Success, failure, mourning at close of MD General Assembly

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The inside of the General Assembly chambers in Annapolis. Photo by Roxanne Ready, via Flickr, used with a Creative Commons license.

By Natalie Jones, David Jahng, Charlie Youngmann, Daniel Oyefusi, Jared Beinart
Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS — It was a bittersweet and busy day for Maryland legislators as they pushed to get their bills through both House and Senate chambers on Sine Die, the final day of the General Assembly on Monday.

Over 2,400 bills from both chambers and resolutions were proposed in this year’s General Assembly, and at the close of the session Monday night, 864 bills and two resolutions had passed.

Lawmakers gutted through the last day—known as Sine Die— fter the death of longtime House Speaker Mike Busch (D-Anne Arundel County) on Sunday.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has veto power over most legislation and has exercised that power a few times this session; he has not indicated whether he plans to send any other bills back to the chambers, where Democrats hold a majority needed to override the governor.

Increased funding for education through the Kirwan Commission, increased minimum wage, a push for clean energy, medical cannabis, criminal justice reform and ethical changes were among some of the top bills passed this session.

However, bills on aid-in-dying, background checks for long guns, environmental protection and horse race track funding all failed.

Following legislative work, Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller Jr. (D-Prince George’s, Charles and Calvert counties) Speaker Pro Tem Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore) and Hogan wound down the final 30 minutes with a special joint session in the House of Delegates to honor Busch, who died unexpectedly after a bout with pneumonia.

Houlse Bill 298, sponsored by Busch, and Senate Bill 448, would prohibit oystering in five established oyster sanctuaries. The measure passed through both chambers, which overrode a veto by Hogan.

Despite the shadow cast over the chambers as members mourned Busch, who had survived a liver transplant and heart surgery in recent years, both parties tallied mixed legislative successes.

Top legislative priorities that Democrats focused on this session included healthcare, increasing the minimum wage, public safety, stronger gun laws and the environment.

State Republicans focused on prioritizing the creation of safer communities, free and fair elections, lowering taxes and school safety.

Hogan set his eyes on gaining bipartisan support for many of his measures, including tax relief, education, lowering health insurance rates, funding for the environment, and criminal justice and redistricting reform this legislative session.

Healthcare

Senate Bill 311—the End-of-Life Option Act—would have allowed allow people with a terminal illness six months from the estimated time of their death to end their lives with a lethal dose of prescribed medicine, but failed to get through the state Senate.

Numerous bills regarding medical cannabis or marijuana use were introduced this year, with notable bills on certified providers, processors and dispensaries; edible medical cannabis products; the use of cannabis for opioid use disorder and in prisons and advertising; and the prohibition of discrimination against employees for the use of marijuana.

House Bill 17, an emergency bill encompassing multiple aspects of medical cannabis dispensing and processing, including purchase for academic research, allowing edible medical cannabis products, expanding legal protections and limiting medical cannabis advertising, passed through both chambers and will be enacted immediately.

Senate Bill 426, which would require the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission to allow a person to have ownership interest in up to four licensed dispensaries, passed through both chambers and takes effect July 1.

Senate Bill 893, a bill on the use of medical cannabis for opioid disorder, passed through the Senate but stalled in the House and did not advance. Senate Bill 855, a bill on use of medical cannabis in prisons, was withdrawn.

House Bill 1169 and Senate Bill 895 would raise the smoking age to 21 in Maryland. The House version of the bill passed and will go into effect Oct. 1.

A pair of bills passed through the Maryland House and Senate that would allow minors to consent for preventative HIV treatment. House Bill 1183 and Senate Bill 251 go into effect Oct. 1.

Another pair of bills—House Bill 1284 and Senate Bill 705—that would protect organ donors from changes to their life insurance policies and provide them with leave from work after a donation passed and will go into effect Oct. 1.

House Bill 1242, which would provide free eye exams and glasses to public school students who fail required vision screenings passed in the House, but did not make it out of the Senate.

House Bill 768, which would establish a Prescription Drug Affordability Board to regulate costs paid by state and local governments for state employees’ high-cost prescription drugs, passed and takes effect July 1.

