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Our View: Legislation needn’t have been rushed through during the coronavirus crisis

We don’t always agree with the Carroll County delegation, but we share their dismay at the way so much legislation was rushed through the Maryland General Assembly this week — in the midst of the most uncertain period we’ve faced in decades — before the session was stopped some three weeks early because of the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 650 bills were passed this week before the session was halted Wednesday afternoon, according to the Baltimore Sun, adding taxes to digital ads, streaming services and downloads, as well as tobacco and nicotine, approving $375 million in bonds for renovating Pimlico and Laurel racetracks, putting legalized sports gambling on the ballot in November and, of course, passing the legislation recommended by the Kirwan Commission.

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We’re not saying these are all bad bills — most of the 650 are probably perfectly serviceable pieces of legislation — but rushing to get them all passed thwarted the process. There should’ve been more debate among the legislators and time for feedback from the citizens of the state. It seems as though most of these bills could simply have been put on hold for a few months until our state — and, in fact, our country and world — return to a bit of normalcy.

“We shouldn’t even be here, we should be taking care of our constituents," Del. Susan Krebs, R-5, told us Wednesday while the final session was ongoing, questioning the priorities of her colleagues for pressing on with bills concerning waterfowl, the 2026 FIFA World Cup and others that seemed, to her, “totally unnecessary” to pass during a pandemic.

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Indeed, it did seem unnecessary. And wrong, considering gatherings of 50 or more banned throughout the state, that so many lawmakers gathered in one place to speed through the massive pile of bills.

Krebs was particularly critical of an effort to amend the state Constitution to give lawmakers power to move money around in the budget. Currently, the governor sets the budget and lawmakers can make cuts to it. The amendment passed 95-39, The Baltimore Sun reported, and voters will decide by ballot in November.

“Why after 25 years is this all of a sudden getting jammed through when no one is around?" Krebs told us. “It’s an embarrassment to be a part of this body right now.”

Much of the criticism from Carroll’s delegation regarded the so-called Kirwan bill. The programs outlined in the legislation carry an eventual cost of nearly $4 billion per year at full implementation in 2030, which would be split between the state and local governments. Krebs said they “jammed this thing through without any way to pay for it.”

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Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-5, was no happier.

“At a time when folks at home are worried about their families and their finances, the legislature is sitting down here passing Kirwan, a $35 billion effort to back the Brinks truck up to the teachers union,” Shoemaker said via email. “It is an absolutely shameful action to take when the economy is tanking all around us."

Del Trent Kittleman, R-9A, had been working remotely since Friday out of concerns about the coronavirus and didn’t get to express her problems with the bill to her colleagues. “I wanted to be on the floor and speak about the Kirwan bill," she told us.

Del. April Rose, R-5, told us Wednesday she believes “it is fiscally irresponsible to move forward with this plan at this time.”

“At this time” is the key. The stock market is in a freefall. Businesses everywhere are shuttered. People are filing for unemployment at record rates. And the medical community says we are just in the early stages of the outbreak in this country.

“We have no idea what the financial impact is to date or what it will be when we finally get past this crisis,” Rose told us. "It [did] not need to be rushed under these circumstances.”

No, it didn’t.

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