By Bruce DePuyt
Maryland Democrats slammed Governor Lawrence J. Hogan (R) on Thursday for a lack of urgency in addressing what they called a school security “crisis.”
They said his decision to tie new schools safety funding to an administration proposal dealing with casino revenues represented a failure of leadership, given that legislative leaders have derided Hogan’s “lockbox” proposal as being a pale copy of their own.
“It’s beyond disappointing,” said Sen. William C. Ferguson IV (D-Baltimore City).
The issue of school safety – and, relatedly, gun control – has been elevated since the mass shooting at a Florida high school two weeks ago. And Democrats would like to magnify it further in an election year.
“There is only one person in the state of Maryland who has the constitutional power to appropriate casino funds as a supplement to what we’re already spending on school security, and that’s the governor,” Ferguson said. “The governor doesn’t need legislation. The governor doesn’t need an executive order. He could bring it to the Board of Public Works tomorrow.”
Hogan’s plan includes $125 million from the capital budget, for secure doors and windows, cameras, metal detectors and more, along with $50 million a year in additional operating funds, to provide school safety grants. Those grants would allow localities to hire security personnel, counselors and social media monitors.
“This funding will be allocated through the education lockbox proposal that we announced two weeks ago,” Hogan said at a news conference Wednesday, a reference to his bid to put casino gambling proceeds into a dedicated account.
When pressed by a reporter, Hogan said he’d be willing to work with the legislature on the specifics, but his proposal as initially outlined ties it to his casino plan, which Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said on Thursday won’t be advancing.
“No, no, no. We’re not going to pass his bill,” Miller said, cutting off a television reporter mid-question. “We’ve got a bill we’re going to pass, and that’s a bill that’s going to put [gambling proceeds] in a lockbox” for education.
The legislature’s proposal, unveiled prior to Hogan’s, would create a constitutional amendment, on the ballot this November, requiring that casino revenues be spent over and above existing education outlays.
Miller said he met with several senators Thursday morning to discuss school security legislation. “We’re going to have a bill about prevention. We’re going to have a bill about security guards. We’re going to have social workers in the schools that are going to identify people that are likely to explode and commit crimes [like the massacre in Florida last month]. It’s going to be very comprehensive.”
“I know we only have five or six weeks left to get it done,” Miller added. “Whether it’s $5 million or $10 million or $50 million, we cannot have this happen in Maryland.”
As the legislature works on his overall annual funding proposal, Hogan plans to introduce a $5 million supplemental spending plan on Friday to bolster the Maryland Center for School Safety — a 600 percent funding increase.
‘A different moment’
The shooting in a Parkland, Fla., high school two weeks ago that left 14 students and three adults dead has altered the political landscape, experts say.
“This seems like a different moment,” said Daniel Webster, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health and an expert on gun violence. “All politicians are probably feeling that ‘I have to do something.’ This is not a time to be caught empty-handed” on policy.
State Sen. E. Wayne Norman (R-Harford), an avid sportsman who said he owns several firearms, praised the governor’s multi-pronged plan, saying, “I would support each one of those initiatives.”
Several of the Democrats running for Hogan’s job said that if it weren’t for the upcoming election, he wouldn’t be offering new money or support safety initiatives like the ban on bump stocks or the “red flag” proposal that would let police seize weapons from individuals deemed a threat.
Said Baltimore attorney James L. Shea: “If he really wanted to lead on the issue of gun safety, he should have pushed President Trump and his Republican colleagues to pass a federal assault weapons ban.”
Another candidate, state Sen. Richard S. Madaleno (D-Montgomery), vice-chairman of the Budget & Taxation Committee, accused Hogan of leading by poll. With the state expecting a windfall of upwards of $300 million from the federal tax overhaul, he said, “We have money that we can put in right now.”
Former NAACP president Benjamin L. Jealous (D) said Hogan “is hoping another election year announcement will do just enough for voters to forget his lack of courage.”
But House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) defended the governor and said critics should “check the partisanship at the door.”
“This issue is too important to play politics with,” Kipke said in an email to Maryland Matters Thursday. “The Governor is leading on school safety and our kids need all the support they can get.”