crime fighting legislation. Not only focused on sentencing and restructuring enhancements, but on witness intimidation, judicial transparency, Police transparency, repeat violent gun offenders, ability for law enforcement to share intel and resources across the state and across the city, and legislation to address people that are on parole and probation. And infuse new resources in certain areas of the city that are particularly crime ridden. So we have a comprehensive approach that we'll be rolling out.
SMITHAnd we voted out just a couple of bills just this morning. And we're going to return back to our committee this afternoon to do more. But we've got a plan to roll things out over the course of the next couple of weeks. So I thought that was what was missed in this entire exchange was we actually had been working in a bipartisan manner to move our state forward and to develop a comprehensive approach that addresses not only the immediate, but the long term contributors to violent crime in Baltimore City and the State of Maryland.
NNAMDIWell, you suggested that the government should provide data rather than depending on polls. But the polling numbers that the governor produced were very impressive and favorable to his bills, 85 percent of 600 Marylanders surveyed support a proposal to increase tougher sentences for violent offenders who commit crimes with guns. And only nine percent do not support it. And several of those people were polled in Baltimore. What do you say to them?
SMITHI say that the polls -- you can't develop complex policy to solve complex problems based on overly simplistic polling, and also -- that's one thing because you missed the nuance in all of these things. And a lot of the solutions that were proffered bare immediate political fruit where you can go back to your jurisdiction and say, we jacked up a bunch of sentences. We've implemented new mandatory minimums. We're going to arrest a bunch of people. And then you'll get a short bump in your polls and it will be popular. But it doesn't solve the problem at hand.
SMITHAnd then second I would say that as leaders we are responsible for developing complex nuanced solutions to problems. And sometimes that doesn't lend itself to polling. And so as a leader you've got to start stepping up and sifting through the nuance and the details and get to the real root causes of crime and not rely on overly simplistic polling.
SHERWOODWe've done mandatory sentencing. We've done private prison. We've done all types of things to essentially criminalize people and lock them up as opposed to change the course. There's another issue where the governor has really been aggressive and fussing at the General Assembly and that's Kirwan Commission's report on school funding, the billions of dollars that will be needed from the state and from local jurisdictions like Montgomery County where you're from and Prince George's County in our area. There's been a lot of pushback already on the idea that changing the sales tax system in the state to help get some of that money from businesses that are not now taxed. When will we see some agreement on the legislature and get that passed?
SMITHSo, obviously, I don't sit on those committees.
SHERWOODYou're going to have to vote on it.
SMITHI do. Absolutely. I mean, there was even a bill that came as Tax Professional Services of Maryland. So, look, those committees are actually working and will have a solution before us in the next week or two.
SHERWOODBut excuse me. Is this another case of where the governor is not sitting down with the president of the Senate and the House and working on it? And just firing shots from the side or above or wherever he is.
SMITHI think you're absolutely right. And too often I think the two branches of government are working in isolation. I have to commend Speaker Jones and Senate President Ferguson who are reaching out consistently. Publically overture is asking to coordinate and collaborate with the governor. So, look, this is something that has been, again, weeks, months in the works. It takes time when you get folks back in the legislature for 90 days to get together to hash out the final details, but I know that and I've been in some the leadership meetings where we've very close to having a refined package of revenue generators that don't touch sales, income or -- sales or income tax. So, I mean, we'll see what happens in the next couple of weeks, but, again, it's a process and it is on its way.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with Will Smith. He's a Maryland State Senator representing District 20 in Montgomery County. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Our Resident Analyst is Tom Sherwood, Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with the Chair of the Prince George's County Council, Todd Turner. Joining us now by phone is Will Smith. He's a Maryland State Senator representing District 20 in Montgomery County. Senator Smith, Governor Hogan redesignated three of his crime bills as emergency legislation. What difference does that make?
