Now showing: 90 days of debate and promise
The annual ritual of citizen legislators trekking to Annapolis to argue over legislation and state funding begins today. And for the next 90 days those delegates and senators will represent us at the General Assembly, arguing for more education funding and higher wages, bargaining for relief from the rising cost of health care and health insurance, hammering out the details of environmental legislation, and working on many other great and not-so-great ideas.
While the Democrats hold substantial majorities — supermajorities, in fact — in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, the Republicans hold the governor’s mansion. And Gov. Larry Hogan, like past governors from both sides of the aisle, holds the preponderance of the power when it comes to crafting the state’s budget. So far, sometimes begrudgingly, the majority of legislators and the governor have been able to maintain a good degree of bipartisanship. We hope that continues as the state and its citizens face down challenges in the economy, education, infrastructure and health care — not to mention the many other problems, criminal and otherwise, that afflict so many of our communities.
St. Mary’s is sending two newcomers to Annapolis for this year’s session. Sen. Jack Bailey (R
St. Mary’s, Calvert), a former Maryland Department of Natural Resources policeman, ousted one-termer Steve Waugh in last June’s GOP primary, then defeated Democrat Thomas Brewer in November. Bailey has promised accessibility, and a brick-and-mortar district office for constituents to visit.
Also new to state politics is Del. Brian Crosby (D-St. Mary’s), who knocked out one-term Republican Deb Rey for the seat representing the southern portion of the county. John Bohanan had kept that post squarely on the blue side of the ledger for years before he was narrowly defeated by Rey in 2014. Crosby is a former U.S. Army Ranger who will immediately step to what is frequently the winning side of the aisle in Annapolis.
They will join Del. Matt Morgan (R-St. Mary’s), recently elected to a second term, and Del. Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R-St. Mary’s, Calvert), who while technically an incumbent actually won his first legislative election in November. He was appointed by Hogan two years ago to finish the term of fellow Republican Tony O’Donnell, who took a job on the state’s public service commission.
While there are no obvious hot-button issues this year, expect the fur to fly occasionally. The leaders of the two houses of the legislature have indicated to The Associated Press that they mean to push ahead on passing an increased minimum wage. Hourly pay rose to $10.10 last year as the last of a set of incremental increases passed by the legislature in 2014. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert, Charles. Prince George’s) told the AP he was “absolutely” confident that lawmakers would pass another set of incremental increases this year that would ultimately raise the minimum wage to $15. In the other chamber, House Speaker Michael Busch (D-Anne Arundel) didn’t leave any wiggle room concerning his thoughts on passing a higher minimum wage: “We’re ready to go,” he told the AP.
Both leaders, who don’t always read from the same script, also plan to create a work group to study how to legalize marijuana as a recreational drug, something that seems inevitable with medical marijuana on the streets beginning last year and other states legalizing the drug, or in the process of doing so. Busch said that legalized recreational marijuana is “on the verge” of coming to Maryland.
Something else lawmakers could be targeting for legalization is sports betting. According to the AP, legislators may maneuver to pass something this year to the get the ball rolling, so to speak. Supporters have suggested turning over the management of it to the state lottery system, like Keno and scratch-off games, as a way to avoid putting it up for a vote to the public as an amendment to the state constitution, which couldn’t be held until 2020 at the earliest. Either way, it seems sports betting is coming our way. And with the state lottery entering its 46th year, it would be hard for the state to oppose more gambling in any form with a straight face.
Those are a few of the topics our local delegation will be pondering and working on as the session progresses. Keep an eye on our pages for coverage of this year’s General Assembly session, and, by all means, send us a letter to praise or chastise the work going on in Annapolis as the session unfolds.