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Legislative leaders target Baltimore

Rachel Baye

With a month left in the General Assembly’s annual 90-day session, the leaders of both houses have announced a focus on Baltimore.

House Speaker Michael Busch and Senate President Mike Miller are backing a package of bills that includes efforts to renew development and boost education in the city. 

Miller announced the initiative Wednesday morning while the Senate was discussing the state budget.

“You’re going to see a package coming over that the speaker and I have been working on all summer long for Baltimore City that will be unbelievable," Miller said. "When you see that plan in terms of what it means in terms of parks, recreation, open space, whatever, you’re going to go ‘Wow!’”

Miller said Busch and House Appropriations Chair Maggie McIntosh, who is from Baltimore, are leading the initiative.

Busch’s office provided a list of 16 bills, including a few that would have impacts statewide. They cover a range of topics and are at varying points in the approval process.

Busch said the package was inspired by the riots that shook Baltimore last year.

“We put a lot of time in this summer, particularly since the April incidents took place there, to try to come up with a comprehensive plan to deal with bringing Baltimore into a renaissance," Busch said. 

McIntosh said that after the riots following the death of Freddie Gray, people from around the state flocked to Baltimore.

“They saw the condition of neighborhoods, the condition of schools," she said. "I think there was a realization that when you have concentrations of poverty, it is, you know, shame on all of us.”

She said the speaker’s package is an effort to address those realities.

The legislation includes money for parks and for libraries. One bill would give grants to universities and hospitals to encourage them to expand into blighted areas. Another aims to encourage universities to hire local residents.

McIntosh has two bills in the package that target education in the eight jurisdictions, including Baltimore, where at least half of the public school students live in poverty.

One would pay for extended school days and summer school programming. The other would create a program aimed at getting low-income high school students to college.

“It provides for students who sign up in seventh and eighth grade … to get mentoring, coaching, experiences in workplaces, experiences in college and basically have a program that gets them into college, where they will if they go to a state school, will be prioritized for our state low-income scholarships," McIntosh explained.

Another bill in the slate requires state funding for the demolition of vacant houses in Baltimore, protecting in law the plan Gov. Larry Hogan laid out in January.

"We just want to make sure that the state continues to make it a priority in the out years when we don't have as much emphasis and attention on Baltimore as we have over the last year," said Baltimore Sen. Bill Ferguson, who sponsored the Senate version. The measure has already passed the house.

Ferguson is also sponsoring a related measure, aimed at attracting private investment into neighborhoods that he described as “on the cusp.” It, too, has passed the House.

“With just a little bit of public money, lots and lots of private capital can follow on," said Ferguson. "And that’s the key in Baltimore is that we have a lot of needs, and so we have to prioritize where funds go to the places where … the most sustainable development can happen.”

All told, McIntosh estimated the Baltimore package would carry a $60 million price tag.