Election-year session ends with an eye on November

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ANNAPOLIS, Maryland — Overhauling state tax code in response to sweeping federal tax cuts, bolstering school safety after a shooting at a Southern Maryland high school and stabilizing health insurance markets in the wake of Congressional action were just a few of the myriad policy decisions the Maryland General Assembly addressed in 2018 during the 90-day legislative session.

Legislators also overturned vetoes and passed a bill left from last year that takes aim at the lack of diversity in the state’s nascent medical marijuana industry.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday signed 114 pieces of legislation, including on school safety and health insurance. The governor also signed legislation related to organ donation; House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) underwent a liver transplant last year.

“This has been our most successful legislative session,” Hogan said. “I believe it was a big win for the people of Maryland.”

Hogan on Monday said his biggest disappointment was legislation removing power from the Board of Public Works on school-construction funding, calling it a “purely political move.”

In an election year, changing faces next year are expected, but federal criminal proceedings and the death of a lawmaker meant notable absences in the Senate before Monday’s midnight close of the session, known as “Sine Die.”

Here is a roundup of the changes and happenings in Annapolis during the 2018 General Assembly session:

BUDGET: Schools, environment, opioids
Hogan touted a record $6.5 billion in funding for K-12 education and included $13.7 million to fight the opioid crisis. The state continued to fund efforts to clean up the Chesapeake by allocating more than $52 million to the The Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays 2010 Trust Fund. The governor’s budget also allocated $11.5 billion for Maryland’s Medicaid program.

TRANSPORTATION: Highways, Amazon and Metro
The state Department of Transportation has several large projects under way, including the new Purple Line light rail and a planned $9 billion public-private highway plan Hogan called the largest transportation project in the “known universe.” The planned widening of I-270, I-295 and I-495 has been closely tied to the state’s multi-billion dollar bid for Amazon’s second headquarters—including up to $5.6 billion in tax incentives, which lawmakers approved (HB 989/SB 877) and about $2 billion in transportation projects. The state also set aside $167 million (HB 372/SB 277) annually to improve the Metro system, as part of a joint commitment with Virginia and Washington, D.C.

TAXES: Federal and state changes
Tax-relief legislation increases the maximum standard deduction to $2,500 for single taxpayers and $5,000 for those filing jointly (SB 318), in tax years 2018 through 2020, according to a state analysis. In January, Comptroller Peter Franchot explained a national tax overhaul, which touts savings for Maryland taxpayers of $2.8 billion on the federal side, would also increase state and local taxes for many Marylanders, according to a state report. Hogan proposed legislation (SB 733/HB 875) that would encourage standard deductions for federal taxes while allowing taxpayers to itemize state and local taxes. That bill failed.

ENVIRONMENT: Forest conservation, oysters, climate alliance
A bill (SB 610) that would have strengthened replanting requirements for developers under the state’s Forest Conservation Act was stripped of its teeth. The amended measure creates a task force to study forests in Maryland. And lawmakers passed a bill (HB 572) that will increase tax credits for restaurants to recycle oyster shells. The Democrat-controlled legislature also passed a bill (HB 3) that will require Hogan to include Maryland in the U.S. Climate Alliance–a coalition of governors committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Republican President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement in June.

OPIOIDS: Funding, overdoses
The Maryland General Assembly targeted “pill mill” doctors–physicians who unscrupulously supply opioid prescriptions–by passing a bill (HB 359) requiring the state’s health department to establish a tip line to report suspicious prescribing practices and to examine the prescription and treatment history of those who died from opioid overdoses.

ME TOO: Parent rapists; domestic violence; sexual harassment
Hogan in February signed a bill (HB 1) allowing rape victims to terminate parental rights of their attackers. In keeping with the growing #MeToo movement this session, another bill changed the definition of abuse to include revenge porn and “generally relating to domestic violence” (SB 121). A bill (HB 1342) also passed that makes several changes related to anti-harassment procedures, policies and training within the state’s legislative branch. And Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D-Montgomery County) became the first legislator to share her #MeToo moment this session when she said a lobbyist–who has denied the accusation–groped her in an Annapolis pub.

VETO OVERRIDES: Sick leave; ‘ban the box’; school construction and personnel
The legislature overrode four bills this session. Mandated paid sick leave and “ban the box”–removing questions about criminal history on college applications–were vetoed by Hogan in the 11th hour of the 2017 session, and overridden by the Legislature in January. Late in this session, Del. Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore) added an amendment to a school funding bill (HB 1783) that stripped the Board of Public Works of power to approve school-construction funding–essentially a rebuke of Democrat Comptroller Peter Franchot’s involvement in local school issues. The same day, both chambers overrode legislation (SB 639) that alters procedures for suspending or dismissing public school personnel, among other changes.

EDUCATION: Gaming revenues
The General Assembly passed legislation (SB 1122) that could amend the Maryland Constitution to require the governor to use commercial gaming revenues to fund public education, beginning in fiscal year 2020. If approved in November, the funding would total $125 million the first year, increasing to more than $500 million by 2023, according to a state analysis.

