Leg­isla­tive ses­sion ends on bi­par­ti­san note

Trump, cor­rup­tion, state fi­nances color Gen­eral Assem­bly

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JA­COB TAY­LOR Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

AN­NAPO­LIS — Democrats dur­ing the 2017 Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly ses­sion made con­certed ef­forts to pre­empt poli­cies from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Congress.

An un­ex­pected short­fall in rev­enue added to the usual par­ti­san con­flict over the bud­get while a se­ries of cor­rup­tion scan­dals dogged the Demo­cratic Party, fu­el­ing sev­eral re­form ef­forts by Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R).

Repub­li­cans ex­pressed con­ster­na­tion with Democrats’ anti-Trump ef­forts through­out the ses­sion; most notably in Fe­bru­ary, when most of the Se­nate Repub­li­cans walked off the floor dur­ing de­bate over a res­o­lu­tion to em­power the state’s at­tor­ney gen­eral to pur­sue cases against Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion on a wide range of is­sues.

How­ever, by the end of the ses­sion, many lead­ing Repub­li­cans seemed pleased with the re­sults. Sev­eral Repub­li­can-backed bills were passed and Ho­gan re­tains his strong polling num­bers ahead of the 2018 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Ni­cholaus Kipke (R-Anne Arun­del) told the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Cap­i­tal News ser­vice that “de­spite the par­ti­san ef­forts to kind of drag us into the D.C. post-elec­tion the­ater, we were able to pass some mean­ing­ful bills.”

De­spite its many bat­tles, Kipke said the 2017 ses­sion was the “most bi­par­ti­san” he has seen since he took of­fice. Ho­gan con­curred, telling re­porters that 2017 was an “in­cred­i­ble, bi­par­ti­san ses­sion.”

“We got every­thing done that needed to get done in terms of the leg­is­la­tion,” said Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince Ge­orge’s). “We dealt with health care, we dealt with ed­u­ca­tion, we dealt with en­vi­ron­ment and we dealt with pub­lic safety. So I think it was a very good year quite frankly.”

The two par­ties came to­gether on sev­eral sig­nif­i­cant is­sues, most notably opi­oid abuse, job cre­ation, anti-fraud mea­sures, ed­u­ca­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues.

With re­gard to opi­oid abuse, Mary­land passed re­stric­tions on the quan­tity of opi­oid painkillers that can be doled out by doc­tors in a sin­gle visit (HB1432); mea­sures to in­crease the avail­abil­ity of nalox­one — a drug that can coun­ter­act the ef­fects of over­dose (part of HOPE act); and in­tro­duced steep penal­ties for peo­ple who dis­trib­ute opi­oids that later cause the death of an­other per­son (HB687). The gov­ern­ment also passed new penal­ties for dis­tribut­ing Fen­tanyl — an ex­tremely po­tent syn­thetic opi­oid that has an ex­tremely high lethal over­dose rate (SB967/ HB1329).

The HOPE Act (HB1329), which passed late Mon­day, re­quires the state’s Be­hav­ioral Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion to es­tab­lish a cri­sis treat­ment cen­ter be­fore June 2018. The HOPE Act also in­cludes a pro­vi­sion called Keep the Door Open that pro­vides three years of funding for re­im­burse­ments to com­mu­nity health providers.

The More Jobs for Mary­lan­ders Act (SB317) passed with bi­par­ti­san sup­port. The law is de­signed to bol­ster man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs in Mary­land by of­fer­ing tax in­cen­tives to com­pa­nies that cre­ate jobs in high-un­em­ploy­ment ar­eas and job train­ing pro­grams. Ho­gan con­sid­ered the law a core piece of his 2017 agenda and signed it into law Tues­day.

The Tax­payer Pro­tec­tion Act (SB304) makes it eas­ier for the state to prose­cute fraud­u­lent tax re­fund fil­ers and gives the comptroller’s of­fice greater lat­i­tude to in­ves­ti­gate tax fraud and iden­tity theft. Comptroller Peter Fran­chot (D) pushed hard for the leg­is­la­tion, hold­ing con­fer­ences and events around the state to drum up sup­port for the bill. It passed this year with unan­i­mous sup­port in the Se­nate and a sin­gle nay in the House of Del­e­gates.

Mary­land be­came the first state with shale re­serves to ban frack­ing. The state has had a mora­to­rium on frack­ing in place for sev­eral years, but the out­right ban (HB1325/SB740) be­came po­lit­i­cally fea­si­ble once Ho­gan came out in sup-

port at a joint press con­fer­ence with Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-Bal­ti­more) one of the lead­ing ad­vo­cates for a ban. Sen. Ge­orge Ed­wards (R-Al­le­gany, Gar­rett, Washington) said of frack­ing in Mary­land, “It’s over. Done. Pe­riod.”

Other bi­par­ti­san en­vi­ron­men­tal leg­is­la­tion in­cluded the Clean Cars Act (HB406), which in­creases the state’s bud­get for tax cred­its for elec­tric ve­hi­cles, and the Clean Wa­ter Com­merce Act, which ex­pands the scope of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Restora­tion fund to in­clude sed­i­ment re­duc­tion, but does not in­clude any new funding (SB0314).

State Democrats were dogged by two ma­jor po­lit­i­cal is­sues dur­ing the ses­sion. The first was Trump’s elec­tion in Novem­ber. Del. David Moon (D-Mont­gomery) said that Trump’s elec­tion was the “big­gest sur­prise” of the 2017 ses­sion and that state Democrats were still try­ing to fig­ure out what Trump’s agenda would re­ally look like. Moon cited Trump’s pro­posed in­vest­ments in in­fra­struc­ture as a pos­si­ble point of bi­par­ti­san co­op­er­a­tion.

