By Bryan Renbaum
For Maryland Reporter.com
The Maryland General Assembly passed a key piece of legislation on Thursday aimed at demolishing and rebuilding blighted Baltimore City properties, despite opposition from some Republicans over mandated spending.
In Thursday’s vote, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a House amended version of the bill. Two Baltimore City lawmakers, Del. Peter Hammen, D-Baltimore City and Sen. Bill Ferguson, sponsored HB686 and its Senate counterpart SB559. Ferguson’s bill passed the Senate earlier this week along with a series of other bills designed to improve educational and quality of life prospects for residents in poorer areas of the state.
The proposal is tied to a larger initiative by Gov. Larry Hogan to demolish abandoned and condemned properties in Baltimore City that were prominently featured during the unrest that occurred last April following Freddie Gray’s death. They will also revitalize infrastructure in those areas.
The governor had originally allocated $20 million in his annual supplemental budget to pay for the project, but the legislation mandates a five-year commitment to that funding level.
GOP Leader supports initiative
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings, Baltimore-Harford counties, attributed his support for the bills to scenes he witnessed while deployed as a national guardsman during last year’s unrest.
“I saw row after row of boarded up homes and it was almost depressing looking at it — it was depressing looking at it,” Jennings said. “And I thought: imagine these people everyday that come out of their homes, where you would see literally an entire block of homes boarded up with one or two that were actually inhabited.”
Jennings said demolishing dilapidated homes might help alleviate the dangers of lead paint poisoning.
Cassilly concerned about mandates
Sen. Bob Cassilly, R-Harford, said that last fall he had toured areas of Baltimore affected by last year’s unrest and that although he supports revitalization efforts and appreciates the on-the-job training skills learned by those working in the demolition process, he still opposes the bill because of the attached mandates.
“As much as I support this effort, I find that the compromise that we’re making on the process–just to make a political statement to the governor, that even though you have said you like this project, and even though you will fund it in the future years, we want to tell you, ‘You have to fund it in future years,’ and we will lay out the amount. That’s wrong,” Cassilly said.
Senate President objects
Senate President Mike Miller criticized Cassily’s comments.
“Senator, you don’t have to apologize, but I think your remarks that this is making a political statement to the governor is inappropriate, just from my point of view,” Miller said. “This is not a political statement to the governor, you can feel the way you want to feel about it, but to the majority of people this is not about a political statement to the governor, this is about a realistic statement for a city.”
Sen. Joan Carter Conway, D-Baltimore City, was also irritated by Cassilly’s remarks.
“Senator let me just tell you something… I don’t care about the political mandates, I don’t care about the political partisanship, I care about people; all people,” Conway said.
Conway elaborated on the bill, “This is about saving lives, saving lives,” and gave an example of an East Baltimore resident who was crushed by an abandoned building he lived next to that collapsed while he was sitting in his car listening to music.