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2019 Maryland General Assembly: Here's what happened with the key issues

Here's a look at how lawmakers handled key issues during the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session, which ended Monday night.

Environment

Five oyster sanctuaries will be permanently protected from being harvested, following passage of a bill championed by the late House of Delegates speaker, Democrat Michael Busch.

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Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill, but senators and delegates overrode the veto in the session’s final days.

Maryland also could become the first state to ban the use of foam packaging, known as expanded polystyrene, for most foods.

The ban approved by the Assembly now advances to Hogan’s desk; he has not taken a position on whether he would sign the bill. If Hogan vetoes it, lawmakers appear to have enough votes to override, but that might not happen until next year.

A bill that would require Maryland to get more of its electricity from renewable sources was approved Monday night. It would mandate that 50 percent of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, by 2030. The bill would continue to allow trash incineration to qualify for renewable energy subsidies, to the consternation of some lawmakers and environmentalists who are concerned about air pollution from waste-to-energy plants.

Economy

A raise is in store for Maryland’s low-wage workers after lawmakers approved a gradual increase in the minimum wage from $10.10 an hour to $15.

Hogan vetoed that bill, too, but lawmakers swiftly voted to override. The first minimum wage increase will be Jan. 1, bringing the minimum hourly pay to $11.

Maryland’s breweries also got a boost this session with the passage of laws that would allow them to sell more beer in their on-site taprooms and would make it easier for them to switch distributors.

Education

The money would go toward some of the recommendations of the so-called Kirwan Commission, which has been studying how to improve public education in Maryland. The commission’s recommendations include raising teacher pay; free, full-day prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds for poor families; and establishing more “community schools” in high-poverty areas that offer services for students’ families, such as health care.

The state teachers union made a strong show of support for the cause, bringing an estimated 7,000 people to Annapolis for one of the largest rallies in years.

The General Assembly and Hogan continued their fight over when public schools should start their academic year. Assembly Democrats undid Hogan’s 2016 executive order that mandated the school year begin after Labor Day, then overrode Hogan’s veto of the legislation. The decision is now in the hands of individual school districts.

Guns

Lawmakers approved legislation that would abolish the state’s Handgun Permit Review Board, which considers appeals of Maryland State Police decisions to deny or limit permits to carry handguns.

Some lawmakers and gun-control advocates have grown concerned that the board has become permissive in recent years, routinely overturning the police.

Under the bill, appeals of the police decisions would go to state administrative law judges.

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Shari Judah testifying in front of a joint hearing of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee and the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in Annapolis. She is a former member of the state's Handgun Permit Review Board and was testifying against a bill that would abolish the board. (Baltimore Sun video)

Legislation to require background checks for private sales of rifles and shotguns failed late Monday when legislators couldn’t hammer out differences between two versions of the bill. Under current law, background checks are only required for long gun purchases made from a licensed firearms dealer.

A bill to ban 3D printed guns that passed in the House last month did not advance in the Senate by the time the session ended.

Health

Marylanders would have to be at least 21 years old to buy tobacco products starting Oct. 1 under a bill passed during the session.

Lawmakers also passed legislation that would bar health insurers from declining to cover pre-existing conditions. That’s an element of federal health care law that could be at risk in court challenges.

Horse Racing

Funding for the state's thoroughbred racetracks fizzled in the final days.

The Stronach Group, which owns three thoroughbred facilities, sought to accelerate improvements at Laurel Park and the Bowie Training Center through state-issued bonds that would have been paid back using the state’s Racetrack Facility Renewal Fund, which gets money from slot machines.

Baltimore officials and supporters of Pimlico Race Course in the city objected, and tried to push plans that would require investment in Pimlico, too. The latest effort would have allowed the bonds to be issued, as long as Stronach made significant progress on redeveloping Pimlico.

But that effort, which did not include a requirement that Pimlico continue as a racetrack, failed to gain support. The Senate sent it back Monday to committee, signaling its failure.

Public safety

Lawmakers approved a measure that would allow Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore to create its own armed police force — something that otherwise is not allowed for private institutions in the state. The governor has said he supports the bill.

But the Assembly rejected a proposal to allow Baltimore school police officers to carry their guns inside schools during class hours.

Public board reform

After The Baltimore Sun reported that some of the 30 members of the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors held lucrative, no-bid contracts with the hospital network, lawmakers passed reforms that would ban such contracts and start inquiries into the board’s practices and finances.

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The legislation would also require the board’s members, who are appointed by the governor, to resign by the end of the year.

Hogan supports UMMS reform.

Lawmakers also passed reforms of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents after its handling of the aftermath of the death of Terrapins football player Jordan McNair. The board would be required to livestream its meetings and conduct votes in open session.

Ethics

The House of Delegates disciplined two of its members during the session.

Delegates voted to censure Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, a Harford County Democrat, after the Washington Post reported that she used a racial slur during an after-hours gathering of lawmakers in January. Censure is the second-strongest form of punishment the legislature can mete out, surpassed only by expulsion.

And delegates voted to reprimand Del. Jay Jalisi, a Baltimore County Democrat, following an ethics investigation that found he engaged in a pattern of abusive and demeaning behavior against his staff.

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