“Mental health legislation is definitely a big focus this year, especially because of the COVID-19 situation and distance learning.” said Richard Montgomery Senior Helena Aytenfisu, this year’s Legislative Affairs Director for MCR. Arguably one of the most important departments in MCR, the Legislative Affairs Department is responsible for managing the legislative agenda of MCR through drafting policy proposals, gathering data, testifying, and more.
Over the summer, newly appointed deputies for the department were charged with a summer research project where they would gather data on issues that they are passionate about. Much of this work is in preparation for Advocacy Day, an event where typically students would travel down to Annapolis and testify on various initiatives. However, unfortunately due to COVID-19, Advocacy Day will be virtual this year at a currently unknown date.
The top legislative priorities for this year are mental health and, piggy-backing off progress made last year, pushing for full funding of the Kirwan Commission. The primary function of the commission, established in 2016 by the Maryland legislature, is to recommend policy initiatives for reform in Maryland Public Schools. According to Helena, “the Commission made recommendations such as free Pre-K for low income families, increasing teacher salaries, and changing the school funding formula… so that schools [can get] funding they need to support their students.”
Regarding mental health, Student Member for the Board of Education Nick Asante is pushing a resolution that allows students to take “mental health days.” This would enable students to be excused for not going to school due to mental health issues. According to Helena, the legislative department plans on supporting the bill through public testimony.
MCR has largely been able to adapt to the pandemic and, in many cases, host events that are far more accessible and convenient than they were prior to the pandemic. However, Helena highlighted that “the biggest challenge this year will be funding. The pandemic has put a big strain on the economy and funding will definitely be hard to get.” With the recent funding cut that came as a result of the pandemic, it is uncertain to what degree this will affect the department.
MCR Legislative events in the near future will start with a mentorship program scheduled for November 18. This program will pair students with local lawmakers to learn more about the legislative process. There is also a General Assembly scheduled for 12 to 3 pm on Saturday, Oct. 17, at which Helena will host the virtual lobbying workshop.
Written by Zachary A. Poe
Published by PR Department