Gen­eral Assem­bly ends with crim­i­nal re­form, no tax cuts

Both sides cite mi­nor grum­blings over oth­er­wise pro­duc­tive ses­sion

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By RACHEL BLUTH Cap­i­tal News Ser­vice

AN­NAPO­LIS — In a leg­isla­tive ses­sion that be­gan with bick­er­ing be­tween Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan and Demo­cratic lead­er­ship in the Gen­eral Assem­bly, the big­gest is­sue left un­re­solved at the end — across­the-board in­come tax re­duc­tion — failed be­cause of in-fight­ing among Demo­cratic lead­ers.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Charles, Calvert, Prince Ge­orge’s) and House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel) couldn’t agree on who should get cuts.

The House’s ver­sion ben­e­fited mid­dle- and work­ing-class peo­ple, and the Se­nate’s ver­sion fo­cused on higher-in­come and cor- po­rate tax cuts.

“Un­for­tu­nately the speaker of the House and Se­nate pres­i­dent dropped the ball and failed to get it done,” Ho­gan said Mon­day night of the tax cuts, which were among his top pri­or­i­ties. “It’s very frus­trat­ing and dis­ap­point­ing.”

Per­haps the largest and most-de­bated is­sue this ses­sion was crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form.

The om­nibus bill steers non-vi­o­lent drug of­fend­ers to­ward treat­ment rather than in­car­cer­a­tion.

Lead­er­ship on both sides of the aisle and in both branches of govern­ment have called this bill — the prod­uct of in­tense com­pro­mise be­tween the House

and Se­nate — one of the crown­ing achieve­ments of the ses­sion.

“It’s a game changer for the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem in mul­ti­ple ways,” said Sen. Robert Zirkin (D-Bal­ti­more).

An­other bill, Noah’s Law, passed the Gen­eral Assem­bly with only an hour to go.

The bill, named af­ter a po­lice of­fi­cer who was killed while on a drunken driv­ing pa­trol, ex­pands the use of ig­ni­tion locks on cars of drunken driv­ers.

“We know we’re sav­ing a lot of lives by do­ing this,” said Sen. Jamie Raskin (D-Mont­gomery), the bill’s spon­sor.

Busch called it one of the most pro­duc­tive ses­sions he could re­mem­ber as Ho­gan signed more than 100 bills into law Tues­day.

The $42.3 bil­lion op­er­at­ing bud­get was passed unan­i­mously in both cham­bers more than two weeks be­fore the ses­sion ended, and closely re­sem­bled Ho­gan’s orig­i­nal pro­posal.

“It’s been the best, eas­i­est in terms of lev­els of stress and dif­fer­ences,” Se­nate Bud­get and Tax­a­tion Com­mit­tee Chair Ed­ward Kase­meyer (D-Bal­ti­more County) said of ne­go­ti­a­tions. “Every­body was very ac­com­mo­dat­ing.”

The ses­sion saw sev­eral other big ini­tia­tives be­come law, in­clud­ing a plan to re­duce stu­dent loan debt, set new stan­dards to com­bat cli­mate change and cre­ate harsher fines for poach­ers. The Gen­eral Assem­bly also ap­proved a part­ner­ship be­tween the Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Col­lege Park and Bal­ti­more cam­puses.

The ses­sion also saw the pas­sage of some bills that could be seen as a re­sponse to the death of Fred­die Gray and the un­rest in Bal­ti­more last year, in­clud­ing laws re­form­ing of­fi­cers’ train­ing, and al­low­ing for res­i­dents to anony­mously re­port com­plaints about po­lice.

Some ini­tially con­tro­ver­sial pieces of leg­is­la­tion, like a law al­low­ing ter­mi­nally ill pa­tients to end their lives af­ter a se­ries of stip­u­la­tions, never made it to the gov­er­nor’s desk.

Ad­vo­cates for a bill re­quir­ing busi­nesses to let their em­ploy­ees earn paid sick leave spent weeks in An­napo­lis lob­by­ing law­mak­ers, but it never passed.

Mileah Kromer, a po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist from Goucher Col­lege, said this rep­re­sented a big loss for Democrats.

“It’s an ini­tia­tive they have been work­ing on for a cou­ple of years now, and they can’t seem to muster enough to get it through,” she said.

The ses­sion be­gan with over­rides on five bills Ho­gan ve­toed in 2015.

The low-boil of ten­sion dur­ing the ses­sion also bub­bled up when Ho­gan again tried to thwart leg­isla­tive ac­tion by ve­to­ing bills both cham­bers passed.

