Maryland lawmakers will make the trek to Annapolis on Monday morning for a final day of legislating before the General Assembly adjourns at midnight and most of them strike out on the campaign trail ahead of upcoming elections.
Much of the agenda Democratic leadership marked as priorities was wrapped up over the weekend during a flurry of Saturday votes that overrode all 10 Friday vetoes from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. The push left few high-profile battles, but still some important work for the final hours of the annual 90-day legislative session.
Over the weekend, lawmakers voted to: put the possible legalization of recreational marijuana on the November ballot, enact sweeping new climate goals to cut greenhouse gas emissions, create a paid family and medical leave program, add new gun control restrictions to outlaw untraceable so-called ghost guns, expand abortion providers in the state and require most health insurance to cover abortions cost-free.
Earlier Hogan, wrapping up his final full legislative session as governor, struck deals with Democratic leadership to temporarily lift the state’s 36-cents-per-gallon gasoline tax, a reprieve that ends Saturday, and over a number of budget priorities. They included a deal on tax cuts that combined part of a long-sought Hogan priority — a $1,000 state income tax credit for Marylanders over 65 — with Democratic proposals to cut sales taxes on many child care and medical items and to incentivize employers to hire from groups that traditionally have harder times finding jobs.
A resurgent coronavirus pandemic in January cast a shadow over the beginning of the legislative session, with most lawmakers working remotely and all committee meetings handled over video. But rules loosened as the surge faded, with mask rules relaxing and members of the media allowed back on the floors of both chambers for the first time since the pandemic forced an abrupt end to the 2020 session.
Some of the celebratory atmosphere might return Monday to the State House with the public, for the first time since 2019, allowed to be on hand for “sine die.” The Latin term roughly translates as “without [a] day,” when legislators adjourn at the end of the last day of the current session.
With few major controversial issues still in play, the final push likely won’t be as hectic as in past years. And, with a lighter agenda, lawmakers won’t gavel in Monday until noon.
Still, here are several things that could get done on the final day.
Hogan criminal justice priorities
Two of Hogan’s criminal justice priorities, both championed by Republicans in the General Assembly, remain in play.
The governor and other Republicans have loudly demanded that Democrats pass a bill to stiffen criminal penalties and lengthen prison sentences for crimes involving firearms, claiming harsher sanctions would tamp down violence in Baltimore and elsewhere. But many Democratic critics contend the proposal would simply double down on failed tough-on-crime policies, and would fill prisons without addressing underlying causes of crime.
Despite Hogan’s repeated public appeals, the package — which he pushed in previous years, as well — has languished in the General Assembly. That’s left it with little time and a long way to go to succeed.
Maryland Policy & Politics
A separate Hogan-backed bid to give voters more insight into how judges sentence people convicted of serious crimes seemed to pick up momentum. The state’s senators struck a compromise to publish aggregated averages for all judges in a jurisdiction, instead of detailing an individual judge’s record, which some Democrats argued could inject too much political pressure into the justice system.
The Senate passed that bill unanimously, but it remains bottled up in the House Judiciary Committee. A last-minute push could get it through to the governor’s desk; it’s unclear whether it has the support among Democratic delegates for that to happen.
Policing Baltimore’s bus lanes
Last year, lawmakers gave Baltimore the go-ahead to install two speed cameras on Interstate 83, giving the city an automated way to control speeding on the often wild stretch of highway (and collect millions in projected fines).
Baltimore streets might soon get more camera enforcement, this time aimed at keeping drivers out of the city’s bus-only lanes. A bill to authorize camera enforcement of bus-only lanes has passed both chambers, but lawmakers need to resolve slight differences over amendments to the bill.
If passed, scofflaws driving or parking in the lanes — which are supposed to be reserved for buses and bicyclists unless a driver is making a turn — would face a maximum fine of $100 for each camera citation, less than the $500 top fine for the (relatively rare) officer-issued ticket. As with other camera tickets, the citations would not be considered moving violations and would not result in points against a driver’s license.
This article has been corrected to say the Maryland General Assembly on Saturday overrode all 10 of Gov. Larry Hogan's vetoes. The Sun regrets the error.