Living in the Brewers Hill home where he grew up—“I still have how tall I was marked in my basement from 1976,” he says—Delegate Pete Hammen (D-46) hopes to have similar consistency in his political career, as he faces reelection this year with fellow incumbent Luke Clippinger.
If asked to choose a top four, Hammen would cite healthcare, community redevelopment, education and the environment as four areas in which he enjoys shaping policy at the state level. They are also four areas in which he can cite past accomplishments, works in progress and aspirations for the future, he says.
His fellow members of the 46th District Delegation, including Clippinger and State Senator Bill Ferguson, often point to Hammen’s work in the arena of healthcare.
Hammen, who is chair of the house’s Health and Government Operations Committee, says he is particularly proud of one initiative he pushed to expand Medicaid, utilizing existing resources, which resulted in 130,000 previously uninsured people gaining coverage.
He also cites a $35-a-month prescription drug subsidy for seniors in the “Medicare donut hole.” During a year of health coverage, seniors lose their prescription drug coverage when their prescription drug costs top roughly $2,000; the coverage kicks in again when costs reach about $5,000. That no-coverage gap in between is known as the “donut hole.”
Hammen says that he reached out to BlueCross BlueShield CareFirst’s CEO Chet Burrell to help fund the subsidy. Burrell had just taken the job.
“He was on the job for about an hour and a half, and I was asking him for $4 million for seniors,” remembers Hammen.
Hammen also cites expanding coverage for behavioral health services by 44,000 people as among his accomplishments.
“All of this by moving money around,” Hammen adds.
Also on healthcare, Hammen opposed a budget-season push to move away from co-payments and toward co-insurance for state retirees.
“They didn’t get good pay,” Hammen says. “The one thing they got was good benefits.”
His opposition succeeded, though co-payments have increased to some degree.
“Their lobbyist came to me and said, ‘We didn’t ask you to do this,’” Hammen recalls. “He said, ‘We would’ve been fighting this.’”
Lastly, Hammen has sponsored a bill concerning the expensive specialty drugs used to treat severe, chronic conditions.
“If you have a chronic condition where the drug costs more than $600, then the co-payment can’t be more than $150 for a 30-day supply,” he says, noting that the bill has passed the state house and is awaiting the governor’s signature.
On education, Hammen refers to the $1.1 billion in school funding—for building 15 new schools and renovating 30-35, as a landmark legislative acheivement.
“We need to make sure our schools are conducive to learning,” he says. “This is a signature piece of legislation that will pay dividends for the children of Baltimore for years to come.”
On neighborhood revitalization, Hammen says, “We need to attack failing neighborhoods for a variety of reasons; I’ve worked very hard over my career to do just that.”
Over a decade ago, Hammen, Ed Ratkowski, now executive director of Patterson Park Public Charter School, and Joe McNeely, now executive director of Central Baltimore Partnership, worked to create a revolving loan fund of $600,000 “to work with quality developers to renovate at a faster pace,” Hammen says.
At a 10-year anniversary celebration for the group that pushed the redevelopment of the Patterson Park Neighborhood, Hammen says there were “before” and “after” photographs that showed the difference the group had made.
“The houses were all boarded up in the ‘before’ shots,” he says.
More recently, the speaker of the house was interested in the neighborhood effort and if it could be replicated on a larger scale across the city.
“I said, ‘Mr. Speaker, it will take money and a plan,’” Hammen says. “He said, ‘I’ll worry about the funding; you give me a plan.’”
The result was a $3.75 million fund for revitalization within the Beltway. Some of that money was disbursed to the Southeast Community Development Corp., Central Baltimore Partnership, Healthy Neighborhoods Reservoir Hill and others. This year’s budget has allocated $2.75 million to the fund, which is administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development.
What about current projects?
Hammen says he is working on a solution to alcohol and drug dependency.
“It certainly backs up our criminal justice system, and it also backs up our emergency room system,” he says.
Police leadership time and again have referred to the difficulties of arresting people under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Central Booking won’t accept them, so the arresting officer has to wait with an intoxicated person at the ER until he or she sobers up. It might be hours before that officer can return to the streets.
Hammen says that he, along with Dr. Stephen Schenkel of the University of Maryland, is looking into sobering centers, which residents tend to call “drunk tanks.”
A sobering center would be a staffed place for intoxicated individuals to receive treatment without over-consuming police and emergency medical resources, Hammen argues, adding that the treated individuals would receive follow-up contact.
He says that he and others, including representatives from the Police Department and Fire Department, have assessed several models in use across the U.S.
“There is a white paper being developed,” Hammen says, adding that that plan will likely be introduced in late May. He says he would like a location and funding for a sobering center in place “within the next year or two.”
Hammen says that in between his work on larger projects, he’s answering constituents’ concerns.
“I’ll have about 10 messages on my answering machine when I get home tonight,” he says.
Being in touch with the right city people is the key to resolving many concerns, he adds.
“What we do is find the right people in any given agency and work closely with them,” Hammen says.
The delegate faces primary election on June 24.
by Erik Zygmont