The sec­ond is­sue is the on­go­ing slate of cor­rup­tion ac­cu­sa­tions that have hit mem­bers of the party. Over the past sev­eral months, four Democrats — cur­rent, former and al­most-leg­is­la­tors — have faced cam­paign fi­nance, bribery and wire fraud charges.

The charges helped fuel a push for anti-cor­rup­tion laws and ethics re­forms by Ho­gan. Sev­eral re­forms passed with bi­par­ti­san sup­port, but they placed Democrats on the de­fen­sive at a time when, in purely po­lit­i­cal terms, the party needed to be on the at­tack against Ho­gan’s strong statewide ap­proval rat­ings and pop­u­lar­ity. A poll re­leased by Goucher Col­lege in late Fe­bru­ary has Ho­gan’s ap­proval rat­ing between 60 and 66 per­cent, nearly un­changed from the same time last year.

Mary­land faced a bud­get short­fall this ses­sion, prompt­ing sev­eral fights over funding al­lo­ca­tion, per­haps most sig­nif­i­cantly over sev­eral mil­lion in funds that the gov­er­nor’s bud­get pro­posal cut from the Prince Ge­orge’s County Med­i­cal Cen­ter.

Some of Mary­land’s bud­get strug­gles stem from the chal­lenge of pre­dict­ing how much rev­enue the state will take in; in­come taxes, in par­tic­u­lar, can be very volatile and over­es­ti­mates can leave the state with a sud­den fund short­age.

The prob­lem is that the law­mak­ers rely on rev­enue es­ti­mates to de­ter­mine how much to spend. If an es­ti­mate is too low, law­mak­ers dis­trib­ute the sur­plus, leav­ing no dol­lar un­used. How­ever, when an es­ti­mate is too high, this spend-to-the-hilt ap­proach leaves no room for ad­just­ment with­out cut­ting from funded pro­grams.

A bill pro­posed by Del. Mag­gie Mcin­tosh (D-Bal­ti­more) sought to solve that prob­lem by plac­ing sur­plus rev­enues in a fund that can only be spent dur­ing the fol­low­ing year. Ba­si­cally, the law cre­ates a buf­fer that can ab­sorb the con­se­quences of over­es­ti­mated rev­enue; mean­while, law­mak­ers can still

spend money left over from un­der­es­ti­mates, they just have to wait a year for it to be­come avail­able. The spon­sor of the Se­nate ver­sion of the bill, Sen. Roger Manno (D-Mont­gomery) said the goal is to “build a ro­bust and sol­vent ‘rainy day’ fund.” Ho­gan signed the bill into law in late March (HB503).

Paid sick leave be­came a ma­jor point of con­tention, as the gov­er­nor and law­mak­ers pro­posed mul­ti­ple ver­sions of how much paid leave the state should re­quire com­pa­nies to of­fer and which com­pa­nies should be af­fected. The ver­sion that fi­nally passed (HB1) the leg­is­la­ture re­quires busi­nesses with more than 14 em­ploy­ees to of­fer one hour of paid sick leave per 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours per year. Em­ploy­ers with fewer than 14 em­ploy­ees have to of­fer the same amount of sick leave, but it can be un­paid. Ho­gan may veto the leg­is­la­tion but said he had not yet re­viewed the bill at the end of the ses­sion late Mon­day night.

A bill that would limit stan­dard­ized test­ing time also passed. And Ho­gan al­lowed a bill that would fund Planned Par­ent­hood (HB1083) — should fed­eral dol­lars dry up — be­come law with­out his sig­na­ture.

As al­ways, not ev­ery bill made it through this year.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly failed to pass a bill that would ex­pand the num­ber of grow­ing li­censes for the state’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try (HB1443) in an ef­fort to in­crease di­ver­sity in busi­ness own­er­ship. Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Bal­ti­more) said she was “dev­as­tated” the House didn’t pass the bill be­fore the mid­night dead­line. “We have a multi-bil­lion in­dus­try with no mi­nori­ties par­tic­i­pat­ing,” Conway said. “... I’m al­most speech­less.”

Im­mi­gra­tion ad­vo­cates ex­pressed deep dis­ap­point­ment Tues­day after the The Mary­land Law En­force­ment and Gov­ern­men­tal Trust Act (SB0835) died in the Se­nate. The bill would have es­sen­tially made Mary­land a sanc­tu­ary state by re­strict­ing the in­volve­ment of law en­force­ment agen­cies in Mary­land with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion ef­forts, ban­ning state gov­ern­ment agents from ask­ing crime vic­tims or sus­pects about their im­mi­gra­tion or cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus.

Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Mont­gomery) said the state “failed to re­act to the anx­i­ety of the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity.”

Ho­gan said he was dis­ap­pointed that his pro­pos­als to pe­nal­ize repeat drunken driv­ers and re­form the state’s re­dis­trict­ing process did not pass. Demo­cratic law­mak­ers passed their own ver­sion of re­dis­trict­ing re­form (SB1023), which would cre­ate a non-par­ti­san re­dis­trict­ing process only if five other mid-At­lantic states do the same.

A bill pro­posed by Del. Mary Ann Lisanti (D-Har­ford) would have made the Can­vas­back Duck the of­fi­cial state water­fowl (HB061); the bill never made it out of com­mit­tee.

PHOTO COURTESY OF CAP­I­TAL NEWS SER­VICE/ HAN­NAH KLARNER

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles, Prince Ge­orge’s) leads the last leg­isla­tive ses­sion in An­napo­lis on April 10. Miller ex­pressed dis­ap­proval with the House sys­tem of pass­ing bills later in the ses­sion.

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