A 2018 legislative obituary: Weed legalization, a ban on Styrofoam, gerrymandering and more

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Photo by Kevin Galens, via Flickr

Many lawmakers this morning are praising the now-concluded 2018 Maryland General Assembly session as a productive one. By the time the clock struck midnight last night, both houses had passed bills that, with the governor’s signature, would ban bump stocks and LGBT conversion therapy, shore up the market for Obamacare, revoke parental rights for rapists, ramp up school security and expand the state’s medical cannabis industry with 20 new licenses.

Specifically for Baltimore, politicians in Annapolis also passed legislation to protect more (but not all) residents from water lien tax sales, expand Safe Streets (as well as introduce regressive new mandatory minimum sentences) and form a commission to probe corruption by convicted Gun Trace Task Force officers.

But even with that sample flurry of legislative activity from the last 90 days, a number of high-profile bills floundered. We’re here this morning not to celebrate, but rather to pay our respects to the proposals that didn’t escape the State House.

From 10 grams to one ounce: Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) had a novel idea to raise the state’s threshold for marijuana decriminalization—meaning possession would warrant a fine, rather than potential jail time—from what he called the “arbitrary” quantity of 10 grams to the more standard amount of one ounce. But despite passing the Senate in March, SB 127 was read once in the House Judiciary Committee and never left.

Legalize, tax and regulate it: Speaking of weed, 33 Maryland lawmakers were willing to sign their names to twin bills that, if passed, would have let voters decide via ballot measure in November whether to legalize cannabis for recreational use. The proposals would have also allowed the state to tax and regulate marijuana sales, akin to the revenue-producing schemes in place in Colorado, Washington and elsewhere. But neither bill ever saw its respective house floor after being referred to committee.

Clean(er) energy: Maryland has already set an ambitious goal to source 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Still, environmentalists say the state should aim higher if it hopes to significantly reduce its reliance on fossil fuels. Proposed legislation would have set a new mark for the state to generate 50 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

Ultimately, the House Economic Matters Committee shot down the bill, with all 22 members reportedly moving to give it an unfavorable report. The proposal sponsor, Del. William Frick (D-Montgomery County) accepted its fate, telling the Frederick News-Post, “I think it’s important to keep pressing the envelope, but I understand that some think it’s a little early.”

Term limits? No thanks: At the start of the session, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a proposal to cap the number of terms General Assembly members could serve at two. Unsurprisingly–these are their seasonal jobs in question–the House Rules and Executive Nominations committee put that one to bed quickly with an unfavorable report. The same committee shot down another a bill, also from Hogan, that would have required the legislature to live stream and archive all House, Senate and committee meetings.

Franchot’s scuttled craft beer fight: Beginning last spring, Comptroller Peter Franchot championed the cause of craft beer. His mission: To loosen regulations on the state’s homegrown brewers after the state enacted a law giving Guinness some breathing room to brew at its new facility in Relay, but also setting new caps on taproom hours and production, among other restrictions, for craft brewers.

Ahead of the 2018 session, Franchot made a public push for his Reform on Tap Act, which sought to repeal those restrictions. Legislators clapped back, killing his bill with an unfavorable report in the House Economic Matters Committee, and then creating a task force to decide whether it’s appropriate for Franchot to be inserting himself into the craft beer fight. Even so, the comptroller says he will fight on.

Married at 15?: Here’s a surprising factoid: If you’re 15 and living in Maryland, you can get married. Legislators found fault with this during the spring, and separate proposals in both houses sought to raise the age—to 16 in the Senate, and 17 in the House. But as The Sun’s Michael Dresser reported late last night, both houses passed their respective bills, but were unable to compromise. And so, 15 it remains.

No budge on gerrymandering: Maryland has drawn national attention for its very visible problem with gerrymandering, a practice by which the party in power re-draws district lines to boost its odds of maintaining control. Just look at the shape of the 3rd Congressional District. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has sought to change this for years, but with little progress in the General Assembly. He tried again this past session by proposing a bill to, according to his office, form “a nonpartisan redistricting commission with a transparent process to ensure fairness in drawing both congressional and legislative districts.”

The measure never escaped committee in the House. Still, Hogan remains optimistic, given that the nation’s highest court is hearing a case out of Maryland on this very topic. “I think the Supreme Court is going to act,” he said, per The Daily Record.

Convenient packaging: Del. Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore) and Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery County) tried once again this spring to ban polystyrene packaging statewide, a progressive, environmentally minded change aimed at stemming the flow of toxic Styrofoam restaurant packaging into our waterways. The ban would have applied to restaurants and schools, starting in 2019. The twin bills received hearings, but that was as far as they got.

At least Baltimore has finally acted on this issue; the City Council passed a ban on polystyrene applying to city eateries last month.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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