Maryland’s intensive legislative session enters frenetic home stretch – Baltimore Sun


As Maryland lawmakers enter the final days of the annual General Assembly legislative session this coming week, there’s still a lot of work to be done — closing deals, lining up votes and killing bad ideas.

Of the hundreds upon hundreds of bills lawmakers tabled before session began in January, the ink from Gov. Larry Hogan’s pen signing them has dried on only a handful of them.

The governor and lawmakers quickly agreed, for example, to a temporary 30-day suspension of gasoline and diesel taxes. And on Friday, Hogan joined House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson in putting their signatures on a series of tax cuts for Maryland seniors and sales of child care products. children and medical products.

Another pile of bills landed on Hogan’s desk later Friday afternoon, these ones much less likely to win the governor’s approval. Democratic lawmakers rushed last week to pass many of their most controversial proposals and table them on the Republican governor’s desk before Saturday’s deadline to secure themselves a chance to override any potential vetoes before the end of the session on April 11.

An amendment asking voters to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over 21 in Maryland will go to the November ballot after the General Assembly approves it on Friday, completely bypassing Hogan since governors won’t have no veto power over constitutional amendments.

So, as lawmakers head into the frantic final week, here’s a quick look at some of the issues that still need to be addressed:

Hogan will spend the next week deciding which of those stacks to veto, sign into law, or just let become law without his signature. Among the items:

  • While the ballot amendment to legalize marijuana will bypass Hogan’s office, he will have to weigh in on accompanying legislation that – if the amendment passes in the November election – will legalize possession of up to 1, 5 ounces of marijuana, will remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces, and create a system to erase past criminal records for those convicted of possession of marijuana. The legislation, however, leaves details of how to create and regulate a legal marijuana market in Maryland until future lawmakers in 2023. Hogan has largely dodged questions about whether he supports legalizing marijuana. for recreational purposes.
  • Legislation to expand access to abortions in Maryland by allowing health care professionals beyond just doctors to perform them; require that most health insurance plans cover abortions at no cost to patients; and spending $3.5 million a year to train medical professionals to perform abortions. Hogan is opposed to abortion, but has widely called it “established law” in Maryland and hasn’t pushed for efforts to restrict it.
  • A sweeping climate change program that aims to make Maryland carbon neutral by 2045. Hogan hinted at a potential veto, suggesting some of the bill’s measures would be too costly and prove a drag on climate change. state economy.
  • Several pieces of legislation seek to change the way Maryland’s criminal justice system treats children and youth accused of crimes by changing sentencing rules, limiting how often children are detained, and ensuring that parents and a lawyer are informed before minors are questioned by the police.
  • A bill to create a statewide paid health insurance and family leave program that would cover nearly all workers in the state. The program would give workers up to 12 weeks – or, in some limited cases, up to 24 weeks – to foster a newborn, care for sick relatives or treat health issues themselves once the Benefits will begin to be paid in 2025. Benefits would be financed by compulsory contributions from workers and most employers, although the payroll tax rate will be determined later. Hogan endorsed extending similar benefits to government employees — but, like many other Republicans, he criticized the statewide proposal as too costly for workers and businesses. And many business groups oppose the legislation.

In each case, Democrats appear to have enough votes to override a potential Hogan veto. But legislative politics can be full of surprises, and the calculation of the veto assumes few lawmakers have been slow to think about their support.

‘I feel very confident about everything,’ Senate Speaker Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore, said when asked Friday afternoon if he could round up the bye-votes on all the bills sent. in Hogan. “You never know – it’s the last 10 days of a General Assembly session before an election – but I’m very confident.”

Among Hogan’s few legislative priorities this spring is a proposal to release more data on how individual Maryland judges sentence defendants. Hogan and his Republican allies in the General Assembly touted it as a way for voters to hold elected judges accountable — especially those who might let criminals off the hook too easily.

But several key Democrats, including Senate Judiciary Chairman William C. Smith Jr. of Montgomery County, have expressed concern that compiling sentencing data could inject too much political pressure into courtrooms. hearing, erasing the nuances of the cases and undermining justice for the defendants by potentially inciting an election. judges in mind to simply throw the book at everyone else to avoid being portrayed as being somehow “soft on crime”.

The two sides reached a compromise: publish aggregated data for entire jurisdictions that would reveal average sentences for various categories of violent crimes, for example in Baltimore County courts, but without distinguishing any single judge.

The Senate passed the bill, a fact the governor touted, but as of Friday had not seen a vote in the House of Delegates.

Last year, the General Assembly passed legislation – long sought by public health and harm reduction groups working with drug addicts – to completely decriminalize ancillary drug supplies such as needles or stoves, which possession is currently punishable by up to four years. in prison. Actual drug possession usually results in a more lenient sentence of up to one year.

Hogan, however, vetoed the measure, citing fears that making drug-taking tools more accessible would encourage drug use. The veto was a bitter disappointment for health care and overdose prevention workers, who argued that the harsh penalties for paraphernalia make drug users more reluctant to participate in health programs like needle exchanges, more vulnerable to overdose deaths from secretly using drugs alone and more likely to throw away used needles in parks or on sidewalks.

Even more disappointing for supporters: The Senate chose not to override Hogan’s veto in the December special session, leaving supporters to try again.

The renewed legislation passed the House by a wide margin in early March, but has so far made no progress in the Senate. Ferguson, the Senate president, said Friday that it’s unclear if enough senators will support the measure to resist another likely veto by Hogan.

Since 2016, residents of Maryland with previous criminal convictions and having served their sentence can regain their right to vote. But they remain out of jury duty, a civic service that many might consider a chore, but which is also one of the hallmarks of full citizenship.

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Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local authorities.

Proponents of jury eligibility for those who have already been convicted argue that blanket exclusion skews the pool of potential jurors and erodes a defendant’s constitutional right to a jury of his or her peers — especially given the rates high rates of arrests and prosecutions in some communities and the disproportionate number of black men automatically excluded by the rule.

Bills sponsored by Senator Jill P. Carter of Baltimore and Del. Wanika B. Fisher of Prince George’s County, both Democrats, would lift the restriction and make anyone who has served their sentence and is registered to vote eligible for a jury summons.

The Senate passed the legislation after adding a Republican-backed amendment to exclude those convicted of witness intimidation and jury tampering. But the proposal has not yet been put to a vote in the House.

State delegates, seemingly weary of changing their clocks or early winter sunsets, voted to get rid of biannual time differences and make daylight saving time permanent.

The US Senate surprised many by voting unanimously to do the same a few weeks later [though that legislation has since stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives].

Maryland’s proposal would only take effect if surrounding mid-Atlantic states follow suit. But it’s still unclear whether it will go that far: State senators have not passed the measure since the House passed it in February.

The clocks are ticking.

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