This week began the 2018 Maryland General Assembly legislative session and it’ll undoubtedly be conducted under the cloud of the 2018 Elections. The Democrats will likely tack to the left in an attempt to set the groundwork for their eventual nominee, while continuing their strategy of linking Hogan to Trump. The Republicans will tack towards the center to portray the relatively popular GOP Governor as an affable moderate.
What follows is a short list of what commentators and legislators in Annapolis believe will be the focus of our 90-day annual legislative period. Commonwealth will endeavour to keep a watchful eye on these issues and more, as well as watching the actions of the Democratic leadership in both houses.
At the top of the list is a reform of how sexual harassment is handled in the capital. Catalyzed by the recent national stories surrounding abuse, the Women’s Caucus is fighting to crush what is referred to as a longstanding culture that condones male politicians’ abuse or harassment of their colleagues, staffers, and lobbyists. The goal is to rewrite existing policies and make the punishment for such actions more severe, such as the removal or prevention of leading caucuses or committees.
Legal medicinal marijuana growers licenses will likely be an early topic as the Black Legislative Caucus narrowly missed the opportunity to pass an amendment to ensure racial equality among business owners who receives licenses. The Caucus has threatened to disrupt the entire session if the issue isn’t addressed early, and rightly so. The 15 licenses issued last year were given entirely to white-owned businesses, a common trend for the growing legal pot market that prioritizes white capitalists while still incarcerating people of color.
Another issue carrying over from last year is Paid Sick Leave, which both houses passed with a veto-proof majority. Governor Larry Hogan vetoed the bill anyways using the classic GOP scapegoat of caring about the effect on small businesses. Democrats in both houses have already voted to override the veto.
A few bills to keep an eye on from the legislative schedule synopsis include a bill to terminate parental rights of an accused rapist. A similar bill was killed by an all-male committee last year, causing righteous uproar among supporters. A bill has been introduced in both houses. There is also a bill to provide eligible students of Somerset County Community College with free college, which could potentially kickstart or empower other similar efforts around the state. In the House of Delegates, there is a bill to hand over unclaimed lottery prizes to counties in order to better finance public kindergarten.
Interestingly, little has been said in the lead-up to this session about a second attempt at the Maryland State Trust Act. This bill would codify “sanctuary city” practices in state law and be a massive step towards further protections for undocumented citizens. While the bill passed out of the House with a narrow margin, its counterpart in the Senate was killed before it could leave committee.
The defeat of the Trust Act is only one of many examples of how the Democratic leadership maintains control over the legislative status quo; anyone with an eye towards Annapolis this year should pay particular attention to Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Mike Busch. These twin despots exercise their control over affairs such as who leads conference committees or legislative committees––like the one in which the Trust Act was silently killed.
In the case of the Trust Act it was Baltimore County senator Bobby Zirkin, a pawn of Miller, who lead the effort in the Judicial Proceedings Committee to strip the Trust Act of all effective language. The result was a bill that limped rather than walked to the Senate floor in the final days of the session and was mercifully abandoned. Insiders from the advocate side say the successful attempts behind closed doors to pack working sessions and testimonies with foes of the bill were not only successful, but enjoyed the support of prominent Democrats like Zirkin and his puppet masters. Let anyone interested in state-level politics take heed of these stories, lest they befall a similar fate.