HEALTH: Insurance, tobacco
Bills to stabilize the insurance market (SB 1267/ HB 1795) passed, with the governor’s support, to counterbalance recent healthcare decisions at the federal level. The two measures focused on applying for a federal-funds waiver and creating a reinsurance pool based on approval of the waiver. A bill also passed that prohibits and penalizes distribution of electronic nicotine delivery systems to minors (HB 1094). Legislation that allows the holder of an electronic nicotine delivery systems retailer license to make sales through the mail (HB 47/SB 90) passed.

MEDICAL CANNABIS: More licenses, diversity
After its dramatic failure in the final minutes of Sine Die in 2017, a bill diversifying Maryland’s medical cannabis market passed this year. Despite assurances from the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus that it would be on the governor’s desk in January, it slowly crept to the finish line. The bill offers more funding for the Natalie M. LaPrade Medical Cannabis Commission while attempting to draw more women and minorities into the industry. The law funds free or discounted medical cannabis to some patients. On Monday, Hogan said he had yet to read the amended bill and wouldn’t sign it until he does.

PUBLIC SAFETY: Schools, crime, ‘red flag’; police corruption
The Maryland Safe to Learn Act of 2018 (SB 1265) will require all Maryland public schools to have an armed school resource officer by 2019, and establishes a School Safety Subcabinet. State costs for SB 1265 are projected to be $15 million in 2019, according to a fiscal note, while local costs for the officers will total around $98 million. Another measure, part of (HB 1783), calls for new security equipment and safe zones for refuge.

The General Assembly compromised on a mix of punishment and rehabilitation measures to address crime in Baltimore City. Tougher laws and sentencing for repeat gun offenders were met with funding for preventative programs. One measure makes it easier for certain felons to erase offenses from their record. Another makes it easier to crack down on gun crimes though wiretapping. Funding comes from two public safety acts–one of which is named after Del. Talmadge Branch’s grandson, who was killed by a repeat gun offender in September 2017. (Bill numbers: SB 1137, SB 101, HB 113 and HB432.)

And a new “red flag” law would allow individuals who are concerned that a gun owner is dangerous to petition a court or law officer to remove the firearms for a period of time. (HB1302)

Maryland passed a law (SB 270) to allow a court, during prosecution for certain sexual offenses, to admit evidence of “sexually assaultive behavior” by the defendant that occurred before or after the offense on trial.

On the back of police corruption, the legislature passed a bill (SB 1099) to establish a commission that will investigate the practices of the Baltimore Police Department’s former Gun Trace Task Force.

Other matters of note that passed in the 2018 General Assembly session include:
— Hemp: Legalization of an industrial hemp pilot program passed this session. It’s main uses are for fiber, fuel, food and medicine. (HB 698/SB 1201)

— Divorce: A court will be able to allow divorce on the grounds of mutual consent if the parties have minor children. Sponsor Bobby Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) said the measure helps to eliminate a drawn-out process of divorce that can take years to conclude.

— Pink hunting gear: A bill (SB 341/HB 1118) adds bright pink as an approved color for hunting gear in Maryland.

— Richard Collins scholarship: After Bowie State University student Richard Collins III was fatally stabbed in May on the University of Maryland, College Park campus, the state’s General Assembly created a scholarship in his honor for minority students in ROTC programs at historically black colleges or universities (SB 1202). Prior to his death, Collins had been commissioned into the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.

— Gay conversion: Del. Meagan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County) who will not run for re-election, opened up about her sexuality when discussing a bill that bans conversion therapy for minors (SB 1028). She discussed how her parents–including Sen. Bryan Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County) who argued passionately against the bill–wanted to put her through the therapy when she opened up to them. The legislation passed in both chambers.

Some measures did not advance this session, among them:
— State hiring: Del. Clarence Lam (D-Howard and Baltimore counties) introduced legislation (HB 1778) that would add a layer of oversight to state hiring practices. The late bill failed to pass the Senate.

— Cyber bullying: After passing unanimously in the Senate, “Grace’s Law 2.0,” an update to a cyberbullying law designed to reflect modern media, was shelved in a House committee. The ACLU opposed the “overbroad” bill.

— Addiction: A bill (HB 326) with wide-ranging support, which would create supervised drug consumption sites, and another (HB 499) that would authorize parents to involuntarily admit their adult children for addiction treatment, failed to make it through the General Assembly this session.

— HBCUs: Legislation to equalize funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities did not progress, but a lawsuit against the state and a settlement offer of $100 million over 10 years from Hogan remain.

— Physical Education: A bill that would require 150 minutes of physical education per week for elementary school students failed for the eighth year.

— Adultery: A bill aiming to repeal the crime of adultery, a misdemeanor with a fine of $10, failed to advance.

LEGISLATURE CHANGES: Senate loses two: Norman; Oaks; lawmakers out
Sen. H. Wayne Norman Jr. (R-Cecil and Harford counties), 62, unexpectedly died in his sleep on March 4. His wife, Linda Norman, was sworn into his seat on March 16, for the remainder of the session.

Sen. Nathaniel Oaks (D-Baltimore) resigned on March 29. He wrote that his reasoning was “to eliminate all clouds that have hovered over the 2018 Legislative Session, due to any potential concerns or questionable activities on (his) behalf.” Oaks plead guilty to federal corruption charges on the same day and is awaiting sentencing, scheduled for July 17.

A number of lawmakers have retired or declared their candidacy in another public office, so both chambers of the legislature will have vacant seats up for grabs in the 2018 election.

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