Maryland lawmakers have many weighty issues on the agenda for the 90-day General Assembly session that is under way in Annapolis. From policing reform to pandemic relief, we’re tracking key bills.
Legalizing gambling on sports
Bill numbers: HB940
A bill sailed through the House on a 129-10 vote, but took longer in the Senate, where a compromise between the two chambers’ plans passed on the final day, sending the measure to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk.
What would it do? After the House of Delegates and state Senate backed different approaches for how many licenses should be issued for in-person and online betting, unofficial negotiations over the session’s final days yielded a compromise.
The final plan features in-person licenses for sports betting granted to casinos, the Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course thoroughbred racing tracks, and the stadiums for the Baltimore Orioles, Baltimore Ravens and Washington Football Team.
Up to 30 additional in-person betting licenses would be available for off-track betting facilities, the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium and large bingo halls. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees and less than $3 million in sales would pay less for their licenses than bigger operators. Additionally, up to 60 licenses would be issued for mobile and online sports betting, which are highly desired because the bulk of sports betting in other states is via mobile apps, also known as “skins.”
How much would it cost? The state could take in tens of millions of dollars each year from sports betting.
What are its chances? Gov. Larry Hogan supported the referendum that enabled lawmakers to pass the legislation and is likely to sign it.
Repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights
Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed three of four police-related bills passed by the General Assembly, including one that would repeal Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights. The General Assembly quickly overrode all three vetoes.
What would it do? The package would rewrite how officers accused of misconduct are disciplined, create a new statewide standard for when officers are allowed to use force, impose new potential criminal penalties for officers who use excessive force, and grant public access to some police disciplinary records. Among its central provisions is a repeal of Maryland’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a 1974 law which provides for a host of job protections for officers and rights for those who are accused of misconduct.
How much would it cost? This represents a major policy change for police departments, but will have “minimal impact” on government finances, according to nonpartisan legislative analysts.
Reforming the Maryland Environmental Service
Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill into law on April 13.
What would it do? Reporting by The Baltimore Sun and a subsequent investigation by state lawmakers found issues at the Maryland Environmental Service, an independent state agency, including payouts and bonuses to executives and excessive spending on travel and expenses with little oversight.
The Maryland Environmental Service’s former director, Roy McGrath, who had gone on to become Gov. Larry Hogan’s chief of staff, resigned four days after The Baltimore Sun’s first report.
Democratic lawmakers are proposing an overhaul of the service’s board of directors in a way that limit’s the MES executive director’s power. It also requires new policies on personnel, pay and practices and requires training on ethics, diversity and management for the board. Severance payouts would be banned for executives who voluntarily transfer to other state jobs.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s bill is less extensive, but also reworks the board of directors and requires ethics training.
How much would it cost? The changes called for in the Democrats’ bill may cost MES about $200,000 per year. The governor’s version would cost less than $50,000 per year.
Walter Lomax Act
Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill into law on April 13.
What would it do? Named for Walter Lomax, who spent decades in prison for a crime he did not commit, the bill would set a standard process for compensating those who are wrongly convicted and imprisoned.
An exoneree would apply to an administrative law judge for compensation, and the judge would make an order for compensation based on a formula. The judge also could order the state to assist the exoneree with housing, health coverage and education. The Board of Public Works, which is the state’s spending panel, would be bound to follow the judge’s order.
The bill also allows for exonerees who were compensated before 2005 to seek additional aid.
How much would it cost? The cost to the state will depend on the number of individuals who are freed in the future, so analysts can’t make an estimate.
Climate Solutions Now Act
Negotiations broke down on the last day of the session, dooming the bill for this year.
What would it do? Legislators in the House’s Environment and Transportation Committee have stripped from the Climate Solutions Now Act provisions focusing on emissions reductions, building energy efficiency and rooftop solar energy.
The original bill, for instance, called for reducing the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 60% from 2006 levels by 2030. The amended bill calls for a 50% reduction, which falls in line with a plan released by Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration in February.
Both options would impose larger reductions than the 40% currently required by state law. Both the amended bill and the original call for the state to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045, which would require achieving a balance between the emissions produced and removed from the atmosphere.
How much would it cost? Legislative analysts could not peg an exact cost for the bill, but noted that there would be significant expenditures needed.
Repealing the state song
The bill is before Gov. Larry Hogan for his consideration.
What would it do? The legislation would strike the state song, “Maryland, My Maryland,” from the laws of the state. Maryland would no longer have any designated state song as of July 1, 2021.
“Maryland, My Maryland” was written by Confederate sympathizer James Ryder Randall in 1861 and urges the state’s residents to fight against “Northern scum” and a “despot,” understood to be President Abraham Lincoln. Designated as the state song in 1939, it’s been roundly criticized in more recent years as racist and offensive.
How much would it cost? It would cost nothing to eliminate the state song.
What are its chances? Hogan hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the bill or not, but the bill was passed by veto-proof margins.
Funding for historically Black colleges and universities
Both versions of this bill were passed unanimously in the Senate and with an overwhelming majority in the House, and were signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan on March 24.
What would it do?
The legislation directs the state attorney general to settle a federal lawsuit that alleged the state gave disparate treatment to the four public historically Black universities in the state: Bowie State in Prince George’s County, Coppin State and Bowie State in Baltimore and the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore in Somerset County.
As part of the settlement, the state is required to send $57.7 million in extra funding each year for 10 years to be divided among the four universities. The money can be used for academic programs, financial aid, recruiting and retaining staff, marketing and online classes. The money is apportioned based on student enrollment, with each school receiving a minimum of $9 million extra annually.
How much would it cost?
The extra funding for the four universities adds up to $577 million over 10 years, starting in 2023.
RELIEF Act pandemic financial aid
Bill numbers: SB496/HB612
Passed unanimously in the Senate and with only one dissenting vote in the House of Delegates. Gov. Larry Hogan signed the bill into law on Feb. 15. As an emergency measure, the law immediately went into effect.
What would it do? The act establishes a variety of financial programs, including:
- Sending payments to taxpayers who claim the earned income tax credit, $300 for individuals and $500 for joint filers.
- Expanding the credit that taxpayers receive from the state when claiming the earned income tax credit for the next three years.
- Eliminating state and local income taxes on unemployment benefits in 2020 and 2021, but limiting that tax break to individuals who made less than $75,000 and joint filers who made less than $100,000 in those years.
- Allowing certain businesses to keep the sales taxes they collect for three months, up to $3,000 per month.
- Eliminating the increases that employers would pay on their unemployment taxes if they laid off workers during the pandemic.
- Allowing employers with 50 or fewer employees to delay paying their unemployment taxes for up to one year.
- Ensuring that businesses that received pandemic grants or had loans forgiven would not pay state taxes on that money.
- Directing hundreds of millions of dollars to programs including education, nonprofits and business grants.
The name RELIEF Act comes from “Recovery for the Economy, Livelihoods, Industries, Entrepreneurs and Families.”
How much would it cost? The total cost is expected to be more than $1 billion, which represents a combination of spending state dollars and the state losing out on taxes it would have collected. The total financial impact depends partly on how many people take advantage of various provisions within the bill.