Maryland General Assembly watch: A to-do list for 2023 | COMMENTARY

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Lawmakers return to Annapolis on Wednesday, Jan. 11 to begin the Maryland General Assembly's annual 90-day session, the legislature's 445th, with a new Democratic governor and slightly larger Democratic majorities. File. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun).

When a Maryland governor is elected by the kind of landslide margin that Democrat Wes Moore received in November (22 points) and his party gained seats in both legislative chambers (three in the House of Delegates and two in the state Senate), one should expect big changes in Annapolis after eight years of a Republican governor. After all, the voters have spoken. But in Maryland, transitions and 90-day legislative sessions are a funny thing. Governor Moore and Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller will have the disadvantage of being sworn into office one week after the start of the General Assembly session Jan. 11. That means much of their time in the weeks ahead will have to be devoted to forming their government — including naming a thus-far lightly populated cabinet, shepherding a state budget that predecessor Larry Hogan has actually put together and generally finding their footing in the State House.

It’s one reason why the rule of thumb in Annapolis has long been that the second year of a governor’s four-year term is usually the most consequential. But even so, there’s every reason to believe that the Moore-Miller team has a chance to hit the ground running and push through an agenda of consequence this year. To that end, we offer five major policy areas for Democrats to make some significant progress (and fulfill some campaign promises) between now and April 10.


1. Finish old business.

There are some familiar subjects that are headed back to the State House, and given the Democratic supermajorities, some look to be relatively easy to get done. LAwmakers can begin with passing a constitutional amendment to protect women’s reproductive rights perhaps timed to what would have been the 50th anniversary of Rowe v. Wade on Jan. 22 (before it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in the fall). Legislation to do just that petered out last year in the wake of swing-district Senate Democrats worried about losing crossover votes. Other unfinished matters include setting the parameters for legalized recreational marijuana use by adults, a change approved by Maryland voters by a 2-to-1 margin, and for establishing a paid family and medical leave insurance program offering up to 12 weeks of leave paid for by employers and employees to care for family members under certain circumstances.

2. Leave no one behind.

This was the mantra of the Moore campaign for governor, and we expect some efforts to be launched to address poverty, health disparities and long-standing inequities. Raising the state’s minimum wage and providing older victims of child sexual abuse expanded rights to sue those responsible for their suffering — a matter spotlighted by the Maryland Attorney General’s report on decades of such cases within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore — should be among the priorities, as should investing more in mental health services.


3. Help Baltimore.

Gun violence, vacant housing, substance abuse, poor educational outcomes, the list of the city’s needs is long enough, particularly after eight years of a Republican administration that will be best remembered for what it denied Baltimore (the Red Line and State Center redevelopment come to mind) than what it provided. Mayor Brandon Scott has asked for more police aid, better state oversight of individuals under the supervision of the state Division of Parole and Probation (including swifter reports of violations of home monitoring) and some property tax reforms that should help make housing more affordable.

4. Save the environment.

The continued threat posed by climate change and Maryland’s failure to meet pollution reduction targets for the Chesapeake Bay should make reducing greenhouse gas emissions and polluted water runoff a major concern for lawmakers. One place to start is in the transportation sector, as the state has been spending far too much on roads and not nearly enough on transit and other alternatives. Lawmakers can start with a no-fare Bus Rapid Transit line to serve Baltimore’s east-west corridor (see Goal No. 3) while a revived Red Line light rail project is set in motion. The bigger lift will be to plan a transportation future that is less reliant on gas tax revenue.

5. Better protect Marylanders from guns.

Gun violence isn’t just a concern for Baltimore, not when there are 6-year-olds in neighboring Virginia taking handguns to school to shoot a teacher. The U.S. Supreme Court has been unhelpful in this regard, and could soon get worse if the state’s restrictions on certain military-style semi-automatic assault rifles are struck down. But lawmakers should leave no stone unturned in their quest to keep these weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.