State Sen. Jim Mathias: ‘My job is to make it work’

As Maryland’s 2017 legislative session begins, state Sen. Jim Mathias is predicting an interesting three months with “clear distinctions between the executive and legislative branches.”

Mathias, who is in the third year of his four-year term as senator, planned a meeting with Salisbury Mayor Jake Day and vowed to “give all I’ve got” to seeking funding for the Main Street Master Plan.

The $200 million project to add more commercial, retail and residential space Downtown is important, but “money is at a premium,” the senator said, explaining Ocean City officials are requesting $30 million to expand the convention center. That project is considered a benefit for the entire state.

Like Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, Mathias is interested in laws that protect animal welfare and punish those who abuse, neglect or force them into puppy mill situations.

He would also like to see an animal abuse registry.

“Pets are an extension of the family and the abuse of an animal is a predictor of human behavior,” he said.

After hundreds of dogs were rescued from deplorable conditions in a home in Eden last spring, Mathias said he talked to Matthew Maciarello, the state’s attorney at the time and now a Wicomico County Circuit Court judge.

He continued working with Maciarello’s successor, State’s Attorney Ella Disharoon, and discussed making animal abuse a felony and establishing a registry.

Mathias is also interested in keeping the co-payment the same for patients whose doctors order a 3-D mammogram, or other more revealing radiology. Those patients have had a higher co-pay “and that’s not right,” Mathias said.

Concerning the state’s budget, the senator said the deficit of more than $200 million must be viewed “in its appropriate context.”

In 2006, when he was elected delegate to fill the remainder of Delegate Bennett Bozman’s term, after Bozman died, there was a $2 billion deficit, Mathias recalled.

A special session was called in 2007 and there were proposed tax increases and discussions about approving a casino.

“Then we had the recession. We struggled through all of that and we were able to take that deficit down to almost nothing,” he said, issuing a reminder that lawmakers can deduct from the governor’s budget, but not add to it.

“We have a deficit, yes, but we aren’t going to raise taxes, so where else do you find the money? It’s in cuts. And who wants money cut besides nobody?” Mathias said.

Even so, he’s confident lawmakers “will make the budget right,” he said.

“There will be adversarial bills put in that would affect the poultry industry. It’s fundamental on the Shore, just like tourism is,” Mathias said.

He expects fracking to be an issue and said he solidly opposes off-shore drilling. “That’s going to be a great debate. It’s going to be an interesting session,” he said.

Concerning a bill requiring small businesses to pay for employee sick leave, Mathias said it was debated on the last day of the 2016 legislative session and will be again this year. He wants to see the exemption for Ocean City employees increased from 90 to 120 days, since the tourist season is becoming longer.

“It is clear that the sick leave bill is going to move,” he said.

“As we move into the legislative session, some initiatives are just being put together. There will be statewide initiatives. It remains to be seen what will happen when the new president is sworn in,” he said.

If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, “where are they going to turn, people who never had health insurance before ‘ObamaCare?’” Mathias asked.

President Obama’s health care law has benefits worth retaining, he said, including not being turned down for insurance because of preexisting conditions and allowing children to remain on parents’ policies well into their 20s.

“There is a tremendous amount of opportunity here in Maryland. We have to make sure our citizenry is taken care of and our businesses are successful and that’s not something you can do cavalierly,” he said.

“We’re just going to have to wait and see what happens with a new president. Whatever happens, my job is to make it work.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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