With less than a week be­fore the Gen­eral Assem­bly ad­journed for the year, Democrats used a con­sti­tu­tional ma­neu­ver to force Ho­gan’s hand early on some bills. This gave them time to over­ride two more of his ve­toes, in­clud­ing a Demo­cratic plan re­quir­ing all trans­porta­tion projects to be scored be­fore they re­ceive fund­ing.

An oft-re­peated num­ber around the State House this year was “83 per­cent” — the amount of the state’s op­er­at­ing bud­get that Ho­gan’s of­fice said is eaten up by man­dates, which re­quire the gov­er­nor to fund cer­tain projects ev­ery year in his bud­get.

Repub­li­cans got a lot of mileage out of that statis­tic, which ap­peared rep­re­sented by a jar of change on the desk of Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader J.B. Jen­nings’ (R-Bal­ti­more) for weeks.

Ho­gan in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion to curb this kind of fund­ing, but his pro­pos­als got lit­tle trac­tion in the Gen­eral Assem­bly. He of­ten de­scribed him­self as a “goalie, just try­ing to stop a lot of bad things from hap­pen­ing,” when it came to new ini­tia­tives that came with fu­ture price tags.

“I think any time you have di­vided govern­ment you’ll have a strug­gle on where money goes be­cause nei­ther side has full con­trol of it,” Kromer said.

Sev­eral bills that would re­quire later fund­ing, in­clud­ing for Prince Ge­orge’s Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter and a pack­age of bills aimed at re­vi­tal­iz­ing Bal­ti­more, re­ceived bi­par­ti­san sup­port. But Ho­gan called them “need­less po­lit­i­cal ac­tions” be­cause they re­quired spend­ing “on pro­grams that our ad­min­is­tra­tion was al­ready com­mit­ted to.”

Oth­ers, in­clud­ing schol­ar­ship pro­grams and ex­tended li­brary hours, also passed, but were op­posed by Repub­li­cans who op­posed cre­at­ing more fund­ing re­quire­ments.

Miller on Mon­day night in­di­cated that a one-day spe­cial ses­sion might be nec­es­sary to pass both the tax cuts leg­is­la­tion and the earned sick leave bill.

Spe­cial ses­sions are usu­ally for ur­gent bills that can’t wait un­til the next year, and while Miller has said he thought the bills mer­ited spe­cial cir­cum­stances, both Ho­gan and Busch were less en­thu­si­as­tic.

“If the gov­er­nor calls a spe­cial ses­sion, I’ll be here ob­vi­ously,” Busch said. “But he has to jus­tify it to the pub­lic.”

The tense un­der­cur­rent flow­ing through much of the ses­sion would boil up in oc­ca­sion­ally odd ways, like in Fe­bru­ary, when Ho­gan com­pared leg­is­la­tors to kids on spring break, com­ing to An­napo­lis and caus­ing trou­ble.

“They come here for a few weeks,” he said on the C4 show on WBAL-AM Ra­dio. “They start break­ing up the fur­ni­ture and throw­ing beer bot­tles off the bal­cony.”

It prompted a brief back­lash, where Demo­cratic se­na­tors and del­e­gates Tweeted pic­tures of them­selves in com­mit­tee hear­ings cap- tioned #not­spring­break.

And on the first day law­mak­ers ar­rived in An­napo­lis, be­fore the Gen­eral Assem­bly had gaveled in for its first vote, Miller said there was no com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween Ho­gan’s of­fice and Demo­cratic lead­er­ship, a com­plaint both sides brought up through­out the 90-day ses­sion.

Re­dis­trict­ing re­form, on the top of the gov­er­nor’s list, failed. Mary­land has been called the “most ger­ry­man­dered” state, and Ho­gan in­tro­duced a bill in Jan­uary that re­quired con­gres­sional dis­tricts to be con­tigu­ous and take into ac­count county and city bound­aries.

This is likely in re­sponse to Mary­land’s 3rd Con­gres­sional District, which was nick­named the “pray­ing man­tis” district by the Wash­ing­ton Post, and has also been said to re­sem­ble a “bro­ken-winged ptero­dactyl, lying pros­trate across the cen­ter of the state,” by a fed­eral judge.

Some of At­tor­ney Gen­eral Brian Frosh’s ini­tia­tives, like deal­ing with fan­tasy gam­ing and pass­ing some gun re­stric­tions, didn’t pass ei­ther.

CNS Cor­re­spon­dent Lexie Schapitl con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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