Post-Labor Day School Start Bill Struggling In Legislature; Measure Unlikely To Be Passed This Year

Post-Labor Day School Start Bill Struggling In Legislature; Measure Unlikely To Be Passed This Year

OCEAN CITY — With the 2015 General Assembly session set to expire on Monday, it now appears the drive for a mandated statewide post-Labor Day start to the public school year in Maryland is dead in the water although its main advocate last week hinted at possibly going over the legislature’s head.

In August, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot was on the Boardwalk in Ocean City to launch a petition drive seeking 10,000 signatures advocating a mandated post-Labor Day start to the public school year in Maryland as part of his “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign. At the opening of the 2015 session in January, the campaign appeared to be gaining momentum as Francot and its other major supporters, including Senator Jim Mathias (D-38), Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan, other elected officials, small business owners, educators and tourism officials turned in the petition with over 13,000 signatures. Also in attendance and in support was Gov. Larry Hogan, who had not weighed in on the issue.

However, three months later with just days, or even hours, left before the close of the session, Senate Bill 455 and the cross-filed House Bill 389, have not had so much as a committee hearing in their respective chambers, essentially putting the writing on the wall for the legislation’s success this year. Stranger things have happened in the waning days of a General Assembly session, but it appears there is no political will to advance the post-Labor Day school start initiative this year.

While stopping short of giving up on the proposal for this year, Franchot last week in a televised interview acknowledged the bills appeared doomed with the session winding down. However, the determined Franchot hinted at possibly seeking a fiat of sorts from the governor to mandate the change.

“If it doesn’t pass legislatively, maybe I’ll have a conversation with Governor Hogan about doing it through executive order,” he said during last week.

Meanwhile, Mathias, who is the main sponsor on the Senate side, also acknowledged this week the bills would not likely see the light of day, but vowed to continue to promote the proposed legislation.

“I’m not giving up the fight,” he said. “It’s a very complicated bill. The school superintendents and the MSEA are troubled by it. We’re just working to try to find a solution to their concerns.”

Mathias said the proposed post-Labor Day school start had strong support from several private and public sectors from every corner of the state. Detractors have characterized the bill as largely a resort-related issue aimed at extending the summer season economically in places like Ocean City, for example. However, Mathias said the “Let Summer Be Summer” campaign would benefit the entire state.

“Everybody has been on board with this from the Farm Bureau to the Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Associations to the Chambers of Commerce and the Lodging Associations,” he said. “With less than week to go, I’m still committed to the cause and I’m staying the course to figure out where the solution lies.”

In 2013, state lawmakers approved legislation creating a task force to study the issue and that task force ultimately returned a favorable recommendation to the General Assembly. However, the task force’s approval came too late to get legislation introduced in 2014. Franchot then rallied with the petition drive in advance of the 2015 session and appeared to have some momentum at the start. With the bills now on life support as the session winds down, Mathias said it might take another year to ultimately get it approved.

“Bills like this are very complicated,” he said. “Sometimes, it takes more than one year. We have seen that with other big issues like casino gambling and offshore wind for example. Those were finally passed after multiple attempts.”

Mathias said the bills were unique somewhat in that the task force had already been convened and offered a recommendation. In many cases, bills that can’t be resolved by the end of a session are sent to a task force for further study, but in this case, the cart was before the horse somewhat.

“A lot of time, you’ll see a bill like this result in the formation of a task force to study the issue further and report back, but in this case, we did that already,” he said. “We already have a task force report and an approval by a vote of something like 11-4. If the will is not there right now to move the bill, we don’t have the option to send it to task force.”

Mathias vowed to keep the vast support system in place going forward.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “Regardless, I want to make sure I keep the lines of communication open and nurture the relationships with all of the stakeholders. We have to keep everybody in place and engaged. We have very good stakeholders in this and we’re working diligently with all of the parties involved to keep everybody at the table.”