Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday signed 213 bills passed by Maryland's Democratic-dominated General Assembly, including several measures to enhance education, provide free community college and help victims of sexual assault or harassment.
Thousands of Maryland students will get free community college under one bill. Under another, prosecutors may have an easier time convicting serial rapists.
More than $500 million more could be pumped into education each year under another measure. And thanks to a new law inspired by the #MeToo movement, state lawmakers accused of sexual harassment will face inquiries from independent ethics investigators, not their colleagues.
"The bills that we're signing into law today I think are showing once again that unlike Washington, here in Annapolis, we do work together to get things done," Hogan said at a ceremony in Annapolis.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat, put it this way: "It's been a great year for education, education, education."
On Tuesday, Hogan, Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch made a ceremony of endorsing a bill that doesn't require their signatures: a proposed constitutional amendment that would require all money generated by Maryland casinos to add to education spending, beyond what's required by state funding formulas.
The change could boost annual state spending on schools by $500 million, possibly bringing the state's contribution to more than $7 billion a year. It will be up to voters in November to decide whether to set aside all that casino revenue as an extra pool of money for schools.
"It's a huge investment that pays off in the quality of life we have in Maryland," said Busch, a Democrat from Annapolis.
Other education bills signed Tuesday require all high schools to offer a "high-quality" computer science course starting in 2021; create a new scholarship program for people seeking cyber-security degrees, and earmark $30 million a year for heating and air conditioning systems in schools. The heating and cooling fund was pushed by Baltimore Sen. Joan Carter Conway after nearly half of Baltimore's school buildings lost heat during last year's brutal winter.
The state will also now expand a $5,000 tax credit for student loans to include debt incurred during graduate school, not just undergraduate degrees. Another newly approved tax credit lets teachers deduct classroom supplies they purchase with their own money.
Baltimore stands to gain $300 million in state education aid it otherwise would have lost; a newly signed bill holds the city harmless for special tax deals that make it appear more wealthy than it really is.
And in the wake of the Dallas Dance scandal in Baltimore County, another new law signed Tuesday will require county boards of education to record decisions as roll-call votes, not voice votes, and to put more records about decisions online within three days. Dance, the former superintendent, is currently serving a six-month sentence for failing to disclose he was moonlighting at a company at the same time he helped it win a county schools contract.
The community college bill, pressed for years by state Sen. Paul Pinksy and Del. Frank Turner, both Democrats, passed in a last-minute compromise in the final hour of the General Assembly session. It will set aside $15 million a year to help low- and moderate-income students pay the full tuition cost at state community colleges. Another $2 million in grants, distributed over the next five years, will help community college students who are close to finishing their associate technical degrees complete their work. Similar programs exist in several Maryland counties and in other states.
Hogan also signed a bill designed to make it easier to convict repeat sexual offenders by letting prosecutors introduce evidence that the defendant had a pattern of behavior.
Retiring state Sen. Jim Brochin of Baltimore County, a Democrat, pushed the bill for 14 years and called it "the most important thing I've ever done. This is going to take really bad people and put them in jail for a long time."
The effort started after he read a law review article about how victims were unable to call other victims to help bolster the credibility of their accusations. In one case, a judge forbade prosecutors from calling to the stand a second sister who had also been raped by their stepfather. The long-languishing bill passed this year amid a renewed focus on victims of sexual assault and harassment that was spurred by the #MeToo movement.
"It's the year of the woman," Brochin said.
The governor also signed laws that strengthen the existing revenge porn statute and cyber bullying laws, as well as make it a crime for someone to commit "sextortion," the practice of threatening economic consequences or other repercussions if someone does not agree to have sex.
"It's a huge expansion of the law," said Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
And Hogan also signed a law that explicitly makes it a crime to for police officers to have sex with people in their custody.
Other bills signed Tuesday include an expansion of free breakfast programs, a more stringent hate crime law, a sharp increase in the value of a long-neglected voucher that helps poor people pay for childcare and a pilot program that legalizes hemp as an agricultural crop.
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