As an employee with Jewish Community Services, Joan Cohen said she often sees firsthand the struggles facing the community.
Cohen wants to ensure that those most in need can receive help and that those with the power to take action are aware of the help that is needed. That desire was in part what motivated the Reisterstown resident to trek down to Annapolis Tuesday evening and lobby state lawmakers as part of the greater Baltimore Jewish community’s annual Advocacy Day.
“Elder abuse is a big issue right now. … I wanted our representatives to know about that,” said Cohen, who made the trip with her husband, Fred. “Personally, I’m also hoping to see some tighter gun control laws get passed. It’s been great to see the legislative process in action, and I’m glad we made the trip.”
The Cohens were two of the more than 100 people from the Baltimore Jewish community that participated in Advocacy Day, which was organized by the Baltimore Jewish Council, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
The contingent, about half of which made the 40-minute commute on a bus together, spent the afternoon lobbying lawmakers from Baltimore City, along with Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Howard counties, on a range of issues. These included supporting tighter gun control laws, the ability to purchase wine directly from kosher wineries, and the state’s effort to divest itself from companies that engage in investments of more than $5 million with Iran. The latter would put Maryland’s sanctions in line with the federal government’s.
Del. Jon Cardin (D-11) said he enjoyed hearing directly from residents. He appreciated seeing so many people come down to the General Assembly session on a workday and express where they stood on various issues.
“I just wish we could have more opportunities like this during the session,” Cardin said. “Unfortunately, there is so much that needs to be done, so many bills that need to be examined, and just 90 days to do it. Advocacy Day is grassroots politics in its purest form. With us dealing with such issues as the death penalty, gun control and a possible gas tax, it’s important to hear from as many residents as we can, so we can make the most informed vote possible.”
Del. Dan Morhaim (D-11) said he feels similarly. The longtime legislator and emergency room physician said that residents making the case for their respective causes resonates with him much more than if it comes from a professional lobbyist.
Among the issues brought up to Morhaim on Advocacy Day was the need for $250,000 for the Sinai Hospital Medical Home Extender Program, which helps furnish primary care services to uninsured and underinsured residents. Morhaim said it’s important for residents to make the most compelling case possible for their cause because the
legislature won’t be able to approve everything placed in front of it.
“The problem we face is that we have an infinite number of needs and a finite amount of money,” Morhaim told one group of residents. “It’s a matter of setting priorities. That’s why the issues involving revenue have garnered so much debate. Everyone has an issue that’s important to [him or her]. The problem is when you ask for us to
approve funds, we either need to raise the money or cut another vital program. There’s no easy answer.”
Along with those lobbying for an issue or project, many residents used Advocacy Day as an educational experience to learn about the legislative process. Among those people was a group of students from Temple Emanuel, including 15-year-old Aaron Israel.
Aaron, a 10th grader at Franklin High School, said he was most excited to sit in on the debate over gun control and see so many people make the case for and against tighter restrictions on purchasing and owning weapons.
“I liked seeing so many people just be allowed to sign up and express their views,” Israel said. “I didn’t realize you don’t have to be a part of the legislature to get involved in the debate.”
Baltimore Jewish Council Director of Government Relations Cailey Locklair said she considered Advocacy Day a success, especially since this was the first time the Baltimore group had gone down to Annapolis without a contingent from the Washington, D.C. area.
Those who came out Tuesday also had the chance to speak with lawmakers during a reception at St. John’s College and listen to remarks from Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, Comptroller Peter Franchot and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.
“Residents had the opportunity to converse with their elected officials and speak to them about the issues that matter most to them personally and to the Jewish community as a whole,” Locklair said.
Ron Snyder is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org