By the time confetti fell in Annapolis on Monday night, state lawmakers had loosened marijuana laws, made Maryland the second state in the country to raise its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and whittled their way through more than 2,600 bills considered during the 434th legislative session.
The two major votes on marijuana decriminalization and increasing the minimum wage closed out the annual 90-day frenzy of lawmaking. Measures to create stricter penalties for drivers who cause fatal accidents while texting and to revamp Maryland's stalled medical marijuana program also received final passage.
Since January, legislators have passed a wide spectrum of other bills, including protecting transgender people from discrimination and allowing hunting in Western Maryland on Sundays.
Along the way, they were caught up in a dispute over how many millions to set aside to subsidize the film industry — first threatened by the production company behind the Netflix thriller "House of Cards," then wooed in person by none other than the series' chief star, actor Kevin Spacey.
Lawmakers could not agree on whether to give the state more tools do deal with future threats. The failure to compromise means $3.5 million will be trimmed from the $18.5 million the General Assembly had set aside for the film industry.
Senators and delegates failed to resolve the thorniest issue of the session: revamping Maryland's system for setting bail in the aftermath of a court ruling that deemed the current process unconstitutional. They could not agree on a long-term solution, approving only a stopgap plan to give the judiciary $10 million to hire some of the lawyers the court said are needed to represent the poor at the earliest bail hearings.
It is not clear whether that solution will satisfy the court. Gov. Martin O'Malley said he would work with willing jurisdictions to develop a computerized tool to decide who gets bail and who has to wait to see a judge.
The end of the session leaves the state's 188 lawmakers — and O'Malley — with time to turn their attention to their coming political pursuits and raising campaign cash.
O'Malley capped the eighth and final session of his tenure by persuading lawmakers to approve gradual increases to the state's minimum wage, hiking it from the current federal level of $7.25 to $10.10 by July 2018.
"We were able to raise the minimum wage for hardworking Marylanders throughout our state who, playing by the rules and working hard, should not have to raise their children in poverty," O'Malley said.
Maryland became the second state, after Connecticut, to pass a hike this year to $10.10, the mark set by Democrats across the country seeking to address income inequality.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have wages set above the federal rate. President Barack Obama has sought a hike at the national level. In a statement Monday, Obama praised O'Malley and state lawmakers, and said the move should prompt Congress to act.
"The Maryland legislature did the right thing for its workers today," Obama said. "Maryland's important action is a reminder that many states, cities and counties — as well as a majority of the American people — are way ahead of Washington on this crucial issue."
Once the Maryland measure is signed by O'Malley, the first of five wage increases in Maryland will take effect on Jan. 1, 2015, raising the minimum pay to $8 an hour. Six months later, it will go up by another 25 cents.
"This is huge," said Matthew Hanson, campaign director of the grass-roots group Raise Maryland, which pushed for the increase. "Our victory today means that hundreds of thousands of working Marylanders will receive a significant pay raise over the next several years. This will lift families out of poverty."
Republicans, drastically outnumbered in both chambers, called the increase an unnecessary government intervention and predicted some small businesses would shed workers or close up shop.
O'Malley, who is contemplating a bid for the White House, was reluctant in an interview to discuss his legislative legacy. The legislature delivered all of his initiatives this year — passing not just the minimum wage, but stricter domestic violence laws, a modest expansion of the state's pre-kindergarten program and doubling the amount of land under tough wilderness protections.
"I always kind of chafe at the legacy thing," O'Malley said. "I think of it more as momentum."
In eight years, O'Malley has pushed legislation that repealed the state's death penalty, imposed one of the nation's toughest gun-control laws, legalized same-sex marriage, granted in-state college tuition to some undocumented immigrants, increased the sales tax and raised income taxes for the state's wealthier residents.
On Monday, the governor shifted from his long-held position against loosening marijuana laws, saying he plans to sign legislation that decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana.