Last day of General Assembly session is Monday

It's the final countdown.

Maryland lawmakers have just one day left before the end of this year's 90-day legislative session, which ends when the clock strikes midnight on Monday night.

Sine Die, as the final day of session is called, always includes some last-minute dealmaking and a packed schedule of votes.

This year, legislative leaders say they've already accomplished many of their priorities. While there will be last-day debates, the General Assembly — which fulfilled its fundamental duty of passing a budget last month — has already sent some high-profile bills to Gov. Larry Hogan's desk, including a fracking ban, legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave for many Maryland workers and an ethics reform bill that expands financial disclosure requirements for public officials and lobbyists.

"I think we're in pretty good shape," House Speaker Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis, said. "There's nothing dramatic like we've had in the past."

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, said he's compiled a "long list" of "all the good things that we've done."

Among the session's successes, Kipke said, are bills that push back against heroin abuse and legislation that offers tax incentives to manufacturers, which has passed in different versions in the House and Senate. The differences will have to be resolved Monday. 

"This is one of the hardest sessions I've experienced," he said, but "I feel really good about it."

Issues still left to be resolved when legislators convene Monday morning include agreeing on an approach to expanding the state's medical marijuana license program to ensure minority participation and reconciling differences between versions of a proposal to allow Maryland's attorney general to sue drug companies for price gouging.

Lawmakers will also consider legislation that prohibits police from stopping people to ask about their citizenship status.

The proposal was extracted from a bill called the Trust Act, which sought to impose limitations on local assistance when it comes to enforcing immigration laws. Though a watered-down version of the Trust Act passed the House, it faced greater resistance in the Senate, where last week the Judicial Proceedings committee decided to kill the bill and move forward only the prohibition on asking questions about citizenship during routine interactions as part of a separate piece of legislation.

The Trust Act was among a raft of legislation this session that came in reaction to developments in national politics.

Other examples include a measure requiring the state to step in and pay for family planning services if federal funding is cut to Planned Parenthood and similar groups, legislation granting the attorney general power to sue the federal government without the permission of the governor or General Assembly and a bill banning some controversial school reform measures, such as allowing the state school board to convert struggling public schools to charters or offer private school vouchers to students.

Hogan, a Republican, vetoed the latter proposal over concerns that those restrictions and others, including a limitation on how heavily standardized test scores could figure into assessments of a school's performance, would hamstring improvements. Democratic majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly promptly overrode the veto.

Democrats are also aiming to pass a late-filed bill banning internet providers from selling consumer information without their permission before Monday is over.

Kipke said some of those bills represented "a great desire on the part of the majority party to drag us into the controversies of (President) Donald Trump and Washington, D.C. for political reasons."

"I think it's because the majority party wants to use those issues to try to harm our governor's re-election chances, especially in light of his popularity among voters," he said. Hogan has a 76 percent favorability rating among Anne Arundel voters, according to a recent poll conducted by Anne Arundel Community College.

Busch said the measures represent his party's effort to protect "the things we feel strongly about."

On the school reform bill, for example, "I think the vast majority of us are not interested in President Trump's administration going in here and determining how our school system is run," he said.

Despite the session's partisan contentiousness, Busch noted his chamber has managed to avoid the gridlock that has often characterized the U.S. Congress's proceedings.

"Though obviously we have differences of opinions and heated debates on different issues, both the Republicans and Democrats are very conscious about the integrity of what takes place on the floor and the decorum that everybody understakes when they're out there," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this story.

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