SMITHSo when you redesignate something as emergency legislation it actually -- instead of becoming law in October, it becomes law as soon as the governor signs it. So it's -- he did that and I think in part to ensure that, you know, his bills get in the resources and the processes that he wants to get implemented immediately and in part for theater, I suspect. But we've also done the same thing for our crime package. They're all designated as emergency bills so that the resources can start flowing and the legal changes that we're making can start immediately.
SHERWOODDoes it require a bigger vote for emergency or is it the same vote?
SMITHNo. It's the same vote. It's just something that the senators will consider.
SHERWOODLet me ask you about something that is not as weighty, but that's very dangerous in Maryland and elsewhere. And that's distracted driving. I'm sure people who are listening to the program now and texting someone about it. But there's a bill in the Senate, Senate Bill 819 that would allow local jurisdictions police forces to photograph people in vehicles who are using their phones illegally would be illegal. There's all kinds of questions about what would people photographing in phones. Make sure you're with your spouse and not somebody else. But distracted driving clearly is involved in so many -- phones in so many wrecks, accidents, deaths. Where are you on that bill or have I characterized it correctly?
SMITHYou have characterized it correctly and we had that hearing yesterday. And it was actually a really heart wrenching testimony. Some folks who had actually we had a woman that came and actually -- she had killed someone because she was distracted. And then, you know, sitting next to her was someone that was rear-ended by someone that was distracted. So it was a very emotional day in our hearing. So the technology would essentially, you know, allow the squad cars equipped with it to take photographs of people inside of their cars.
SMITHAnd the first question that everyone has is the privacy concerns. And so I asked for an Attorney General's letter to just kind of sift through some of those concerns. And, obviously, you have a diminished expectation of privacy when you're in public. And so it seems as though the technology would be fine with respect to that issue. Then there's the second piece of it, well, where do the images go? And how long are they kept and who keeps them? Can they be used to prosecute other crimes that may have been caught? So all of those questions come up, and we're still sifting through that in the committee. Actually we just heard it yesterday. But it's something -- it's a big issue. And the testimony that we received yesterday was very compelling.
NNAMDIRussell in Rockville, Maryland wants to talk guns. Russell, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RUSELLHi. So what I wanted to say is, you know, I'm originally from Texas. And I'm former military. So I've grown up with guns. I know how to handle guns. I know how to do them responsibly. And I know how to be a responsible citizen. So my question or my statement is that, you know, I think what needs to be done is -- a lot of the people making the laws for gun control have no idea what to do with guns or how to shoot them or have ever even touched them. And a lot of people are antigun have never done anything with them.
NNAMDIWell, before we get any further, we don't have a great deal of time left.
RUSELLNo. That's fine.
NNAMDIWhat is your specific question to or issue with Senator Smith?
RUSELLSo what my question is is when you talk about mandatory sentences for all these people, you know, I hope that you look at not punishing law abiding citizens, which is what happens in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIOkay. I don't think law abiding citizens are repeat gun crime offenders in the State of Maryland. So that was not what the senator was talking about. But, Senator Smith, obviously you are someone, who is in favor of gun control. And I get the impression that our caller Russell doesn't like that.
SMITHWell, first, let's say Russell thanks for your service in the military. But, look, the gun legislation that we had before us in fact we passed -- just this morning we passed out of our committee closing the loophole on long gun sales for private sales and permanent transfers. But we didn't, you know, choose a criminalize the temporary transfers or require those checks in temporary transfers understanding and respecting the fact that hunters have to do what they need to do and there are lots of situations like that.
SMITHWith respect of the legislation in Baltimore City that folks is on regulated firearms and repeat gun offenders using regulated firearms. So -- and in more cases than not these folks are prohibited persons to begin with. So they're possessing a gun unlawfully and then they go and commit a violent crime not once, but twice or three times.
NNAMDITom Sherwood was telling me today that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is going to be introducing legislation to ban ghost guns in the city.
SHERWOODYes. Here it's happening right now. The mayor is doing emergency legislation that would ban ghost guns. She says they cannot be traced.
NNAMDIThese are guns that are manufactured using a variety of parts that are imported.
SHERWOODThree-D printers and just kind of put together.
NNAMDIAnd so they have no serial numbers.
SHERWOODRight. We had about three or four incidences where police gathered two or three of these guns or collected these guns or seized them. And this past year there's more than 100 almost 120 guns of these types have been seized. So it's a growing menace in the city. What's it like in Maryland?
SMITHSo actually it's a growing concern. I had legislation three years ago to ban 3D printed guns, because they are a type of ghost gun meaning that they're not serialized. They're never registered. And the technology is growing such that you could -- you can actually develop these guns or print these guns in your house and they're operable for more than just one shot and they're not detectable. So, yes. We had a hearing in the Judicial Proceedings Committee and then I know the House actually had a hearing yesterday on ghost guns. So those bills are being heard and entertained in Maryland. I don't know the prospects of passage though.
NNAMDIThe Washington Post reported this week that federal immigration authorities have run facial recognition searches on millions of state residents in Maryland without seeking state or court permission. A spokesperson for Governor Hogan told the Post yesterday that he is opposed to cutting off ICE's access. What do you think of this issue and of the governor's response?
SMITHWell, I suspect that it was in response to the circuit court decision that came out of New York City -- New York State rather yesterday. And then, you know, we had a bill hearing on that issue yesterday. Senator Lamb from Howard County proposed a bill to limit those access for ICE agents only. But when we dug into the issue a little bit more we found that if you have NIC access, meaning you're a enforcement official that has NIC access to this federal database you can access Maryland NVA data from wherever you are in the country.
SMITHSo a Sheriff who has NIC access in Arizona can access your information here in Maryland for no reason at all. We don't have a way to trace it. There's no permission that's needed. They just simply log in and they have access to your facial -- they have your picture and your address and your name.
SHERWOODWhat's the fix?
SMITHSo that should terrify every Marylander.
SHERWOODWhat's the fix?
SMITHThe fix would be to require a warrant, a juridical warrant to access that information. You put some sort of a firewall and if you need to go in and search then you have to have a warrant. So there's at least some sort of a judicial check on that. I think New York State implemented that and that was one of the pieces of the challenge that went up in that circuit court case. I will say that the third circuit and the seventh circuit have gone the opposite way. So that is there is a split. And I suspect it will come up in the Supreme Court in the next few years.
NNAMDIHere is Bob in Rockville, Maryland. Bob, your turn.
BOBYeah. Hi. I was calling about the bill that Senator Kagan has for targeting drunk driving. I'm concerned that that might disparately affect racial minorities, who are more likely to get pulled over. My understanding of metabolite testing and even THC testing for cannabis is that it hasn't been able to accurately predict someone's impairment. So if people are being disproportionately pulled over and tested they're going to be disproportionately affected.
SMITHYes. So, Senator Kagan from Montgomery County, her...
NNAMDICheryl Kagan, yeah.
SMITHYeah, Cheryl Kagan, yes. Her bill would start a pilot program. And so this device would be -- officers would be limited, and certain jurisdictions using the devices, being in the squad cars, and they'd test for drugged driving, as well. Now, the test is not admissible in court, and could not be used, but the concern that we had in the committee is that although it's not admissible in court, and although it's not, you know, proven technology yet, that's a pilot program, that a positive reading could influence the officer's decision to take someone in. And so that's what we're wrestling with. But I know it's been introduced a couple times before, and we're still working on it.
SHERWOODFor your constituents in Montgomery County, the legislature has had a couple bills -- I'm not sure the status of them -- that would allow jurisdictions to change and raise taxes locally. But also, we've had -- Robin Ficker has -- you don't have to laugh when I saw his name.
SMITH(laugh) It's okay. We're great friends.
SHERWOODOkay. Well, you know, he's persistent. He's turned in 16,000 signatures. He needs 10,000 to put a measure on the ballot in Montgomery County that would limit property tax increases to inflation. You're a Montgomery County resident. I don't know if you own a home or not. What is your thought about that bill hamstringing or keeping the government from spending too much money?