Senate Bill 904 and House Bill 1272, which would prohibit Maryland from accepting federal funds for the Title X Family Funding Program if the funds were not allowed be used for services such as abortion referrals—a measure proposed by President Donald Trump—passed and take effect June 1. State funds would replace federal funding under this legislation.

Economic and Money Matters

Hogan vetoed House Bill 166—also known as the Fight for Fifteen—a bill that raises the minimum wage in Maryland to $15 by 2025. Lawmakers overrode the veto and the law begins to go into effect on June 1.

House Bill 1052, a bill that transfers regulatory power of alcohol and tobacco from the comptroller’s office to a new agency, was vetoed by Hogan but overridden. It will become law on June 1, 2020.

House Bill 838 and Senate Bill 752 passed and would allow people to use their Food Supplement Program benefits to purchase meals at participating restaurants. This law goes into effect July 1.

House Bill 48 would define “an eSports competition as one involving video games” and allow an organizer of an eSports competition to offer prizes to winners. The bill passed and goes into effect on Oct. 1.

House Bill 428 and Senate Bill 269 would allow the Department of the Environment’s flood management grant program to award grants to areas that suffered at least $1 million in flood damages — including Ellicott City — and that are in need of infrastructure repair. The bills passed and will go into effect on June 1.

Ethics

Senate Bill 719 and House Bill 533 bring changes to the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. Following criticism of the board’s decision-making after the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair, the bills would add four members to the board, two of whom would be appointed by the House speaker and Senate president; provide livestreams of meetings and archived video; and make all votes public from open and closed sessions. The board would also be required to review annual financial disclosure statements from chancellors and university presidents. Both bills passed unanimously and take effect July 1.

Senate Bill 619 and House Bill 1428 both include measures to alter rules around the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors, including preventing elected officials from serving on the panel, mandating members disclose potential conflicts of interest and forcing members to reapply for appointment. The legislation passed unanimously, and goes into effect immediately.

The bill’s introduction by Sen. Jill Carter (D-Baltimore) prompted a Baltimore Sun investigation that revealed nine of the board’s 30 members had business interests with the system while serving on its board.

Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) has been selling her self-published books to and through entities that have business interests with the city or state, the paper found.

The House of Delegates voted unanimously to reprimand Del. Jay Jalisi (D-Baltimore County) after he was accused of bullying his staff members. The reprimand came as a recommendation from a joint ethics committee that reviewed complaints against Jalisi from the past four years.

The House of Delegates also voted unanimously to censure Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Harford County) following allegations she used a racial slur to describe a part of Prince George’s County.

A reprimand is not as serious a punishment as a censure, and both are less severe than expulsion. Censures and reprimands affect what legislators can accomplish in the General Assembly, often by revoking powers such as committee positions.

Public Safety, Crime and Justice

House Bill 757 and Senate Bill 561 would increase the penalty for violent crimes committed against a pregnant person to up to 10 years in prison. The Senate version of the bill passed and will take effect Oct. 1.

House Bill 13 and Senate Bill 238, sought to repeal a provision in current law that prevents a charge from being eligible for expungement if one conviction in a group of convictions is not eligible for expungement, along with allowing a person to file for petition of partial expungement. The bills failed.

Senate Bill 933 and House Bill 1248 would provide more protections for victims of sexual assault, prohibiting medical personnel from using the name, narrative or photographs of a victim in order to receive reimbursement for testing or examination. The House version passed unanimously through both chambers and takes effect on July 1.

Senate Bill 569 and House Bill 1268, which would assist local law enforcement agencies with the testing of rape kits, passed and go into effect on Oct. 1.

Senate Bill 657 and House Bill 1249, which would establish a pilot program for HIV prevention for victims of alleged rape or sexual assault. The Senate version passed and takes effect on Oct. 1.

Senate Bill 767 and House Bill 1096 would mandate law enforcement submit a sexual assault evidence kit to a forensic laboratory for testing within 30 days of a request by a victim. The bills take effect in June and January.

Senate Bill 339 and House Bill 337 would establish the framework for the modern, Next Generation 9-1-1 communication system, including cybersecurity standards, staffing, oversight and funding. The legislation passed both chambers and will go into effect on July 1.

Senate Bill 5 and House Bill 215 would prevent gruesome imagery, individuals’ medical histories and identification of domestic violence or rape victims from public view in preparation of the modernized 9-1-1 system. The bill passed and will go into effect on Oct. 1.

Two emergency bills, Senate Bill 139 and House Bill 420, would eliminate subjectivity surrounding the circumstance to which someone can be convicted of a threat of mass violence. The legislation has passed both chambers and go into effect immediately.

Education

Senate Bill 128 is an emergency bill designed to rescind Hogan’s executive order mandating that state public schools start after Labor Day and return the decision to local boards of education. The bill passed in both the House and Senate but was vetoed by the governor. Both chambers voted to override his veto, and the bill will go into effect immediately.

Senate Bill 1030, The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a bill based off of recommendations from the Kirwan Commission on education, puts more than $1 billion into early childhood education, teacher retainment, and helping poverty-stricken students over the next three years, and goes into effect on June 1.

Senate Bill 731 and House Bill 727 would issue funding for construction and improvements to public school buildings. The House bill passed one chamber but failed to advance, and the Senate bill never made it out of its chamber.

House Bill 779 would force the governor to appropriate more than $16 million in the state budget for each of Maryland’s four historically black institutions starting in 2021. This legislation was introduced amid settlement talks between Hogan and advocates for the schools. The bill failed to advance in the House.

Senate Bill 934 and House Bill 423, which would allow eligible students to register at their high schools to vote, failed to advance in the Senate.

Senate Bill 537 and House Bill 262, which would increase the number of undocumented students who are provided the opportunity to receive in-state tuition rates, passed both the House and Senate. The legislation goes into effect on July 1.

Environment

Senate Bill 516, also known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act, increases the state’s renewable energy standards to 50 percent by 2030, sets a plan to raise the standard to 100 percent by 2040 and aims to increase jobs in the renewable energy sector. The bill passed and takes effect Oct. 1.

Senate Bill 285 and House Bill 109 passed both chambers and would prohibit the sale of polystyrene food containers in the state. This bill goes into effect July 1.

Government Affairs, Transportation and Voting

Hogan pushed bills to try to get legislators to vote on new maps for the state’s gerrymandered Sixth and Eighth Congressional voting districts, along with pushing for a nonpartisan redistricting commission.

Hogan’s bills to establish a new composition for those districts, Senate Bill 1050 and House Bill 1430; and bills aiming to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission in the state, Senate Bill 90 and House Bill 43, all failed to make it out of their respective chambers.

House Bill 144, which would live-stream and archive General Assembly meetings, was withdrawn after an unfavorable report from committee. But Miller and Busch announced both chambers would be live-streamed within two years.

A pair of bills that would live-stream and record the State Board of Elections meetings, House Bill 71 and Senate Bill 184, passed and take effect on Oct. 1.

House Bill 21, which would have mandated live-streaming and archiving of Maryland Transportation Authority meetings, failed.

Senate Bill 449 allows individuals to register to vote on Election Day at a precinct polling station in their respective county. The legislation passed and will go into effect on Oct. 1.

More Failed Bills

House Bill 643 and Senate Bill 673 failed and would have provided funding for horse racing tracks in Laurel and Bowie. These measures would have also required the owners of Pimlico Race Course to make improvements on the Pimlico track before receiving money for the other two.

House Bill 786 and Senate Bill 737, which would have required a licensed firearms dealer to carry out the sale, rental, furnishing, gift, loan or delivery of any rifle or shotgun transfer, along with enforcing background checks for the sale of long guns, failed.

Another failed bill pair, House Bill 1185 and Senate Bill 708, would have limited the types of packaging and advertising that can be used for vape products in Maryland.

House Bill 502 would have required the Office of Recycling to encourage local communities to implement recycling programs for mattresses and box springs to prevent disposal in landfills. The bill passed in the House but failed to advance in the Senate.

House Bill 1091, which would have blocked approval of large public-private partnership projects—including a highway expansion plan from Hogan—in the state until a credit check, environmental assessment and review from a committee were complete, failed.



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