Here are some of the issues senators and delegates considered during the 2014 Maryland General Assembly session. To become law, bills passed by the legislature must be signed by the governor.
The Assembly approved Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to gradually raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10, but it won't fully take effect until 2018. State-funded workers who care for the disabled also will get a raise. In a nod to wealthier Marylanders, lawmakers passed a bill that eventually will spare 80 percent of heirs currently subject to the estate tax. It raises from $1 million to $5 million the threshold at which estates are subject to taxation.
A proposal to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana — making it a civil offense punishable by a fine — was revived during the session's final weekend and approved Monday. O'Malley said he will sign the bill. Legislation also was approved to replace a medical marijuana program that never got off the ground. The new legislation will allow any physician who receives a special state license to recommend marijuana for patients with serious medical conditions. Patients will be able to buy the drug from state-licensed distributors. A proposal to legalize and regulate the drug, as is done in Colorado, never emerged from a House committee.
The House and Senate could not agree on a plan to overhaul Maryland's bail system but put money in the budget for a stopgap solution. It will pay for some of the lawyers that the state's highest court has said must be offered poor defendants earlier in the process. The Assembly approved a package of domestic violence bills supported by O'Malley. They make it easier for victims to obtain protective orders and allow an extra penalty of up to five years for abusers who commit assaults in front of minors.
Lawmakers approved a speed-camera reform bill prompted largely by failures in Baltimore's system. Among other provisions, it narrows the definition of a school zone where the cameras can be placed, requires local governments to have ombudsmen who can throw out erroneous tickets and makes it easier to fire contractors who issue flawed citations. The Assembly also passed a measure requiring drivers to move over a lane or slow down as they approach a tow truck giving assistance, just as they already must do for police making a traffic stop. "Jake's Law" — a measure to increase the penalties when drivers talking on the phone or texting cause a fatal accident — was passed Monday.
The Assembly approved a measure requiring the city's troubled liquor board to post its actions online to allow greater public scrutiny. City Hall also would have a bigger role in supervising the state agency. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration won approval of bill to greatly expand the city's needle exchange program for drug addicts. A bill aimed at retaining city residents by letting them transfer part of their homestead tax credit if they buy another home in Baltimore was approved Monday night.
At the behest of Southern Maryland lawmakers, the Assembly approved a bill to delay commercial wind projects — and possibly kill one on the Eastern Shore — to protect Naval Air Station Patuxent River. O'Malley opposed the bill and has not said whether he will sign it. The governor is expected to sign a measure that will allow wind, solar and other renewable energy projects to be built on preserved farmland. Despite many proposals to alter or eliminate the stormwater fee that critics call the "rain tax," no major changes were made. Lawmakers did let Carroll and Frederick counties skip the fees as long as they put enough local property tax money into curbing polluted runoff. O'Malley won approval of his "wildlands" bill to add 22,000 acres to Maryland's network of wilderness areas.
Maryland's program to deliver pre-kindergarten to 4-year-olds from low-income families will expand to serve about 1,600 more students across the state, at a cost of $4.3 million. The Assembly's approval of O'Malley's bill could be a first step in expanding pre-K to all Maryland 4-year-olds under the next administration. After trying for years, Baltimore County parents won legislation to create a "hybrid" school board with seven elected and four appointed members starting in 2018. A proposal to increase fines for college hazing rituals that go too far died in the House.
The Assembly declined to adopt special regulations for ride-sharing companies such as Uber, leaving the Public Service Commission with a choice to regulate them like taxicabs or not at all. In the area of craft microbrewing, which has exploded in Maryland, lawmakers declined to lift the cap on the maximum number of barrels a microbrewer can produce. But they did pass a bill that would allow small brew pubs to sell their product at farmers' markets.
Lawmakers grilled administration officials about the botched rollout of Maryland's health exchange but took no action beyond establishing an oversight committee that will continue to meet this summer. They addressed the question of whether the mentally ill can be forced to take medication, passing a bill in which clinical panels at hospitals would receive more latitude in prescribing medication without a patient's consent.
The Assembly voted to the outlaw the sale of high-proof grain alcohol. College presidents in the state lobbied for the ban, arguing that the potent liquor contributes to a culture of binge-drinking. After two years of trying, the Assembly passed a measure negating a Maryland high court decision that said pit bulls are inherently dangerous and must be held to a stricter liability standard for bites than other breeds.