SMITHWell, it initially allowed us to go above our charter limit on that. But, I mean, initially, we'd reject those types of initiatives, because we elect our county council and our county executive for a reason to make good decisions on our behalf. And so that's certainly an issue that would come up during a campaign. But I would say never underestimate Mr. Ficker. I know he's nothing, if not persistent, then he was successful in the term limit, his campaign to have term limits for county council. So, he's shown a prowess for this type of activity. So, I suspect he'll bring the same energy to this.
NNAMDIDon't have a lot of time left, but I want to get in Eileen in Rockville, Maryland, because this is an issue you're interested in. Eileen, go ahead, please. We don't have much time left.
EILEENYes. My question is, what is the status of the death with dignity legislation in the Maryland session this year? Any chances of it passing?
SMITHYeah, so, actually, we're hearing the End of Life Option Act this afternoon, in our committee. We have over 200 people signed up, so it'll be a long hearing. But, as you remember, I was sponsor of that legislation last year, and it didn't prevail on the floor. It died on the floor, because we had a tie vote. And, this year, we have another senator from Baltimore County that's moved over from the House. He initially voted against it in the House. So, it looks like we're two votes shy on the Senate floor.
SMITHWe could definitely get it out of the Senate Judicial Teams Committee. I'm just not sure we could get it off of the floor. So, we're working on it. So, we're looking forward to a great hearing today, and it seriously relies just on two votes in the Senate.
NNAMDII guess then it's appropriate to really say good afternoon, Senator Smith.
SHERWOODAnd before -- we've got to run, quickly, you have to go over the Bay Bridge a lot. I guess you do it. Are we going to have that bridge ready for people this summer?
SMITHOh, I hope so. It looks like it. It looks like it.
NNAMDIWill Smith is a Maryland state senator, representing district 2020 which is in Montgomery County. Thank you so much for joining us.
SMITHAll right. Thanks a lot. It was a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. Joining us in studio now is Todd Turner. He's the chair of the Prince George's County Council. He represents District 4. He is a Democrat. Chair Turner, thank you so much for joining us.
TODD TURNERThank you very much for bringing me back.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments, praise or criticism for the Prince George's County (laugh) County Council chairman, give us a call: 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood, former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was sentenced to three years in prison and, I think, three years’ probation after that. She could've gotten as much as 15 years in prison, it is my understanding, for the Healthy Holly book scandal. Some would say the Healthy Holly book scam.
SHERWOODThat's what it was. Yes. Three years. This was a long, drawn-out embarrassment, but this all began with some stories in the Baltimore Sun. Give credit to local media, if you're worried about the local media disappearing in your community. And the judge -- and there were a lot of people in the state who sent letters in, political people sent letters in asking for leniency for her, that she had been having trouble, that she's 69 and all of that.
SHERWOODYes, I didn't want to name any names, (laugh) but the judge...
NNAMDIWell, they're in the paper.
SHERWOOD...but the judge said it was a blatant, it was a clear-cut, it was -- for whatever reason, she went right to corruption. And she needs to be not only punished for it, but also to be an example to other elected officials that this cannot pass. And so she will be going to prison for three years.
NNAMDIShe apologized profusely, and I don't know if that had any impact on her sentence at all.
SHERWOODVery few people who are convicted and standing in court refuse to apologize. But, fortunately, there's a spirited, now, ongoing race for mayor in Baltimore. So, people who are involved in Baltimore need to help decide on somebody to win and to help bring that city out of the trouble it's been in.
NNAMDIYou mentioned the importance of local media. Our guest, it is my understanding, really didn't like the fact that the Prince George's Sentinel went dark at the end of January. What does the loss of that publication mean for your county?
TURNERYeah, it's another voice for the people of Prince George's County that we don't have anymore, with the closing of the Gazette newspapers several years ago. You know, we get some local coverage by other outlets as part of that, but it's not that kind of community paper anymore.
SHERWOODMy friend Tracee Wilkins from Channel 4 is in Prince George's County, and then there's a (unintelligible) I believe. But, beyond that, that's about it.
