Legislative Update From The BJC

Our legislative session is off to a good start, as Gov. Martin O’Malley has generously provided funding to the greater Baltimore Jewish community for many of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s  programs and agencies that support our shared vision of a better Maryland.

This year, we are pursuing funding for the Hillel Center for Social Justice at the University of Maryland, College Park and two other new programs: the Medical Home Extender Program and the Elder Abuse Center. The Hillel building at the University of Maryland, College Park provides a center for students of all faiths, cultures and ethnicities to engage in social justice, dialogue and leadership development.  The new medical home extender program helps create additional primary-care resources for the uninsured and underinsured.  The Elder Abuse Center will be the first of its kind in Maryland and will help to address the growing problem of elder abuse, victims of which cannot be treated by traditional programs.

The governor provided increases to the Maryland-Israel Development Center and the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  Funding was also included for our Supportive Community Network and the Domestic Violence Prevention Program.

The BJC has also been advocating for multiple policy issues. Tighter sanctions against Iran, the governor’s gun package and direct shipment of kosher wine are all examples of policy concerns that directly affect Maryland’s Jewish community.  With Delegate Dan Morhaim’s leadership, we will be in the forefront of legislation that will automatically conform Maryland law to sanctions passed toward Iran at the federal level. Since last year’s Iran sanctions bill passed, new federal laws have been approved, tightening the sanctions states can enact. It is important that we make certain Maryland has the strongest sanctions in the country against Iran.

The governor’s gun package, along with Sen. Brian Frosh’s bills (SB228, 266, 281, and 420), are common-sense ways to begin to address the horrific instances of mass gun violence we have seen in the past couple of years.  To be clear: These pieces of legislation merely ensure proper background checks are implemented, gun magazine capacity is lessened, military-style semiautomatic weapons are banned, and there are stronger regulatory measures in place for firearms dealers.  These bills will not infringe upon the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but rather help
address a growing threat to the safety of our communities.  We also recognize that the solution must be comprehensive and address other areas, such as mental health, if we are to stop these crimes. These bills will serve as a platform for change and allow Maryland to lead the way on the critical issue of gun violence.

Finally, we are working with Delegate Sam Aurora to carve out a religious exemption for direct shipping of kosher wine.  Current law does not allow an individual to order wine online, such as kosherwine.com, or from stores, and in Maryland there are only about 70 varie-ties of Israeli wine available,  and this problem needs to be addressed.

The BJC government relations team is meeting with as many members as possible to secure funding and discuss our policy issues.  The legislature has the power to cut from the budget and table legislation, so your involvement is critical.  The two ways you can help include attending our legislative advocacy day on Feb. 26 and by reaching out to your elected officials to let them know how important these programs and policies are to our community.

Cailey Locklair is the director of government relations for the Baltimore Jewish Council.

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