Facing a midnight deadline to put the finishing touches on everything from gun control policies to strengthening oversight of an embattled state college savings agency, Maryland lawmakers enter Monday’s final day of the 2023 session with a packed schedule that could take them right up to the wire.
Still, most of the major issues for the year are settled. Hundreds of bills are already on their way to Democratic Gov. Wes Moore’s desk after the House and Senate each spent recent weeks in marathon bill-passing sessions. Controversial topics like abortion and recreational cannabis are essentially done.
Others, like gun control and the Maryland 529 tuition savings program, still need to take a few more final steps.
Here’s what Marylanders should know on the last day of another frenetic year at the State House in Annapolis.
New limits on gun ownership
In the wake of a June U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively ruled Maryland’s “concealed carry” license law unconstitutional, lawmakers have passed legislation to re-regulate where guns can be carried in public, how they must be stored in homes and who is eligible to receive licenses to carry firearms.
The House is expected to give final approval before midnight Monday to a bill that would establish where guns are and are not allowed to be carried — even with a license.
Recreational cannabis on its way
In a monumental vote Saturday, the House gave final approval to plans to establish and regulate a potentially multibillion-dollar recreational cannabis industry. Lawmakers have been determined to get a new regulatory system up and running by July 1, the date voters in November approved for making up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis possession legal.
With House Bill 556 at Moore’s desk and an identical Senate Bill 516 expected to receive two final votes Monday, the industry would start this summer with medical cannabis businesses converting their licenses to new medical and recreational cannabis licenses. Brand new businesses would get off the ground later this year and next year, and tax revenues would largely go to communities that were disproportionally affected by the war on drugs.
Ahead of schedule: Abortion referendum and transgender health care
Following the June overturning of Roe v. Wade, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson both committed to passing a bill to allow Marylanders to choose whether to enshrine the right to abortion access in the state constitution. Voters will see the question on the ballot during the 2024 presidential election.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Additionally, both chambers passed a Trans Health Equity Act, which would require Maryland Medicaid to cover gender-affirming care and procedures for the state’s transgender residents. Moore has committed to signing this legislation into law.
Another step or two: 529, racing authority
The independent 529 agency, which lets parents save money tax-free for their children’s education, entered the spotlight this year after suspending access to interest payments for account holders in its Maryland Prepaid College Trust. House Bill 1290 and Senate Bill 959 would move the program under the purview of State Treasurer Dereck Davis.
Lawmakers had pledged to move forward with the plan to strengthen oversight of the agency. Still, only the Senate bill has passed its original chamber and the House would have to move it forward in an expedited way Monday for it to succeed.
Another bill focused on improving oversight that still hasn’t crossed the finish line is Senate Bill 720, which would create the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority. The authority would be charged with studying and developing racetracks, including the stalled redevelopment of Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and Laurel Park. The bill passed the Senate; it needs a final vote in the House.
What will the governor sign first?
Moore can sign bills passed by the end of Monday over the next several weeks, starting with the first batch at an event scheduled for Tuesday.
It’s unclear which bills that Moore, a charismatic first-year elected official, will want to make a statement about by signing first.
In recent weeks, he’s pledged to sign the Trans Health Equity Act and the Child Victims Act, which would allow more survivors of child sexual abuse to sue for financial damages. Keep an eye out for Moore to also focus on some of the bills he pushed as his priorities this session, such as the creation of a service-year program for young adults, a tax cut for military veterans and an expansion of tax credits for families with low incomes.