TURNERI mean, we've got some local papers, obviously, you know, in my area of the county. I represent both Bowie and Greenbelt, so we have local papers. The other one is based out of Anne Arundel County. The other one is a local paper in Greenbelt. So, we get a little bit more coverage in my area, but in other parts of the county, that's another missing voice that we have. And so we were sorry to see it go after 40-plus years.
NNAMDI(overlapping) You've been reelected as chairman of the council, so congratulations.
NNAMDILet's talk about education. Maryland's General Assembly is considering the multi-billion dollar education reform Kirwan Commission proposes. And counties and cities will be required to cover part of the cost, as it stands now. Prince George's County is estimated to pay $360 million more each year to education when the reform plan is fully implemented. Your county executive has expressed concerns about that proposal. Do you share those concerns?
TURNERWe do. And, let's be honest, you know, we're a partnership with the state of Maryland, with respect to funding school education in Prince George's County. We understand our needs, particularly with our student population, both English as a second language, free and reduced meals. So, we have, along with Baltimore City, probably the greatest need for additional funding. And so the Kirwan Commission has come out with its recommendations.
TURNERWe're having that discussion now in the General Assembly, as they're considering how...
NNAMDIAre you working with the Prince George's County delegation?
TURNERVery much so. Actually, just last night the subcommittees on the House side were considering amendments. And, particularly, the leaders of the education subcommittees on the House side are two Prince George's delegates, Delegate Washington and Delegate Barnes. And they came forward with amendments last night that would reduce the amount over the 10-year phase-in of what they're calling the blueprint for Maryland's future to reduce the amount by almost $200 million. So, obviously, those are amendments that're going to be considered over the course of the next week or so.
SHERWOODWill that be enough? Yes, you would like more help, both you and the city of Baltimore, but is that enough?
TURNERWell, what will happen is, so the city and the county's requirements -- and there are other jurisdictions that would be impacted, as well. That just means the state will be ramping up its year so we'll get the same amount of funds. As I understand it, we're still looking, you know, for the amendments.
SHERWOODWhy doesn't the state simply pay more for it? I mean, it's a state proposal. It's a state -- it's mandating what you have to do or not do. Why doesn't the state simply just pay for it, rather than put it on the local jurisdictions?
TURNERYou know, I don't...
SHERWOODIt's one-third on local jurisdictions, roughly speaking.
TURNERRoughly, yes. The current formulas are in that way. Obviously, this Kirwan Commission...
SHERWOODThe governor says this is, you know, a hit on taxpayers. It's going to be too costly and not do anything for education.
NNAMDIHe also says it's not a priority for Maryland.
TURNERYeah, I don't necessarily agree with the governor on that. I mean, I think, if you even look at the poll numbers, you know, everybody thinks education -- although I saw a recent poll that education was maybe not the top concern in the state. I think crime was, if I remember correctly. But, you know, as a public school graduate myself, as well as a parent of one who graduated from Prince George's County Public Schools and one who's currently in there, I understand firsthand the importance of public school education and having the opportunity to give everybody the same opportunity, no matter where they live in the state of Maryland.
TURNERSo, this is a partnership. We understand that. It is a state obligation under the state constitution.
SHERWOODWill it require Prince George's County to raise taxes to meet your obligations?
TURNERDepending if the amendments that are being proposed actually go forward, I don't think so. And I'll say it this way. Over the last...
SHERWOODYou hope not.
TURNERYes. That's where -- you know, the same way the state said they didn't want to raise taxes in order to do this, you know, we're asking for that same opportunity in Prince George's County. The issue then becomes we have gone above what we're required to do over the last eight years in Prince George's County and school education by $134 million over the last eight years. So, if we get in that range, going forward in ten years, given some of the economic things that are going on in Prince George's County, including our job creation, you know, hopefully we'll be able to afford that without having to do any types of...
NNAMDI(overlapping) We got an email from an anonymous listener who said: would you please ask Chairman Turner what the county council is doing to address response times for police and fire?
