Maryland Democrats had an ambitious agenda at the start of the first session of a Gov. Wes Moore’s brand-new term. Here’s a look at which of the hundreds of bills filed made it to Moore’s desk at the end of the 90-day legislative session — and what wasn’t ready for prime time.
What crossed the finish line
Access to abortion
As the national political climate toward abortion access continued to sour, Maryland pushed in the opposite direction during the 2023 session, passing four bills to protect patients and abortion care providers and expand access to reproductive health care and contraception.
House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones of Baltimore County and Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore, both Democrats, sponsored legislation that will allow Marylanders to vote on whether to enshrine the right to “reproductive freedom” — including contraception, fertility treatment and abortion — in the state constitution. Voters will see the question on their ballots during the 2024 election.
Baltimore County Sen. Shelly Hettleman and Baltimore Del. Sandy Rosenberg, both Democrats, ushered a bill to Moore’s desk that would prohibit patient records about reproductive health care to cross state lines through digital health information exchanges without their consent.
[ Maryland stockpiles contested abortion pill as fate of FDA approval hangs in federal court ]
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith of Montgomery County, Prince George’s County Del. Nicole Williams and Del. Terri Hill of Howard County, all Democrats, sponsored legislation that would prohibit Maryland from aiding other states’ criminal investigations of and court proceedings against patients and providers who receive health care services legal in Maryland, such as abortion.
Baltimore Del. Stephanie Smith and Senate Education, Energy and the Environment Chair Brian Feldman of Montgomery County, both Democrats, championed legislation that would require schools within the University System of Maryland to devise plans to refer students to places that offer reproductive health care.
Democratic leaders pushed hard to implement a regulatory plan for the state’s recreational use cannabis industry, which will go live July 1.
Feldman, House Economic Matters Committee Chair C.T. Wilson of Charles County, House Ways and Means Chair Vanessa Atterbeary of Howard County and Baltimore Sen. Antonio Hayes, all Democrats, sponsored the mega bill that would allow the first round of licensed retailers to have their businesses up and running by the time cannabis is legalized.
In a surprise move Monday night, the General Assembly also passed legislation sponsored by Democratic Del. Charlotte Crutchfield of Montgomery County that would prohibit police officers from conducting traffic stops and searches based solely on the odor of cannabis.
[ Reddit AMA: Our State House reporters are taking questions starting at 11 a.m. April 18 ]
Liability for child sexual abuse
After four hard-fought sessions of sponsorship, Wilson, with the help of Sen. Will Smith and Democrat House Judiciary Committee Chair Luke Clippinger of Baltimore, was able to push the Child Victims Act to the governor’s desk. Its final passage came less than an hour after the publication of the long-awaited attorney general’s report detailing decades of sexual abuse at the hands of clergy members and others the Catholic Church employed in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
[ Read The Sun's coverage of Catholic Church abuse in Maryland ]
The bill — one of the first Moore signed into law — will allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers and the institutions their perpetrators worked for damages regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.
Maryland Democrats raced to re-regulate the “concealed carry” of handguns following a 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision that rendered the state’s former law unconstitutional.
Sponsored by Clippinger, House Bill 824 would put limitations on who can get a license to carry a handgun in public. Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Democrat Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Vice Chair Jeff Waldstreicher of Montgomery County, would prohibit concealed handguns from being carried in certain public locations, like schools and bars and restaurants where alcohol or cannabis is sold.
Smith successfully sponsored Jaelynn’s Law, which would adjust Maryland’s policy on safe storage to keep firearms away from children and people prohibited from possessing guns, and increase the penalty for the failure to adequately do so.
Following reports of hundreds of Marylanders being locked out of their prepaid college trust accounts, the General Assembly passed legislation that would hand oversight of the 529 program to Maryland Treasurer Dereck Davis, a Democrat. He would have the power to set a standard rate of return for all accounts. Parents who dispute their returns could file a claim with the possibility of a settlement.
As with abortion access, Maryland pushed to the left of national politics and passed legislation to ensure transgender people with low incomes have access to health care. The Trans Health Equity Act, sponsored by Del. Anne Kaiser of Montgomery County and Baltimore Sen. Mary Washington, both Democrats, would require Maryland Medicaid to cover gender-affirming care.
The state’s minimum wage will increase from $13.25 to $15 per hour Jan. 1, one year ahead of schedule. Moore campaigned on raising the wage faster and proposed an Oct. 1 date to enact it. He also proposed that the minimum wage should increase automatically every year with changes in inflation. But lawmakers stripped out that provision and pushed back the date. The bill would increase wages for about 175,000 Maryland workers.
Better luck next session
‘No’ to The YES Act
Sponsored by Crutchfield and Baltimore Sen. Jill P. Carter, both Democrats, the Youth Equity and Safety Act would have stopped the practice of having minors enter the criminal justice system in adult court for certain crimes. Rather, their cases would have begun in the juvenile court system and state prosecutors would have been able to file motions to waive such cases up to criminal court at the discretion of the presiding judge.
The legislation didn’t make it out of either the House Judiciary Committee or the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
For people with terminal illness
The End of Life Option Act would have allowed doctors licensed in Maryland to prescribe medication to terminally ill adults who have the capacity to make medical decisions, are able to take the drug on their own and have a prognosis of six or fewer months to live.
In a recent interview with The Baltimore Sun, Ferguson said he supports the bill and believes it “will be a major issue for the next session.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
Democrats said two bills on the agenda didn’t have time to pass because of delays on the House floor just before the end of the session. House Bill 135 would have reduced penalties for high-volume cannabis dealers in light of the legalization of recreational cannabis. House Bill 1196 would have provided further funding for coordinators to help school districts carry out the state’s long-term education plan, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
Members of the minority caucus railed against the Democrat-controlled legislature for failing to pass legislation, including a bill drafted during the previous administration of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, to address violent crime.
Senate Bill 564 would have reclassified handgun theft as a felony offense and increased the penalty to a mandatory two-year and maximum five-year prison sentence for first offenses and a minimum of five and a maximum of 10 years for subsequent convictions. Senate Bill 744 would have raised the sentence for illegal gun possession from five years in prison to 10. It would have made knowingly selling or lending a firearm to a person planning to commit a crime a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
“The General Assembly continues to suffer from a severe case of misplaced priorities,” Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready of Carroll County said in a statement. “The General Assembly spent more time debating and passing legislation to keep birds from flying into buildings that it did debating and passing legislation to save human lives in violent communities.”
Awaiting Moore’s consideration is legislation (House Bill 6/Senate Bill 92) that would require the state Department of General Services to set standards for state buildings to conserve energy and reduce bird collisions.
Baltimore Sun reporter Sam Janesch contributed to this article.