xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sick leave, marijuana licenses, possible vetoes — all on deck in General Assembly's final week

The final week of Maryland's annual legislative session will feature veto showdowns and debate on some of the weightiest policy issues considered by the General Assembly this year.

In their dash to the April 10 finish line, lawmakers will consider bills that would require paid sick leave, revamp the state's fledgling medical marijuana program and limit how much local police cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

Advertisement

Along the way, at least two veto fights are expected over proposals that would prohibit controversial education reforms for failing schools and give Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh $1 million and five lawyers to sue the federal government.

Hogan has promised or signaled intent to veto both measures. Democrats rushed to send him the legislation last week so they could vote to override before the session ends.

Advertisement
Advertisement
State education leaders are infuriated by the passage of legislation they see as a power grab by the General Assembly that will diminish their role in deciding how schools are held accountable over the next 15 years.

"That might take a day and some angst," but it will happen, said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Calvert County Democrat.

"I've not heard any consternation from Democrats about having enough votes," said House Majority Leader Bill Frick, a Montgomery County Democrat.

The education bill would limit the role of test scores in identifying low-performing schools and prohibit the Maryland State Board of Education from enacting some reforms, including converting those schools into charters or providing their students with vouchers for private schools. Hogan, who endorses such options, says the legislature is overstepping its bounds and potentially trapping children in troubled schools.

Proponents of the bill say such reforms are too radical and in line with the controversial views of Republican President Donald J. Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

Advertisement

Hogan has also repeatedly chastised lawmakers for granting the attorney general broad power to sue the federal government without the governor's permission. He has objected further to granting the attorney general money and staff to carry out that mission.

House Minority Leader Nic Kipke said he expected Hogan's vetoes and the attempts to override them to be a major focus in the last full week of the legislature's 90-day session.

Democrats have sought to put bills in front of Hogan that would require him to take a stance on divisive national issues, but Kipke said he thinks the governor will navigate a safe course.

"I think he's very shrewd and he's not going to be pulled for partisan reasons into the Washington, D.C., political show," he said.

Lawmakers are still working out details for two other bills that could be subject to a veto but have yet to pass: a paid sick-leave policy that would grant most workers at least five paid sick days a year and legislation that would set clear rules for when local police departments and jails can aid immigration authorities.

In the meantime, Hogan is expected to be the first Republican governor in the country to sign a fracking ban into law. Once enacted, Maryland will be the first state that sits on a natural gas shale deposit to forbid the extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing. Hogan's support of the ban was a surprise to opponents of fracking, who had been trying to marshal enough votes for the ban to pass with a veto-proof majority.

The governor entered the session pushing the most sprawling and aggressive agenda of his three-year tenure, but many of the popular Republican's proposals have not been approved.

Hogan's top priority was to repeal a law that forces him to publicly rank and score transportation projects, a requirement he said would tie up the government in lawsuits and force the cancellation of projects across the state. Although the Senate advanced a compromise that would put the system on hold for two years, the House has yet to act.

The Maryland General Assembly on Monday gave final passage to a ban on fracking in the state, sending the measure to Gov. Larry Hogan for his promised signature.

Hogan's bid to give new manufacturing companies special tax breaks for moving into economically depressed areas has been rewritten to give breaks to any manufacturing company that creates new jobs, but the legislation has not reached final passage in either chamber.

After a string of high-profile ethical lapses by state legislators, the governor proposed a significant rewrite of ethics rules. Some of those moves would not be constitutional, the state's attorney general said, but the House of Delegates approved some proposals that would mark the biggest shift in state ethics laws in more than a decade. The legislation would require more disclosure of lawmakers' conflicts of interest and limit legislators' ability to advocate for private businesses. The Senate has not yet taken action on that legislation.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the administration is confident most of the governor's top priorities will eventually pass and be sent to his desk.

"A majority of these initiatives are moving forward in some fashion," Mayer said. "Some of them no longer carry his name, but that does not matter to the governor. We just want them to pass."

At least one of Hogan's proposals is going nowhere. The governor had pitched a mandatory paid sick-leave bill to compete with a more sweeping proposal Democrats were on the brink of passing a year ago. This year, Democrats discarded the governor's proposal and, despite Hogan's threat to veto their bill, have advanced legislation in both chambers that would promise most Maryland workers at least five days of paid time off each year.

Although negotiators for the House and Senate say they have agreed to send the governor the Senate's version of the bill, the legislation has yet to win final approval.

Much of 2017 session has been influenced by the Trump administration and a desire by the legislature's Democratic majority to take a stand against its policies.

The tactic has allowed Democrats to attempt to force Hogan to take a position on some of Trump's more controversial policies, political analysts said.

"There was a reality check for a lot of Democrats, being that Donald Trump represents a lot greater threat to their progressive agenda than Larry Hogan does," said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary's College.

Trump has "certainly given Democrats an opportunity to needle Hogan on social issues that he would not have to otherwise address," said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said Wednesday his chamber would not pass an identical version of what he said is a "sanctuary state" bill that already passed the House of Delegates.

The most dramatic example is a bill known as the Trust Act that would bar police or jails from detaining people for immigration purposes at the request of U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement officials — unless a judge ordered it. Of Maryland 24 jurisdictions, 18 already have such a policy.

"The Trust Act was generated by Donald Trump when he went out having ICE knocking down doors," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat. "That had a chilling effect on the minority population. ... We had to be self-sufficient on everything to protect the people in Maryland."

The House of Delegates passed that bill, but it is languishing in a Senate committee. Miller cast doubt on the likelihood it will pass his chamber. Hogan has promised a veto of it does pass, arguing the state should be doing more, not less, to help immigration authorities.

Advertisement

The biggest debate yet to be resolved is how to award five additional medical marijuana growing licenses. Both chambers agree the fledgling program should be expanded because there was insufficient racial diversity among the initial license winners, but the House plan and the Senate plan differ on who should get those licenses and who should make up the commission awarding them.

Advertisement

Broadly speaking, though, leaders of both chambers and the governor's administration acknowledge the crucial responsibilities of the session have been addressed: The state's operating and capital budgets have been approved and the legislature has ensured record funding for schools.

"Everything that needs to get done has been done. There's really no absolute-must bill that has to pass," Miller said.

Absent any unforeseen hiccups, Miller said, for the next week "we coast."

Baltimore Sun reporter Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

twitter.com/ErinatTheSun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement