More than 100 local community members made their way to Annapolis Feb. 5 to participate in the Baltimore Jewish Council’s Advocacy Day, during which they met with state officials to discuss issues important to the city’s Jewish population.
Among the agenda items for the group were the following: allowing the shipment of kosher wine into Maryland; prohibiting public universities from participating in boycotts of universities in countries with which Maryland has a partnership; increasing financial support of nonpublic schools; helping low- and moderate-income families with covering the cost of utilities; reassessing the state’s Stormwater Management Program; and expediting services for the developmentally disabled.
“The Jewish community does three things that are of vital need,” said Arthur Abramson, executive director of the BJC. “They vote, they express themselves about the issues that concern them, and … they tend to support candidates who support their issues. And that works for an environment in which the candidates tend to pay close attention to their constituents and the constituents pay close attention to their candidates.”
Abramson said he was pleased with the event, adding that attendees seemed to be surprised by how much time state senators and delegates spent with the group.
“The more individuals you can get engaged in the process of communicating with their elected representatives, the more effective you can be on certain issues,” said Abramson.
The day began with a briefing by group leaders, after which six groups of advocates traveled to the offices of legislators in six different districts: Districts 10, 11, 41, 42, 43 and 46.
One group began its evening in the boardroom of Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-District 43). After brief introductions, the talk turned to kosher wine.
“I’m into wine,” said McIntosh smiling, as the group told her about its desire to be able to ship wines from online retailers to local stores for pickup.
“I think this will be easier than you think,” McIntosh told the group. “I think we thought we already took care of this.”
(The General Assembly passed a law in 2011 that allowed direct shipments of wine, but a last-minute amendment prevented the inclusion of kosher wine shipments.)
Abba Poliakoff, treasurer of the BJC, brought up the issue of state universities backing various boycotts of Israeli universities.
“There are a lot of universities that have publicly condemned this and even withdrawn their membership,” Poliakoff said of the American Studies Association’s December vote to boycott higher-education institutions. However, with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County still paying membership dues to the organization, the BJC and other Advocacy Day attendees wanted the state to reduce the university’s budget.
“I’m not on those committees [that determine funding for public universities],” said McIntosh, “but, absolutely, you have my support.”
When one group met with Del. Stephen Lafferty (D-District 42), the conversation quickly turned to financial assistance for nonpublic schools.
For many people, “a religious education is essential to having a religious lifestyle,” said Elizabeth Green, who is on the BJC’s board of directors. But many local families cannot afford to provide the kind of education they want for their children. To help, Green said, she and other community members would like to see the state provide a 75 percent tax credit to businesses that donate to public and nonpublic schools.
Lafferty told Green and the other half-dozen participants gathered in his office that finding businesses that would donate to these schools if the credit is approved to advocate on their behalf would give their cause a needed boost. That in itself could be a challenge.
“If people are willing to give money now, do they really need the tax credit to do it?” Green asked the group, adding that they need to find a way to show legislators that approving a tax credit would make a detectible difference.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states, including Pennsylvania and Virginia, grant corporate tax credits for contributions to school tuition organizations.
Other legislators, such as Del. Dan Morhaim (D-District 11), told visitors about what was on their own agendas, seeking support from the Baltimore Jewish community on issues such as end-of-life care.
Morhaim asked the council representatives and other Advocacy Day participants to help him spread the word about directives that outline an individual’s wishes in advance of illness or injury that might render a patient unable to express himself.