TURNERSo, it is an issue for us, related to some parts of the county, particularly what we would call more agricultural and rural parts of the county, the southern part of Prince George's County, because there's a larger geographic area as part of that. Police Chief Stawinski has come forward with some initial proposals about trying to rearrange how the districts are based in Prince George's County for police response, as part of that process. We actually have legislation in place that will determine if we don't meet certain response times. There's certain requirements for any particular development to be able to move forward, including...
SHERWOODWhat's difficulty -- in the District of Columbia, there's a growing complaint about the city's unified command center, that it's duplicating dispatches from -- there's delays in sending people. There's lots of -- the response time for 911 is not good. Is it the use of cell phones and tracking? What is the issue? Is it just bad training of the people answering the calls?
TURNERNo, no. So, it's not related to the calls themselves. What's happening is the response by the police once they receive the call from 911. And so, particularly in the southern part of the -- because we only have two districts that are there, and they cover the largest geographic area. So, actually getting from place to place...
SHERWOODOh, so, it's -- okay.
TURNER...is why they're not meeting response times.
SHERWOODNot a suggestion they're ignoring or...
TURNERNo, no, no.
SHERWOOD...not taking them seriously.
TURNERNo, no, no, no. Actually, you know, I have to give credit to Police Chief Stawinski. You know, we've seen our crime numbers go down, as well as the County Executive Alsobrooks. And that's why we're able to focus on some of these other areas that we want to continue to improve in Prince George's County, including our education system, economic development, job creation, as well.
NNAMDIAnd Prince George's County executive council members and mayors are not allowed to receive campaign donations from developers. That came in the wake of former County Executive Jack Johnson being sent to prison for accepting bribes from developers. Maryland Delegate Derrick Davis is proposing two pieces of legislation in the General Assembly that would change that. One would lift the donation restriction in Prince George's County. The other would broaden the prohibition to cover county council members, mayors and executives throughout the state. Where do you stand on that?
TURNERSo, I'm not sure that's a correct -- my understanding is there are two bills. One is a local bill that would take the county executive out of the restrictions that were initiated back in 2011, I believe. I believe there is a statewide bill. I don't -- it's not my recollection that it included members of the county council as part of it. So, as county council members, we are, under current law, restricted from receiving direct donations.
NNAMDIWould you like that law changed?
TURNERWe've been able to deal with it for almost 10 years now, as part of that process. I will say the issue is it only applies to Prince George's County. It does not apply to any other jurisdiction in the state of Maryland. And so that is a fairness and equity issue. Some would argue, you know, there is a basis for doing that. And I know I've heard Delegate Davis say this, as well, with respect to his bill, is that the county executive is not directly involved in approval of land use items, as compared to us, as the county council.
SHERWOODThe Prince George's got some already positive news not long ago, just recently, when you surpassed Montgomery County in the rate of new job creation and economic development. One of the biggest businesses in Prince George's County is the Washington NFL football team. Dan Snyder has been looking for a place to build a new stadium for the Skins. He still -- would be helpful to be in D.C. Some tentative hope in Virginia, but more recently the Post reports Richard -- McCarthy, I've already forgot his first name.
SHERWOOD...Robert, yeah, Robert, sorry -- wrote that it looks like now he may simply build it right at where FedEx field is now. But he also wants to be able to do sports betting. Where are you, and where is the council on this?
TURNERSo, obviously, we have had a long-time relationship, obviously, with the football team in Prince George's County. We have a current lease that goes until at least 2027 that doesn't preclude them from continuing as part of that. And so we would like to continue that relationship. I think we're excited about the opportunity, as it's been explained, with respect to not just a football stadium, but an entertainment complex along the lines of what you've seen with other NFL teams as part of that.
TURNERSo, that's an opportunity. Obviously, he already owns land around FedEx field now, and so we're hopeful. I know he's advocating at the state level with respect to sports betting. The county council did take a position of support to include potential stadiums as an opportunity for sports betting. I'm not sure where the NFL is right now with respect to that, so that might be a factor. But we did support giving him the opportunity, along with casinos, race tracks that are being currently considered by the state.
