8 key is­sues fac­ing law­mak­ers

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FROM PAGE ONE - By Pamela Wood and Luke Broad­wa­ter

Mary­land’s 188 state law­mak­ers open their an­nual 90-day Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion Wed­nes­day at the State House in An­napo­lis. From ed­u­ca­tion re­form to thor­ough­bred rac­ing to sports bet­ting, here’s a look at at some of the key is­sues they’ll be fac­ing.

New lead­er­ship

State sen­a­tors and del­e­gates will look up to new lead­ers on the ros­trum for the first time in years.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Demo­crat from Anne Arun­del County, led the House from 2003 un­til he died on the sec­ond-to-last day of last year’s Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion. In a spe­cial May 1 ses­sion, del­e­gates elected Bal­ti­more County Demo­crat Adrienne A. Jones to suc­ceed him.

Across the hall, Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller plans to turn over his gavel af­ter more than three decades of lead­er­ship. The Calvert County Demo­crat will re­turn to his seat on the floor of the cham­ber as Demo­cratic Sen. Bill Fer­gu­son of Bal­ti­more is ex­pected to be elected Se­nate pres­i­dent.

Jones and Fer­gu­son have each spent time this year trav­el­ing the state, meet­ing with law­mak­ers and ex­pand­ing their knowl­edge of is­sues in dif­fer­ent re­gions.

Ed­u­ca­tion re­form

Lead­ers of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly’s Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity have vowed to pass a law creat­ing a new fund­ing for­mula for pub­lic schools to pay for ad­di­tional pro­grams such as ex­pand­ing prekinder­garten to all 4-year-olds, im­prov­ing stu­dents’ ca­reer and col­lege readi­ness, rais­ing teacher salaries and sup­port­ing schools with con­cen­tra­tions of stu­dents from low­in­come fam­i­lies.

The pro­grams, rec­om­mended by the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion, would be phased in over 10 years, and even­tu­ally cost an ad­di­tional $4 bil­lion an­nu­ally — $2.8 bil­lion from the state and $1.2 bil­lion from lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

How to pay for the state’s por­tion of the ex­tra ed­u­ca­tion spend­ing will be a key de­bate in the Gen­eral As­sem­bly. Law­mak­ers could con­sider rais­ing money by le­gal­iz­ing sports bet­ting, re­in­sti­tut­ing a higher in­come tax on mil­lion­naires and end­ing cer­tain tax in­cen­tives and cred­its for busi­nesses. Demo­cratic lead­ers have pledged not to sup­port an across-the-board in­crease in the state’s in­come, prop­erty or sales taxes.

School con­struc­tion

Hand-in-hand with im­prov­ing class­room in­struc­tion is im­prov­ing school build­ings, Demo­cratic lead­ers say.

Both Demo­cratic law­mak­ers and Repub­li­can Gov. Larry Ho­gan have en­dorsed ver­sions of a plan to bor­row $2.2 bil­lion over five years to ad­dress a back­log of school con­struc­tion re­quests. The money would be paid back us­ing $125 mil­lion each year that would come from a por­tion of casino rev­enues set aside for ed­u­ca­tion.

Pim­lico and the Preak­ness

A plan by the city of Bal­ti­more, the com­pany that owns the Pim­lico Race Course and Lau­rel Park tracks, and a horse own­ers’ group would turn Pim­lico over to a new non­profit en­tity and re­model it into a mul­ti­sport and en­ter­tain­ment venue in North­west Bal­ti­more.

Lau­rel Park, in Anne Arun­del County, would re­main the home of year-round thor­ough­bred rac­ing in Mary­land and also would get a face-lift.

The plan would re­quire mul­ti­ple changes in state law , in­clud­ing chang­ing how some of the casino-funded sub­si­dies for rac­ing are used. Demo­cratic lead­ers say they ex­pect a bill to pass, though Ho­gan hasn’t of­fered his opin­ion.

Fla­vored vap­ing liq­uids

Law­mak­ers could ban sweet fla­vored vap­ing liq­uids that are ap­peal­ing to chil­dren, as alarm bells con­tinue to ring about the dan­gers of vap­ing.

Mary­land law­mak­ers will con­sider a state ban, even as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has an­nounced it will pur­sue a fed­eral ban on many fla­vors in small-sized vap­ing car­tridges that are pop­u­lar with teens. The fed­eral plan would ex­empt larger-sized car­tridges, of­ten sold at shops that cater to adults.

Health of­fi­cials have doc­u­mented a sharp in­crease in teen use of vap­ing and e-cig­a­rette prod­ucts in re­cent years. At the same time, there’s been a rash of lung in­juries and ill­nesses among e-cig­a­rette users of all ages. As of Dec. 10, 47 peo­ple in Mary­land had been hospitaliz­ed with vap­ing-as­so­ci­ated lung in­juries in 2019.

Sports bet­ting

Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a fed­eral law that banned sports bet­ting ev­ery­where but a hand­ful of states, states have been le­gal­iz­ing sports bet­ting. Mary­land hasn’t got­ten there yet, de­spite in­ter­est from sports fans and the state’s largest casi­nos. A bill last year to le­gal­ize sports bet­ting never got off the ground.

Law­mak­ers could have ex­tra in­cen­tive this year to al­low sports bet­ting as they face the need to drum up money for ed­u­ca­tion re­forms. It’s pos­si­ble they could ap­prove a bill to send the is­sue to vot­ers on the 2020 bal­lot.

Health care

In re­sponse to lit­i­ga­tion from 20 states seek­ing to in­val­i­date the Af­ford­able Care Act, known as “Oba­macare,” Gen­eral As­sem­bly Democrats plan to move this year to pro­tect key pro­vi­sions of the health care law, re­gard­less of the out­come of the law­suit.

Among other moves, leg­isla­tive lead­ers plan to make it state law that young adults may stay on their par­ents’ plan un­til they turn 26 and pro­tect cov­er­age for in­di­vid­u­als with pre­ex­ist­ing con­di­tions.

Bal­ti­more crime

For the fifth year in a row, Bal­ti­more ex­pe­ri­enced more than 300 homi­cides. How will the leg­is­la­ture re­spond?

Ho­gan an­nounced last month that he would in­tro­duce a se­ries of bills tar­get­ing crime, in­clud­ing one to in­crease penal­ties for peo­ple who give or sell guns to some­one they know will use them to com­mit a crime. An­other would in­crease penal­ties for in­tim­i­da­tion that re­sults in death of a wit­ness or se­ri­ous in­jury, and a third would re­quire a re­port on sen­tences handed down by judges.

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