Now show­ing: 90 days of de­bate and prom­ise

The Enterprise - - Community Forum -

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.

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