NNAMDIMargarita in Laurel, Maryland, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARGARITAHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. Councilmember Turner, I am a Prince George's County resident, and my call is in concern with the breed-selective law, also known as the pit-bull ban. So, I'm wondering why we're still investing our taxpayer dollars, knowing all the needs that the county has, in keeping this ban, 23-year-old ban that has proven to be ineffective. I would like to know why it's still being voted out in the council.
TURNERSo, last year, if you were following, we did an update to the animal control provisions in Prince George's County. We did consider and did pass out of one of our committees to get rid of the breed-specific ban, as part of that. That's the farthest it's gone over the 23 years that that breed ban has been in place. After further discussion by the entire council, that was not included in the ultimate legislation as part of that. I think part of it is just educating both the members of the council, as well as the public.
TURNEROne of the things that occurred, that we had a couple of attacks during the course of that consideration of the legislation. But what I'm hopeful and I think what we got was a 21st century animal control provision. There are a lot of provisions in there that deal with other issues, but we continue to need to have that conversation about the breed ban. I personally supported getting rid of the ban as part of that, but we still have to work on that with my colleagues.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Do you have a dog?
TURNERI do not, actually. I'm actually allergic to dogs, though. (laugh)
NNAMDIHere now is Bill in Greenbelt, Maryland. Bill, your turn.
BILLHi, all. Listen, Montgomery Council T&E Committee, (unintelligible) public hearing on its capital operating budgets, is having a (word?) meeting on Monday night in Silver Spring. (unintelligible) will be there if not officiating.
NNAMDIWhat does this have to do with Prince George's County?
NNAMDIYou're breaking up, Bill. You're going to have to call us back. Bill, you're breaking up. You're going to have to call us back on a better line, because we really can't understand what you're saying.
SHERWOODIt'd be a good chance to talk about the Purple Line, though.
TURNERI will say, with respect to the WMATA budget, we did do a joint letter between County Executive Angela Alsobrooks and the council. We just approved of this Tuesday in response to the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, having expressing concerns about some elimination of services in Prince George's County.
SHERWOODBus service, particularly. I mean, I know people in the District and in other places are...
NNAMDIThat's what Bill wanted to talk about, bus services, but go ahead.
SHERWOODLots of bus -- it seems -- everyone I speak to about this says this is a time when bus service should be improved and made more accessible to people to get on the buses. Yes, there's probably some money-losing routes, but if the routes are not reliable, then people don't ride, then you say you don't need it, because people don't ride. Is this Metro just trying to hit us all over the head to get our attention on this?
TURNERI don't think so. I serve on the Washington Suburban Transit Commission as a representative of Prince George's County.
SHERWOODAnd Mr. Wiedefeld, the general manager, is serious about this.
TURNERYeah, yeah, and the interesting thing is, we just went through something called the bus transformation project that WMATA did and funded...
NNAMDI(overlapping) That's what Bill wanted to talk about.
TURNERSo, you know, we just went through this whole review and study about trying to improve bus lines, and services is part of that. And so to come, you know, with the first budget after that, we've talked about they passed a -- WMATA board passed a resolution, I think, back in January. We had a briefing on the bus transformation project earlier this month. So, we're asking, let's try to implement that first before we go back and start cutting services.
SHERWOODMayor Bowser had a rally across the street from the headquarters of Metro, worried about late night bus service. Metro just seems -- we went through a couple of years of worry about Metro and what it's spending. And this new budget seems like there's going to be a lot of fights between now and May, I think it is, or March, whenever it's done.
TURNERI will simply say this. Listen, I appreciate very much Paul Wiedefeld. You know, for the first time in 40 years, we got an historic agreement on funding on the capital side for WMATA. They put certain restrictions with respect to operating funds as part of that, you know, the 3 percent requirement. And so he's trying to fit that in, and that's why I think some of the proposals are out there. I don't think all the proposals are going to be passed as part of the budget, but I think it's worthy of a, you know, serious conversation about services.
