Political Notes: A new performance officer, animal-friendly lawmakers, federal minimum wage push and a town hall next week

Black-eyed Susans, the state flower of Maryland, bloom outside the State House in Annapolis. Photo by Bryan P. Sears

Maryland has a new chief performance officer.

Asma Mirza, who most recently served as the deputy for implementation management for the White House Infrastructure Implementation Team and special assistant to the President, started last week.

Mirza is expected to work with Gov. Wes Moore’s staff and cabinet secretaries “to design and implement strategies to enhance performance and service delivery,” according to the press release.

“Asma’s expertise in leading through change and creating new approaches to solving big challenges will be an exceptional asset to our state and help deliver on our mission to build a stronger Maryland,” Moore (D) said in the statement.

In addition to Mirza’s recent work at the White House, she also spent nearly seven years as a performance manager in the federal Office of Management and Budget during then-President Barack Obama’s two terms. In between her two stints in the White House, she worked for three years for McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm.

Moore announced hiring Mirza in a Thursday press release. She started the position on Aug. 23, four days after the governor told a gathering of county leaders at the Maryland Association of Counties convention in Ocean City that he planned to create the position.

Moore, in that speech, warned counties of tougher budget times. He said the chief performance officer would “monitor our progress and ensure efficiency across government. And they will be working closely with you to track progress at the local level.”

Mirza’s salary, more than $156,000 annually, comes out of the budget for the Office of the Governor. A spokesperson said she will report directly to Johnny Dorsey, a deputy chief of staff in the governor’s office. It is not yet known if she will have a staff, the spokesperson said.

Lawmakers love animals

A majority of state lawmakers received a passing grade, based on their votes for pro-animal rights legislation, in the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s 2023 scorecard released Tuesday.

The political advocacy organization for animal protection analyzed votes on six bills passed in the Maryland General Assembly passed this year, such as Senate Bill 510/House Bill 626 that updates a black bear damage reimbursement fund to authorize grants to prevent damage caused by the bears and to reduce conflicts between the bears and humans; Senate Bill 275/House Bill 460 that requires all traps or similar devices for capturing wildlife to have a license number; and Senate Bill 390/House Bill 325 that authorizes veterinary or other clinical staff at animal shelters or rescue facilities to administer rabies vaccines.

Sen. Jason Gallion (R-Cecil and Harford) received the lowest grade in his chamber at 80%. According to the scorecard, he didn’t get a higher percentage because he was “excused from voting session” on two bills.

Ten Republican senators didn’t receive a perfect score but did garner 86%. That’s because they all voted against Senate Bill 560 which requires certain businesses that conduct animal research and testing to pay into a “human-relevant research fund.”

Sens. William Folden (R-Frederick) and Chris West (R-Baltimore County) joined most of their Democratic colleagues in receiving a 100% perfect score.

The Humane Society gave Sens. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) and Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City) an 86% score because they didn’t vote on the black bear bill.

In the House, 95 Democrats received a perfect score.

No Republican delegate received a score above 67%. Del. Robin Grammer Jr. (R-Baltimore County) recorded the lowest score at 33% after taking an “anti-animal position” against three bills and not voting on the black bears legislation, according to the scorecard.

Although Del. Stephanie Smith (D-Baltimore) voted in favor of four bills, the Humane Society gave her a 67% score for because she didn’t vote on two other bills.

Del. Gary Simmons (D-Anne Arundel) didn’t receive a score after being excused from voting on all six bills.

The Humane Society also didn’t give a score to Dels. Bonnie Cullison and Charlotte Crutchfield, both Democrats from Montgomery County, for excused absences on three bills. Cullison served as the primary sponsor on the research fund bill.

Del. Sarah Wolek (D-Montgomery) also was not scored because she was sworn into office April 3, exactly one week before the General Assembly adjourned.

“Marylanders care about the positions their elected officials take on important issues like animal protection,” Brad Pyle, political director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said in a statement. “Voters should use the Humane Scorecard as a tool in evaluating candidates for office and holding lawmakers accountable.”

Brown joins brief to support minimum wage

Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) joined almost two dozen other attorneys general in supporting the federal government to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for certain federal contractors.

The amicus brief, filed electronically Monday, requests that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirm a lower court’s decision to set the minimum hourly wage at $15 to adhere to an executive order made two years ago by President Joe Biden. The minimum wage for federal contractors was set at $10.10 in 2014.

The state of Nebraska and officials from other states allege that the president and U.S. Department of Labor acted outside their statutory authority. They also claim the increase would have “vast economic and political significance.”

But Brown and other attorneys general state that the wage increase benefits employers, employees and consumers and decreases poverty for federal workers. They also argue that workers from 27 states will see wage increases this year due to legislative enactments or inflation adjustments.

“Hard-working federal contractors shouldn’t be left behind in the movement toward fair, living wages for all. It’s time that the federal government pays its contractors what they deserve and what is fair,” Brown said in a statement. “Higher wages increase equity among workers, reduce poverty, and help ease income inequality. This proposed increase is good for workers and their families, good for business, and good for the economy.”

Attorneys general of California, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and the District of Columbia are among those on the brief.

In Maryland, employers will pay workers at least $15 an hour in January.

Prince George’s lawmakers host town hall

Prince George’s County legislators who are members of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland will host a town hall on Wednesday, Sept. 6.

Part of the agenda, during a scheduled two-hour discussion at Bowie State University, is a summary of this year’s legislative session and some of caucus priorities on Black wealth, housing, health, education, criminal justice reform and cannabis legalization.

Some caucus-backed bills that received legislative approval were:

House Bill 1219 – the Maryland Educator Shortage Act requested by the administration of Gov. Wes Moore (D).

House Bill 1217/ Senate Bill 805 – require health insurance plans including health maintenance organizations and Medicaid in Maryland, to provide biomarker testing for cancer.

House Bill 669/ Senate Bill 455 – offer alternative paths to real estate appraisal license and to certification.

With more than two dozen legislators of the 65-member Black Caucus representing Prince George’s, that county’s senators and delegates account for about 40% of the group.

Several Prince George’s lawmakers, all Democrats, hold leadership positions including Senate President Pro Tem Malcolm Augustine; Sen. Melony Griffith, chair of the Finance Committee; House Majority Whip Jazz Lewis; and Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, chair of the Health and Government Operations Committee.

Anyone who wants to attend town hall can register here.

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