Debate season is officially here.

Mayor Brandon Scott, former Mayor Sheila Dixon, Thiru Vignarajah and other candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for Baltimore mayor will face off in two upcoming panels.

Next week, a coalition of more than two dozen environmental groups will host candidates for a forum on climate resilience, pollution and other sustainability issues. Tom Hall of WYPR and Lisa Snowden of Baltimore Beat will ask candidates about their plans for a greener and cleaner city, with some questions from youth attendees.

The event will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 28, from 5:30. to 7:30 p.m. at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in West Baltimore’s Liberty Square neighborhood. Virtual attendance and accessibility accommodations will be available, including Spanish translation and an American Sign Language interpreter.

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On Monday, March 4, neighborhood associations in North Baltimore will host Scott, Dixon, Vignarajah and Bob Wallace for a forum moderated by Kaye Wise Whitehead. The Loyola University professor and WEAA will interview the candidates at Roland Park Presbyterian Church. Participating neighborhood associations include those representing Poplar Hill, Evergreen, Roland Park, North Roland Park, Mount Washington, and Sabina-Mattfeldt.

— Emily Sullivan

The Senate is bringing out the sharks

Maryland lawmakers are exactly halfway through their 90-day session and still have a lot of work to do.

Of the 2,684 bills and 14 resolutions proposed this year, none have been fully passed by both the state Senate and the House of Delegates.

Senate President Bill Ferguson told reporters Friday that lawmakers will need to sharpen their focus on the most important priorities, and plenty of interesting bills may not make it this year.

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His top priorities: Passing a balanced budget, reforming the state’s juvenile justice system, and addressing issues of housing affordability and inventory.

“It is incredibly busy and the work of the Senate is going to be intense, as far as how many bills or which bills will move,” said Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat.

He warned that late-filed bills are unlikely to move out of the Rules Committee, where they must first pass a review.

“Going forward, there is going to be what is the equivalent of a shark-infested moat around the Rules Committee. If a bill was not put in on time, it is extremely unlikely to be moving this session unless there is a very specific reason,” Ferguson said.

Among the late-emerging issues that are likely to be addressed: finding money to continue helping low-income criminal defendants stay on home monitoring before trial, as well as addressing late-mailed property assessment notices that could hamper the ability of local governments to collect property taxes.

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In the House of Delegates, meanwhile, members were reminded to be respectful of one another after tense floor debates on Friday.

A bill to help undocumented immigrants buy their own health insurance was deemed “absurdly ridiculous” by Republican Del. Mark Fisher, which brought a stinging rebuke from Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, who launched a lengthy defense of the work to expand access to insurance by the health committee she chairs. Peña-Melnyk, a Prince George’s County Democrat, repeatedly said lawmakers shouldn’t speculate about what the bill would do, but should look at facts.

Meanwhile, a bill about paint recycling was called “silly” by Republican Del. Jefferson Ghrist.

“It’s not a silly bill and frankly, I don’t appreciate that characterization of it,” shot back Del. Marc Korman, a Montgomery County Democrat who chairs the environment committee.

“I know we all know how to speak to each other with respect,” said Del. Stephanie Smith, a Baltimore Democrat who is the House parliamentarian. “It doesn’t mean you have to dial back your passion. It means we have to use the full breadth of all the words we know in our thesaurus and within all the good education we received to properly relate our concerns.”

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— Pamela Wood

Union endorses in Baltimore mayor and City Council races

The Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO Council has endorsed Mayor Brandon Scott in his race for reelection and Councilman Zeke Cohen for City Council president in their slate of 2024 endorsements — and snubbed a few incumbent council members.

The council represents more than 100 local unions and 80,000 Baltimore area workers, including some staffers at City Hall.

Their picks include Jermaine Jones, who is running against incumbent Councilman Robert Stokes to represent the 12th District, which includes neighborhoods surrounding Green Mount Cemetery. Jones formerly served as president of the council from 2017 to 2022. It’s not the first time Stokes has been snubbed by the council. In 2020, the group tapped Franca Muller Paz, a Green Party candidate, who lost to Stokes in the general election.

The group endorsed Paris Gray, an aide to departing Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, for Burnett’s open 8th District seat representing Edmondson Village and other West Baltimore neighborhoods.

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The council also endorsed Comptroller Bill Henry and council members Danielle McCray, Ryan Dorsey, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, Sharon Green Middleton, James Torrence, John Bullock, Phylicia Porter and Odette Ramos.

Other races saw snubs.

The group chose not to endorse anyone for the council’s other open seat, Southeast Baltimore’s 1st District. Mark Parker, Liam Davis and Joseph Koehler are vying for the seat.

The Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO Council also did not endorse incumbent Councilman Mark Conway, who is running to represent North Baltimore’s 4th District unopposed.

Neither Councilman Eric Costello nor his opponent Zac Blanchard received an endorsement to represent the 11th District that includes the Inner Harbor and downtown. The group also declined to make an endorsement in East Baltimore’s 13th District race, which includes incumbent Councilman Antonio “Tony” Glover, Walker Gladden and Alexander Artis.

The endorsed candidates have a record of fighting for working-class families, Metropolitan Baltimore AFL-CIO Council President Courtney Jenkins said in a statement.

They “recognize that the success of our city depends on the backbone of its economy — the worker,” he said in a statement. “There is no room for politicians who won’t work for working people.”

— Emily Sullivan

Senate update: Endorsements for Alsobrooks, forums planned

U.S. Senate candidate Angela Alsobrooks picked up key endorsements Friday in her Democratic primary battle against David Trone.

Alsobrooks, currently the Prince George’s County executive, was in Baltimore to celebrate endorsements from four unions affiliated with the Service Employees International Union.

The SEIU endorsements include 1199SEIU, an influential union in Maryland politics that has more than 100,000 members who work in health care, including at hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Union endorsements can help candidates by signaling to members and their families that they should vote for the candidate. Unions also can provide manpower for get-out-the-vote efforts like knocking on doors and calling voters.

“We are fired up for Angela, and we can’t wait to get to work to make sure she’s the Democratic nominee in May. SEIU has a long history of being an organizing force behind winning candidates, which is exactly what we plan to do for Angela,” 1199SEIU Vice President Lisa Brown said in a statement.

While Alsobrooks and Trone, currently a member of Congress, have both been busy campaigning — and promoting that they’re the bes-positioned to beat Republican Larry Hogan in the general election — they’ve rarely been in the same place at the same time.

The last time they were on stage together was at a forum last December, before Hogan got into the race and changed the dynamics.

Trone and Alsobrooks will face off at two upcoming forums:

— Pamela Wood

First lady testifies on bill to support military spouses

First lady Dawn Moore testified in a legislative committee this week, marking the first time in nearly 20 years a governor’s spouse has testified on legislation, according to Gov. Wes Moore’s administration.

She testified alongside Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller on the Families Serve Act of 2024. The bill would give military spouses the same hiring preferences veterans and active-duty military receive.

Moore explained to the Economic Matters Committee that she knows firsthand what it’s like to be a military spouse. Gov. Moore was in the U.S. Army reserves when the couple met.

”I knew that if we got married, it would come with the responsibility of supporting and representing a member of the armed forces,” she said. Gov. Moore was deployed to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2006.

She spoke about the resiliency, creativity and ingenuity required of military spouses in managing family finances, moving across state lines, and maybe having to get a new job “at the drop of a hat.”

“Military spouses are some of the strongest people you could ever meet,” she said.

The high national rate of unemployment among military spouses is unacceptable, she said.

“And don’t forget, these are highly educated, highly qualified and well-credentialed candidates.”

Miller and Moore jointly chair the Maryland Joins Forces campaign, an initiative to address the issues faced by military families across the state, such as employment, education, and food and housing insecurity. Maryland is the first state to start the program modeled after a federal initiative.

Moore’s husband, Gov. Wes Moore, declared 2024 the “Year for Military Families.” in December, he previewed this bill as part of his legislative package. Another bill, the Time to Serve Act of 2024, would give state employees more time to serve in the National Guard and military reserves. It passed the House and begins its journey through the Senate next week.

Brenda Wintrode

Anne Arundel County survey seeking to improve voting experience

The Anne Arundel County Board of Elections is partnering with Towson University’s Empowering Secure Elections Research Lab for an online survey to better understand the barriers voters face on election day.

The anonymous survey was sent to a randomized selection of registered voters in Anne Arundel County at the beginning of the month, and a reminder email was sent the week of Feb. 19.

”Data provided by Anne Arundel County voters is essential to maintaining efficient election protocols and adjusting for the future,” David Garreis, elections director for Anne Arundel County, said in a statement.

Natalie Scala, an associate professor at Towson University and co-director of the lab, said the survey has some questions about beliefs in election security, but mostly focuses on the actual voter experiences. Survey results will be used in decision making in Anne Arundel County elections, she said.

“What the county wants to do is understand what can be done to increase turnout, help people have better access to voting and help to improve the voter experience,” she said. The survey is expected to close at the end of the month. Scala said she expects to be able to share a full analysis and results over the summer.

Anyone with questions about the survey can email secureelections@towson.edu.

Cody Boteler

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