With the Maryland legislative session just passed the midway point, things in Annapolis are rather busy.
Over the last couple of weeks, the budget hearings for the programs assisting nonpublic schools and their families (BOOST scholarship program, textbook/technology program, aging school upgrade grants) and the new security grant program for schools/centers of higher risk of a hate crime, have taken place in both House and Senate subcommittees. Agudath Israel's Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, and his Annapolis nonpublic school colleagues, have been working the Legislature trying to ensure that Governor Hogan's budget allocations are funded without any cuts.
Another bill of interest was House Bill 315, a bill which would require the state to cover the parent cost for "reduced price meals" as part of the federally-funded National School Lunch Program. Nonpublic school advocates issued favorable amendments arguing that since the federal program benefits nonpublic schools and students, any state payments to cover the parents share of those meals should cover nonpublic school community as well.
This week, the House Ways & Means Committee heard House Bill 644, a bill seeking to prevent Maryland's 529 College Savings Plan program from reaping the benefits of the K-12 qualified education distribution that was included the recently passed federal tax reform law. Rabbi Sadwin provided testimony in opposition of the bill pointing to the similarities the 529 shares with other tax deduction investment programs, but without the upside of providing education support and enhancements.
Also this week, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee heard Senate Bill 1060, a bill which seeks to add numerous unnecessary and unprecedented anti-discrimination policies to nonpublic schools that receive state funds. Here as well, Rabbi Sadwin and colleagues provided testimony in opposition to this bill.
On the constituent service front, a call came in to the office regarding an elderly woman, the wife of a deceased U.S. veteran, who passed away and sought burial next to her husband in one of the state-run veterans cemeteries. Upon calling the veterans cemetery, the funeral home was told that the next available funeral date would be more than two weeks later and no changes could be made.
The call went to Agudath Israel's constituent service hotline to see if anything could be done through the organization's vast government contacts. Reaching out through the governor's office, Rabbi Sadwin was able to get the matter to the desk of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, George Owings. Within a day's time, the secretary himself called Rabbi Sadwin to tell him that he was able to get the veterans cemetery to rearrange their schedule and move up this funeral to within a few days of her passing, out of respect for the religious accommodation request. In thanking the secretary, Rabbi Sadwin extolled the virtues said on one who is engaged in a chessed shel emes, true kindness. Secretary Owings was very moved and appreciative of being in a position to help in this manner.