And other legislative updates in MSEA’s Up the Street
On Thursday, MSEA President Betty Weller was joined by four ESP leaders — TCEA’s Tonya Hayman, SAAAAC’s Keion Dorsey, EASMC’s Jill Morris, and CASE’s Diane Deal — to testify in front of the House Ways and Means Committee in support of our ESP Living Wage bill. The legislation (HB1061/SB775), sponsored by former educators Del. Eric Ebersole (D-Baltimore and Howard-District 12) and Sen. Joanne Benson (D-Prince George’s-District 24), would ensure that the 24,670 education support professionals who now make poverty-level wages will earn living wages.
Once fully implemented and phased-in, the bill would establish two standards — $36,000 for higher cost-of-living counties and $31,500 for lower cost-of-living counties — that will make a living wage the starting point for collective bargaining. This would not supplant the collective bargaining process, but empower it.
During the hearing, President Weller said, “It should be a Maryland value that we reward our public servants with fair pay that supports their family.” Talbot County Education Association Vice President Tonya Hayman underlined this point, saying, “Some of us have no desire to become a teacher and enjoy what we are doing. That commitment to public service should not be a commitment to poverty wages.”
Education Association of St. Mary’s County President Jill Morris made a special ask to the members of the House Ways and Means Committee who also serve on the Kirwan Commission, saying, “My request of you: Do not let us be forgotten. We are essential to how schools function. The state cannot honestly talk about excellence in public education without recognizing…the hard work of education support professionals.”
Gov. Hogan broke his two-week silence on the recent Florida school shooting with a press conference this week detailing a new plan on school safety. While he did not release specifics of his proposal, he announced $125 million for school building safety features (metal detectors, panic buttons, and bullet-proof doors and windows), hiring more school resources officers, and ramping up the role of the state’s Center on School Safety. The Baltimore Sun’s Tricia Bishop wrote a scathing op-ed ripping the governor for choosing to fund metal detectors over more learning resources.
He also declared his opposition to President Trump’s proposal to arm teachers with guns, saying he instead prefers that local school boards make their own decisions about placing armed resource officers in schools. He did show support for two gun-related ideas: one in support of “red flag” protective orders that would strip gun access from individuals going through crises, and another that would take away firearms from people convicted of domestic violence.
The corporate-funded attack on public sector unions, known as Janus vs. AFSCME, began its hearings before the Supreme Court this week. Before the hearings started, MSEA member and Montgomery County kindergarten teacher Kember Kane spoke at a rally protesting the case, saying, “What brought me out today was making sure that people understand that the union fights for the working conditions of teachers and at the exact same time, they’re fighting for the classroom conditions our students learn in. Our children deserve better than just scraps, and our union makes sure that happens.”
Supreme Court reporters typically caution against making conclusions from the questions that justices ask during hearings, but observers expect the ruling to favor corporate interests over unions by a 5–4 margin.
On Tuesday, MSEA joined a large coalition of advocates before the House Economic Matters Committee to push for an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2024. During a press conference before the bill hearing, advocates released a new study conducted by the Economic Policy Institute and the Maryland Center on Economic Policy showing that 573,000 Maryland workers would get a raise as a result of the legislation. MSEA member Ivory Smith, president of the Worcester County Education Support Personnel Association, asked legislators, “Please set a standard for what is fair pay in our state’s communities.”
This week, a new Maryland Matters investigation revealed that Larry Hogan’s real estate company has made 16 new development deals since he’s taken office as governor, some of which would benefit from transportation proposals he has made in his office. Gov. Hogan’s interests are handled by a trust while he serves as governor, but as the investigation details, it’s not a blind trust and the governor is able to adjust his private and public decisions accordingly. Several ethics experts and advocates are quoted in the story criticizing the conflicts of interest, with one even comparing them to those of President Trump.
On Monday night, a joint committee on legislative ethics announced it would strip Sen. Nathaniel Oaks (D-Baltimore City-District 41) of his committee assignments as he awaits a trial for federal corruption charges. It is the most severe punishment that can be given without a finding of wrongdoing by the committee. Federal prosecutors have urged the legislature to avoid making a full investigation into the senator’s action before he goes to trial. Meanwhile, Sen. Oaks has filed for re-election to his seat, but has two primary challengers.
Maryland now officially has seven Democratic tickets for governor in 2018 after gubernatorial candidate Krish Vignarajah filed to run with former BTU President and Baltimore City teacher Sharon Blake. Together, they are the first-ever Maryland ticket with two women of color. Now that Vignarajah has filed, she is subject to legal challenges to her eligibility to run, which has been questioned after it was revealed that she voted in Washington, D.C. in the last five years.
Mason-Dixon Polling released a new poll on the Democratic primary this week, showing Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in front with 26%, followed by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz with 15% and former NAACP President Ben Jealous with 14%. However, “undecided” was still leading all candidates with 32% in the poll. The other four candidates struggled to register, with none reaching 5%.
With Maryland’s candidate filing deadline now passed, seven lucky senators have found themselves without primary or general election challengers: Senators Edwards, Serafini, Guzzone, Kagan, Smith, Pinsky, and Norman.