ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s County legislators were united in claiming the 1999 legislative session was a success – just like they do every year.
Individually, however, many senators and delegates found the session less than expected.
“No matter what we do, we always declare victory at the end. Usually, there is uniform distribution of dissatisfaction,” said Leo E. Green D-Prince George’s.
The county covered all the major issues, Green said, but he especially was pleased with how the county faired in its No. 1 priority: education.
The county received full funding for school construction, $39 million, and an 11 percent increase in overall educational aid from the state. The county received $2 million to help increase the number of certified teachers. The money is part of an effort to decrease class sizes in primary grades.
The county did do well in terms of education, but its results on local legislation were mixed, said Delegate Pauline Menes, D-Prince George’s. The problem was especially prevalent in construction funding.
The Senate and House need to get together before the session starts and agree on which construction bond bills are priority, Menes said. That way the delegation can present a unified front when lobbying for the legislation.
“Prince George’s has a significant number of new members and I expect next session will be quite different and the results will be better,” Menes said.
Too much is left to the last day of the legislative session and there is not enough time for both houses to meet and iron out every amendment, said freshman Delegate Anthony Brown, D-Prince George’s.
On many issues, the House delegation would have agreed with Senate changes, but there was little time to approve the bills. As a result, many important bills did not receive a vote, he said.
“As one of the top three counties in terms of size I think we could have done better,” Brown said. “We did well, but we could have done better.”
Delegation members repeatedly cited House Bill 831 as an example of miscommunication between the two houses.
The bill put forward by the House delegation was originally drafted to provide an interim superintendent for the county’s public school system, whose current superintendent resigned under scrutiny from state leaders. The bill would have added three non-elected members to the Management Oversight Board that the state established to revamp the decaying school system. The bill also would have required the school district to present its budget to the oversight board and would have given the county executive line- item veto power. The House passed the bill, 133-3, with three Prince George’s Democrats bucking the delegation and voting against it: Joanne C. Benson, Carolyn J.B. Howard and James E. Proctor Jr. Prince George’s senators gutted the bill, taking out all but one major provision: the requirement of the superintendent to submit the budget to the oversight panel. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate. “The bill was an infringement on the authority of the elected school board to do their job,” Benson said. “I do believe they must be held accountable, but the school board must be allowed to do its job.” While more could have been achieved if the two houses had worked together, Menes said she believed the bill achieved its purpose by highlighting the problems between the school board and the oversight panel. “The bill and the discussions will bring about a more cooperative working relationship between the board and the oversight panel to the benefit of the school system,” Menes said. Delegate Melony Griffith, another freshmen Democrat from Prince George’s, said many delegates felt the bill was weakened after the Senate finished with it.
“I would say it was a smaller step than I would have liked, but it was a step,” Griffith said. “But I have learned this session…changes are made in small steps.”