Prince George’s House delegation reviews bills for upcoming session

Prince George’s volunteer firehouses want to hold poker games. Water authority commissioners want a raise. And the push is on for a 5-cent bag tax, more wine and beer sales in grocery stores, and turf fields for public high schools.

Those were among the two dozen bills that the county’s 23-member House delegation reviewed Saturday at a Largo hearing in advance of the Jan. 9 opening of the General Assembly.

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The county’s lawmakers have much to tackle in the 90-day session, including trying to secure a funding plan for a proposed $600 million regional hospital to replace Prince George’s Hospital Center and finding ways to alleviate traffic near National Harbor before the new outlet mall and casino come to the area.

High on the agenda of local officials is improving the county school system. Del. Geraldine Valentino-Smith (D-Bowie) proposed a bill to evaluate how Board of Education members are selected.

The proposal comes after months of upheaval in the system. William R. Hite Jr., the school superintendent who had long privately complained that the board failed to focus on major issues, left this summer to head the Philadelphia public schools. Board member Rosalind A. Johnson stepped down in October after it turned out she had been serving while living outside her district since June. And a heated electoral fight in November pitted veteran board members against three college students who said new voices are needed to fix the 120,000-student system.

The $1.6 billion school system remains near the bottom in many rankings.

Joyce L. Thompson, a former school principal, said that Valentino-Smith’s bill could improve transparency and “increase trust” in the school system. But Larry Stafford, head of the Prince George’s Young Democrats, who said he was speaking for himself, opposed the bill.

“We are wasting time and resources researching the composition of the board instead of researching better outcomes for students,” he said.

Other efforts to boost the schools already are underway. County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D), who spearheaded the establishment of an appointed board during the 1990s while in the General Assembly, recently set up his own education commission and plans to play an active role in the selection of a new superintendent.

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