The super-busy new session in Annapolis had just started a day ago, yet that did not stop State Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk to make a trip to north College Park, and speak to its residents.
“It’s very hard to drive back from Annapolis at this time of the year, but for north College Park, it’s anything (that I can do)” – Ms. Pena-Melnyk told the residents gathered at the north College Park Citizens’ Association’s regular January meeting on last Thursday. Ms. Pena-Melnyk also served as the council woman of College Park before she became a member of the 21st district Delegation.
Usually, the 21st Delegation that represents College Park comes to civic association meetings after the 90 days session ends, thus Pena-Melnyk’s trip to NCPCA was an unusual one.
“It”s an early trip, but if you have an idea about a bill, you can make an early request.” – explained Pena-Melnyk about her visit to north College Park.
Talking about the make-up of the new House in Annapolis, Pena-Mylnyk said it currently has 141 delegates and 47 Senators. “It’s a very changed place [since the last one], in the House there has been 26% turnover – a lot of new faces – a number of committees have changed, since a lot of people have moved.” – said Ms. Pena-Melnyk, who is serving second term as part of 21st Delegation.
Ms. Pena-Melnyk is a member of the health care committee, which is one of the 6 committees in the house. “We’ve extended Medicaid, and made sure children can stay with their parents’ policies.” said Ms. Pena-Melnyk about her previous accomplishment about the health insurance. There are some 47 million people in the US uninsured, almost 700,000 of those are in Maryland alone.”
Talking about her job in Annapolis, she said every year over 2500 bills are passed. “This figure is a big number, since all these must be passed within 90 days” – she said. Each bill first comes from the related committee and then it is passed in the House first requiring 71 delegate votes (out of 141 votes). Then the bill goes to Senate where it needs 24 Sentaors’ votes (out of 47 votes). At the end, the Governor must sign the bill, when it becomes a law. If the Governor seeks a change, it goes through hearings in the House and the Senate again.
Ms. Melnyk represents two counties – Prince George’s and the Anne Arundel county. This means that she needs to attend two Delegates’ meetings, which happen simultaneously every Friday morning. She said residents are most welcome to join those meetings. Attending two meeting simultaneously is “stressful” – she said, but she tries to be in both meetings depending on when and where voting takes place. “You basically choose your battle” – she said.
She has also been appointed as the new Chair of the WSSC subcommittee of the Prince George’s county. In this session the committee will be dealing with 4 new bills.
When not in session, Delegates work with different caucuses, such as Democratic, Black and Women caucuses, where they attend many meetings.
She said each bill can take up to 8 hours of hearing before the Delegates can get a chance to vote on them. She had seen a single bill having up to 92 witnesses. “You came to Annapolis, you must get the respect and be heard” – she said of the constituents who speak at these hearings.
“After 10pm, when the session ends, I get to my computer and I see some 1000 emails just one particular issue.” – she said. “Some time I get to stay until 2am to answer these emails”.
In the new session, the hot topics are mostly about policy makings – such as alcohol tax, possibly a gas tax and the same sex marriage act. “You know we don’t have money” – she said why the Delegates will be busy in working on these policy issues, which involve minimal funding.
The House will also be working on balancing budget to address $1.6B deficit that the State is facing.