Beyer Calls Out Waldstreicher for ‘Failure of Leadership’ of House Special Committee

Beyer Calls Out Waldstreicher for ‘Failure of Leadership’ of House Special Committee

Delegate chairs the House Special Committee on Drug & Alcohol Abuse, but has only held one meeting since 2011

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Del. Jeff Waldstreicher and Dana Beyer

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Dana Beyer, one of three candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the District 18 state Senate seat, is criticizing her opponent, Del. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Kensington), for failing to hold meetings of the House Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse that he chairs.

Waldstreicher has chaired the special committee since 2011. The committee was created in 1987 and its purpose is to study and make recommendations for legislation concerned with drug and alcohol abuse between state legislative sessions. The committee “submits a summary report to the House Speaker each December,” according to the General Assembly website.

Like other special committees, the members largely serve at the pleasure of the chair, who has the discretion to schedule committee meetings. In the past eight years, Waldstreicher has held one meeting—in 2013—and has not issued any summary reports about the committee’s activities, according to Jennifer Botts, a staffer with the Maryland Department of Legislative Services assigned to the committee.

Beyer, a former eye surgeon who serves as the executive director of Gender Rights Maryland, said in a statement to Bethesda Beat that Waldstreicher has put his chairmanship of the special committee on his campaign website, despite appearing to do little work for it.

“[He] promotes it regularly as proof of his effectiveness,” Beyer said in the statement. “But over the last eight years, he had only one meeting and made no substantive policy recommendations. The record in Annapolis is clear and this failure is simply too important to ignore.”

Considering the crisis of opioid addiction in the state, “this apparent failure of leadership by Del. Waldstreicher is deeply concerning,” Beyer said.

“Special committees are not standing committees and therefore don’t meet regularly,” April Clemons, spokeswoman for the Waldstreicher campaign, said in a Thursday statement to Bethesda Beat. “As chair, Jeff helped lead the fight for record investment in opioid abuse treatment and as cosponsor of Noah’s law, which mandated ignition interlocks for all drunk drivers in Maryland. Jeff is running a positive, optimistic campaign and fighting for the progressive values we share.”

Waldstreicher declined to make any additional comment when contacted repeatedly by Bethesda Beat over the previous two days.

Beyer and Waldstreicher are engaged in a testy battle for the state Senate seat currently held by Rich Madaleno, who is running for governor. If elected, Beyer would be the first transgender person in the country to win a state Senate seat. Waldstreicher has served as a delegate in District 18 since 2007. The district includes Chevy Chase, Kensington, Garrett Park and western Silver Spring.

Beyer has previously said that Waldstreicher asked her to run for delegate and said he would run on a slate with her to try to help her win that seat. Waldstreicher denied the allegation. Beyer, who unsuccessfully ran for the Senate seat against Madaleno in 2014, said it was “demeaning” for Waldstreicher to try to get her to run for a different seat. A third candidate, political newcomer Michelle Carhart, who owns a gymnastics center in North Bethesda, is also running for the state Senate seat.

In a Dec. 13, 2013, letter to state Senate and House leadership, Waldstreicher wrote the single special committee meeting held while he has been chair included a presentation from state mental health officials, a discussion about strategies to address substance abuse and information about how the Affordable Care Act could enable more drug addicts to receive treatment. The committee also heard from officials with the National Council on Alcoholism who spoke about the need for substance abuse services for a high percentage of people incarcerated in jails and prisons, according to the letter.

Del. Kathleen Dumais (D-Rockville), who has been a member of the committee since 2003, said last week it’s not unusual for special committees to meet infrequently and they often convene only in response to significant issues.

Dumais said she remembered the committee meeting previously to discuss drunken driving as well as alcohol and substance issues during her first term, which began in 2003.

She said the committee chair or General Assembly leadership will often direct special committees on what they should work on during the interim.

“If there had been a big alcohol abuse issue, I imagine they’d have Waldstreicher have briefings or meetings to address it,” Dumais said. “These committees are issue driven.”

She also noted that the opioid crisis is being handled by a different special committee—the Joint Committee on Behavioral Health & Opioid Use Disorders.

Botts did note that the state Senate Special Committee on Substance Abuse, which does not have a chair listed on the legislature’s website, also has met just once since 2011—in 2013, when it was chaired by then-state Sen. Catherine Pugh, who is now the mayor of Baltimore.

Alexandra Hughes, chief of staff for House Speaker Michael Busch, said Wednesday that it’s not uncommon for some committees to go “dormant for a period of time,” depending on the subject matter they handle.

Hughes said she didn’t think it was “100 percent fair” for Waldstreicher to be criticized for holding one meeting during his tenure as chair of the special committee. She did confirm that it’s up to the chair of special committees to schedule meetings during the General Assembly interim.

Former Del. Bill Bronrott, who represented Bethesda-based District 16 from 1999 to 2010, served as chair of the House Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Abuse from 2007 to 2010. Bronrott said last week he held regular meetings of the committee as chair and sent a yearly report to the House speaker.

He said that during his tenure the committee analyzed research on drugged driving and worked on expanding drug courts as way to get addicts treatment, job training and housing. Committee members would review studies produced by such institutions as Johns Hopkins University and University of Maryland, according to Bronrott.

He said the committee’s work while he was chair helped inform debates about legislation in various committees such as the Judiciary, Economic Matters and Environment and Transportation committees.

 “I felt strongly that the mission and the scope of the work was and remains critically important to any of us who care about safe and healthy communities,” Bronrott said. “These issues get to the crux of a lot of things that go wrong in our state that unfortunately only get the public’s attention on the evening news or back-page obituaries and people shake their heads and ask, 'How could have this happened?”

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