General Assembly gets underway
Lawmakers under air of uncertainty amid vows of bipartisanship ANNAPOLIS — The 2017 session of the Maryland General Assembly began Wednesday amid confusion stemming from federal investigations plaguing Democrats and concern among Republicans over the possible override of several vetoes issued by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) at the end of the 2016 session. The
Senate is scheduled to begin to debate the vetoes on Jan. 18.
Del. Michael L. Vaughn (D-Prince George’s) cit- ed health concerns in a two-sentence resignation letter to House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) on Wednesday, raising ques- tions that he may be involved in a federal inves- tigation into corruption on the Prince George’s County Liquor Board.
Vaughn, 59, sat on the House Economic Matters Committee and had been a legislator in the state since 2003.
Two business owners and two board mem- bers have already been charged, according to a press release issued Thursday by the U.S. At- torney’s Office.
Although Democrats still have the three-fifths majority needed to over- ride vetoes, their margin has shrunk, at least tem- porarily, by the sudden resignation of Sen. Lisa A. Gladden (D-Baltimore) due to illness.
Hogan has said he in- tends to attend the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, despite telling the Baltimore Sun that he didn’t vote for the controversial Republican businessman.
Hogan, a Republican, enjoys high approval rat- ings in a majority Dem- ocratic state and refused to endorse Trump during the campaign.
Looking toward the 2018 gubernatorial elec- tion, Hogan faces a com- plicated political arena as many Republican vot- ers will likely expect the governor to support the Republican president. At the same time, his refus- al to endorse or support Trump during the elec- tion gained him ground among Maryland’s ma- jority liberal voting population.
According to Amelia Chassé, the governor’s deputy communications director, “the governor does what he thinks is right, this is not about political maneuvering; Gov. Hogan had a strong rela- tionship with the Obama administration without supporting President Obama.”
Chassé said Hogan’s top priority for the 2017 leg- islative session remains repealing the Maryland Open Transportation Decision Act of 2016. The bill requires the governor’s office to score transporta- tion funding projects before they receive funding.
The governor’s office refers to the bill as the “Road Kill” bill and Chassé said that it will prevent the administration from moving forward with im- portant projects.
During remarks at Wednesday’s first Senate session, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s) told Hogan that the Senate would look at the transportation bill and consider ways to make it “more palatable” to the governor.
Miller also said that the governor’s office and both legislative bodies are united in their commit- ment to address opioid abuse in the state.
There is wide bipartisan support to fight the her- oin and opioid epidemic in Maryland. In previous years, the legislature has addressed the issue by picking “low hanging fruit,” said Del. Clarence Lam (D-Baltimore, How- ard), such as by enacting laws that protect people from arrest for calling 911 for an overdose, or by distributing Naloxone, which can reverse the ef- fects of opioids.
Lam and other delegates hope to go further by providing more fund- ing for preventative mea- sures and addiction treat- ment centers, he said.
Miller praised Hogan’s budget allocations for environmental initiatives.
However, the governor vetoed a 2016 bill that would have increased Maryland’s renewable portfolio standard, which regulates the amount of electricity in the state con- nected to renewable ener- gy sources.
Also, Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore County) said that one of his top pri- orities in 2017 “is to ban fracking in Maryland.” Zirkin went on to say that “it would be the height of legislative negligence if we failed to do that.”
Maryland currently has a moratorium on frack- ing that expires later this year.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, a former Democratic senator, was a guest on the Senate floor and took a moment to thank the senators who supported her mayoral campaign.
Pugh says that “mak- ing sure the funding is in place” for education in the city is one of her administration’s top priorities during the 2017 session.
Shortly after arriving at the State House, Pugh was approached by Hogan, who embraced her in a hug.
Their conversation was muffled, but Hogan could be heard saying enthusiastically “time for a change in Baltimore City” as Pugh nodded and the two separated.
Sen. J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County, Harford) said “overall, my priority is to make this a successful session.”
Hogan proposed a sick leave plan late last year that would give Maryland workers five days of paid leave for businesses with at least 50 workers.
While some lawmakers want his plan to have a further reach, it provides a good “starting point for discussions,” Lam said.
Annapolis lawmakers are bracing themselves for the president-elect Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Without the current level of federal funding for healthcare, Maryland lawmakers may have to scramble to pick up the costs, working within an already tight budget, said Del. Terri Hill (D-Baltimore, Howard).
If the state can’t find the funds, thousands could potentially lose their healthcare, Lam said.
Capital News Service reporters Natalie Schwartz and Jack Chavez contributed to this report.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. speaks during the first day of the legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 11, in Annapolis. Gov. Larry Hogan also spoke in both the House and Senate.