Gen­eral As­sem­bly gets un­der­way

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JA­COB TAY­LOR

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.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF CAP­I­TAL NEWS SER­VICE VIA AP/HAN­NAH KLARNER

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.

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