The Maryland General Assembly passed more than 650 bills in a three-day sprint as lawmakers rushed to adjourn their legislative session nearly three weeks early because of the coronavirus pandemic. The bills go now to Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who can sign or veto them or let them become law without his signature. Here are some of the most significant.
Emergency bill: Lawmakers passed emergency legislation giving the governor more authority if he declares a “catastrophic health emergency.” It addresses unemployment benefits, job protections, costs of testing people for the virus, and price-gouging, among other issues.
Rainy Day Fund: Lawmakers passed a bill giving the governor permission to use up to $50 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for coronavirus response.
Budget: Lawmakers separately included a provision in one of the budget bills allowing the governor to use up to another $100 million from the state’s reserves for the crisis.
Kirwan Commission reforms: Before the pandemic, the biggest topic in Annapolis was the legislation recommended by the Kirwan Commission on education. It would mandate billions of extra spending on schools, including expanded prekindergarten, higher teacher pay, improved career- and college-prep and more support for schools with concentrations of students from poor families.
Built to Learn: Lawmakers passed a bill to authorize $2.2 billion in additional school construction funding, using bonds that would be paid off using casino revenues.
HBCUs: Lawmakers passed a bill that would require the state to spend $580 million to settle a long-running lawsuit from historically black colleges and universities.
SPORTS & ARTS
Racetrack rebuilds: Lawmakers approved a bill that would facilitate the renovation of the Laurel Park and Pimlico thoroughbred horse racing tracks, and would guarantee that the Preakness stays in Baltimore. The Maryland Stadium Authority would issue up to $375 million in bonds that would be paid back primarily with casino proceeds already earmarked for the racing industry.
Sports betting: Maryland voters would get to decide in November whether to legalize sports betting. After that, lawmakers would decide how many licenses would be issued and who would get to bid on them.
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Lawmakers passed a bill that would give $5.5 million in state aid to the financially struggling BSO over five years.
Tobacco and nicotine: The Assembly passed hikes in the tobacco tax and for the first time set taxes on nicotine vaping and e-cigarettes. The per-pack tax on cigarettes would increase by $1.75, while open vaping systems (such as those sold at independent shops) would face a 12% tax and closed vaping systems (such as those with disposable cartridges) would be taxed at 60%.
Digital ad tax: Maryland would be the first state to attempt to tax digital advertising, which is included as a provision in the tobacco and nicotine tax bill. Supporters expect a court challenge because this a new method of taxation.
Digital downloads: Lawmakers approved a bill that would extend the state’s 6% sales tax to digital downloads of products such as e-books, songs, movies and streaming TV services.
CRIME AND POLICING
Long guns: After failing last year, Democrats in the legislature successfully passed legislation that would require background checks on private sales and transfers of rifles and shotguns.
Hate crimes: Lawmakers also approved a bill to expand the state’s hate crime statutes to include symbols such as nooses and swastikas, and cover cases such as the murder of Army 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III, who was fatally stabbed by a University of Maryland student. Collins’ killing was charged as a hate crime, but the judge threw out that charge on the basis that it wasn’t the killer’s sole motive.
Strangulation: Legislation also passed to make strangulation a felony first-degree assault.
Jailhouse informants: The legislature also passed tougher restrictions on prosecutors’ use of jailhouse informants after false testimony from such witnesses led to convictions of four men who have since been cleared.
Housing: Lawmakers passed the HOME Act, which would ban landlords from discriminating against renters who pay using government benefits.
Hairstyles: The legislature also passed a bill that would add hair texture and hairstyles to the state’s definition of race, with the goal of preventing employers from discriminating against employees based on how they wear their hair.
Obamacare: The legislature took steps to protect Marylanders’ health insurance protections if the federal Affordable Care Act is overturned in the courts or Congress.
Olivia’s Law: Lammakers passed a bill named after University of Maryland, College Park, freshman Olivia Paregol, who died from an adenovirus. The legislation mandates colleges and universities create plans to address the outbreak of infectious diseases.