A group of six Maryland state senators and delegates will organize the state’s first Latino legislative caucus to advocate more aggressively for issues affecting one of the largest and fastest growing groups in the state.
Lawmakers from Prince George’s, Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties came together in recent weeks to discuss a new collaboration that will give Maryland’s Hispanics a symbolic and physical home within the state legislature.
“It’s great to have all of us together in one place and work in a cohesive manner to be able to figure out what are the issues that affect our community and what issues we are going to work on,” said Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s/Anne Arundel), who will chair the caucus. “This is monumental.”
The group filed official paperwork and expects formal recognition from the leaders of the House of Delegates and Maryland Senate later this week. The caucus will hold a news conference Thursday morning to announce its official establishment.
Peña-Melnyk said the formation of the caucus could not come at a better time, with the General Assembly reviewing a slimmed-down budget proposal from Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and working to prioritize funding for education and other essential services.
Across the state, county school systems are bracing for lower than expected funding that advocates say could put programs that Hispanic families depend on, such as the English-language learner classes, at risk.
In Prince George’s County, one in four public school students is Latino. In neighboring Montgomery, Latinos have accounted for the largest percentage of kindergartners for three straight years. While shrinking in some areas, significant gaps in academic achievement continue to separate Latino and black students from their white and Asian counterparts in the state.
The caucus will be examining bills closely to evaluate their impact on the state’s Latino population, and will push for policies that promote the community’s well-being, organizers said. The goal is to connect networks of Latino residents, professionals and businesses to provide improved access to state government resources, elected officials and information.
The caucus will include Dels. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery), Maricé Morales (D-Montgomery), Will Campos (D-Prince George’s), Ana Sol-Gutierrez (D-Montgomery) and Sen. Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George’s). It will join the Legislative Black Caucus, the Women Legislators of Maryland caucus and the Maryland Veterans Caucus as the fourth organized group of lawmakers in the state legislature. Peña-Melnyk’s chief of staff Michelle García will serve as the caucus’s executive director.
“The issues [for Latinos] are the same as many other people,” Peña-Melnyk said. “But what is important for us is that we bring that Latino perspective because we live it, our families live it and we can communicate it.”