SHERWOODLet me speak briefly about the Purple Line. I was online, I was looking at some pictures of some changes around College Park, some development there. The old city hall was torn down this week, but there's a lot of development. There's a lot of street closing and things are -- the Purple Line is happening.
TURNERYeah, literally, just yesterday, in our Transportation Committee, which I serve on, we got an update from Purple Line partners, transit partners as well as from MDOT and the MTA. And anybody who's traveled along that corridor has seen the work going on. The one thing that we're very excited about is that the Purple Line will open first in Prince George's County. It's scheduled to do that at the end of next year, if everything goes well. We'll see if that happens.
TURNERBut if you travel on that corridor, you are seeing the burdens of having this new opportunity for transit for Prince George's County. And, as you indicated, the development that's occurring along the lines, on both sides of Prince George's and Montgomery County, is something that we're trying to deal with. And I know, particularly with respect to potential housing and the impacts as part of that, I know we're trying to work on those issues, as well.
NNAMDIHere is Endali in Fort Washington. Endali, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ENDALIYes, Kojo. Thank you for (unintelligible). I have a question about the Indian Head Highway road project. It has been going on almost close to 10 years, if I'm not exaggerating it. No progress, I don't see any, and then the road is very, very rugged and bumpy. It cost us our shocks...
NNAMDI(overlapping) We don't have a lot of time left, Endali, but I'm assuming you want to know when is this going to end, and the road is going to be smoother to travel.
SHERWOODSo that was Indian Head Highway?
NNAMDIIndian Head Highway. Go ahead.
TURNERSo, obviously, it's a state road, so Prince George's County doesn't directly control. We have been very supportive in doing improvements, including dealing with issues related to fatalities along the road. We've been able to get additional assistance from the state for speed cameras, working with our state delegation. It is going to be a multiyear project, based on what I understand, and so we just ask people to bear with us. It's an improvement that we need, both for pedestrians and for cars.
SHERWOODAnother serious issue is body cameras for police officers. Can you very quickly -- we're about out of time -- where are we on that in the county?
TURNERSo, it's my expectation we'll be getting the County Executive Angela Alsobrooks' budget the middle of March. Based on my initial conversations, the funding will be in there for the body cameras. So, we can address that issue, which I know is a serious issue. It is a substantial issue, as far as funding. I was just reading that there's a state legislation to create a taskforce to talk about storage and trying to make it more cost effective for local governments to be able to afford the work that's important with respect to that.
NNAMDITodd Turner is the chair of the Prince George's County Council and represents District 4. He's a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
TURNERThank you, again, for the invitation.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, you and I are going to be busy next Thursday evening, on March 3rd. What will we be doing?
SHERWOODMarch 5th, I think.
NNAMDIMarch 5th, what will we be doing?
SHERWOODWe're going to do a forum for the Ward 2 Council race in the District to replace Jack Evans. Jack Evans is running. He resigned on some ethics issues, but he's running. So, we'll have all the candidates for the DuPont Circle and Logan Circle Citizen Associations at the Foundry Methodist Church.
SHERWOODIt's already oversubscribed. Three hundred people have already taken it up. I've asked them to move it to the full sanctuary at Foundry, and put out a collection plate in back, so that we'll get more people in. And you're joining us to have a good forum on the candidates who want to be the new council member for Ward 2, which is the heart of the District.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up on Monday, Takoma Park is looking to set a precedent and ban all fossil fuel sales in the city by 2045. What does that mean for the people who live and do business there? Plus, D.C. has been making strides toward clean, maybe even swimmable rivers. But how much of a setback are the hundreds of millions of gallons of sewage dumped into the Potomac each year? That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend. What are your plans, Sherwood?
SHERWOODI've got to pay attention to that Super Tuesday in South Carolina presidential voting.
NNAMDIHave a wonderful weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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