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Marijuana, manufacturing top list of unresolved issues for Maryland General Assembly finale

Measures to increase the number of licenses to grow medical marijuana and Gov. Larry Hogan's proposal to give a tax break to manufacturers top the list of unresolved legislation as the General Assembly heads into the final day of its 2017 session today.

Many of the most contentious issues of the 90-day meeting in Annapolis have been resolved. But some lawmakers are racing toward a midnight Monday deadline to get their bills approved before the Assembly adjourns.

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Del. Cheryl Glenn has pushed legislation to promote diversity in Maryland's nascent medical marijuana program.

"We have to find a way to work it out," the Baltimore Democrat said. She predicted lawmakers would not get to midnight "without a bill for medical marijuana" passing.

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Democrats in the state Senate and House of Delegates will work from morning until night to pass a late-introduced bill that would limit the personal information about customers that internet service providers can commercialize.

It's the latest bill introduced in response to actions by the Trump administration and Republican-led Congress, which last month decided to reverse an internet privacy rule proposed under the Obama administration.

The bill must make its way through several stages in the state Senate and the House in one day to reach the governor's desk.

Other measures, such as one that would let the attorney general sue the makers of generic drugs over hefty price increases, require only a final vote to reach final passage.

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Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the Republican governor was pleased the legislature had worked in a "bipartisan fashion" thus far.

"Overall we feel this has been a very productive legislative session," Mayer said.

The budget — the only must-pass bill — was completed more than two weeks ago, and Hogan allowed its companion measures to take effect without his signature last week.

Del. Robbyn Lewis, a new Democratic lawmaker from Baltimore, had expected a wild finish to her first session in the State House. But she said most of the issues she cares most about have already either passed or failed.

"Because we finished the budget early, we've been working hard but not maniacally," she said. "It's intense but steady."

Still, enough noteworthy controversies remain that could keep up suspense until the gavel falls at midnight.

The Senate and the House must resolve their differences on a bill that would expand the comptroller's enforcement power over income tax violations. The legislation, which died on the final day last year, appears poised to pass this year.

The Legislative Black Caucus will seek to cap off the session by winning passage of a bill that would expand the number of licenses to grow medical marijuana in a way that gives minority-owned companies a better shot at gaining a foothold in what is expected to be a lucrative new industry.

African-Americans and other minority owners were shut out during a first round of awards last year that handed out 15 licenses. The Senate and House agree in principle that more licenses should be added, but they differ on how many to add and how to set up the application process.

The major difference is that the Senate wants to license two companies bumped out of the top 15 by the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. The applicants did not receive preliminary licenses because the commission instead chose two lower-rated firms to increase the industry's geographical diversity.

Glenn, who chairs the black caucus, said the bill needs to go through two rounds of voting in the Senate on Monday before a conference committee can begin negotiating a deal.

She said reaching an accord could require direct talks between Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

Perhaps the most prominent unresolved Hogan initiative is his proposal to give a tax break to manufacturers.

The Senate and House have passed significantly different versions of the bill. Both depart from the governor's initial proposal.

The measure is likely to be the subject of a three-way negotiation Monday as the two chambers seek to close the gap and the governor seeks to preserve as much as he can from his original bill.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., vice chairman of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee, said reaching agreement will be challenging but not impossible.

"There are some very different approaches," the Montgomery County Democrat said.

The Senate version puts a strong emphasis on developing workers' skills, while the House version focuses more on tax credits. The governor wants a 10-year income tax exemption for manufacturers that create new jobs in certain counties and Baltimore.

Madaleno said that even if the three sides can't agree on anything else, they will likely come together around an accelerated depreciation provision that would let manufacturers write off their purchases of capital equipment in a single year — a provision the Senate, House and governor agree on.

He said he's optimistic a deal can be struck.

Mayer said Hogan hopes the legislature will settle on "something close to what the governor originally proposed."

He also noted a bill that came into the session as one of the most politically charged issues — repeal of the transportation scoring measure Hogan derided as the "road kill bill" — is awaiting final resolution.

Both chambers rejected a full repeal, then voted unanimously to approve bills putting off a threatened confrontation until after the 2018 election. But the House is asking the Senate to agree to amendments.

Hogan has said the scoring law would force him to cancel scores of road projects in Maryland. Democrats say the scoring system is advisory and does not force the governor to cancel projects.

The governor is still holding out hope for legislation that would let prosecutors use evidence of prior offenses when bringing sexual assault charges, Mayer said.

The legislation, supported by Hogan and pushed heavily by Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, hasn't budged from committee in either chamber.

"I'll never put it past the General Assembly to get something done at a moment's notice," Mayer said.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, traveled to Annapolis on Saturday hoping to witness final passage of a first-in-the-nation bill to crack down on what he calls "price gouging" by generic drug makers.

He left disappointed when final action was put off until Monday, but he's hoping for good news.

"I think the issues are resolved," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.

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