ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland lawmakers appear ready to act quickly on two high-profile issues — paid sick leave and medical marijuana — in the legislative session that begins next week.
They’ll also respond to the federal tax overhaul set to have a major impact on Maryland. Ripple effects from Washington on health care will be a major focus as well.
“It’s going to be a busy session, and a lot of it centers around what takes place at the federal level,” Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch said.
As the General Assembly convenes its annual 90-day session Wednesday, the majority Democrats are expected to make a priority of overriding Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of paid sick leave for businesses with 15 or more employees.
The governor supports an alternative measure to phase in five days of sick leave for businesses with 25 or more employees in 2020. He says the measure supported by Democrats will hurt businesses. Democrats say their bill will affect about 700,000 people. It would take effect 30 days after a veto override. Paid sick leave has been one of the defining issues of the term, and the veto override vote is expected early in a year when the governor and all 188 legislators face re-election.
Despite U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to rescind a lenient federal enforcement policy regarding marijuana, top legislative officials say they plan to move quickly this session to expand the number of licenses to grow medical marijuana to include minority-owned businesses.
Here’s a look at other issues lawmakers will be taking up:
Hogan says he will propose legislation to protect Maryland residents who stand to see their taxes rise because of the federal tax overhaul approved by Congress last month. Analysts are still determining how the new law will affect Maryland. Critics say the state stands to be hit hard due to the loss of federal deductions and exemptions. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said the situation is so dire, he would support an extended session or a special session to help assure lawmakers make wise decisions.
“The bottom line and this is most important: The tax bill is the direct result of an economic war between the red states in the United States against the blue states in the United States,” Miller, a Democrat, said.
In another ripple effect from the nation’s capital, lawmakers will look at a variety of measures to strengthen the federal Affordable Care Act in Maryland. One proposal would create a tax penalty for people who don’t buy health insurance — a provision in the federal law that was gutted in the recently approved tax overhaul.
After a panel of lawmakers updated the assembly’s sexual harassment policies last month, the Senate president expects more work will continue. He said a new commission would be appointed. “We’ve added the concept that reports now go to the ethics committee, and we’ll listen to the women of the Senate and the House in terms of what they feel is important,” Miller said.
A proposal would create a state commission to determine what Marylanders can pay for prescription drugs to make them more affordable.
The speaker said he hopes to make progress on enhancing drug treatment options. “Hopefully, we’re going to address not only prevention, but you need more treatment —more treatment beds — and somewhere along the line you have to come up with facilities to do that,” Busch said.
Legislative leaders have pledged to prioritize a bill to take parental rights away from rapists, after the bill has died in nine previous sessions.
Hogan has proposed a legislative package to crack down on gangs and repeat violent offenders. The plan comes at a time when Baltimore set a new per-capita homicide record last year with 343 killings. The governor wants a truth-in-sentencing measure to require second-time violent criminals to serve their full sentences. Another measure would double the current five-year sentence for repeat offenders who use guns to commit crime to 10 years and require them to serve it.
Lawmakers are expected to consider a ban on bump stocks, devices used to speed up the firing of semi-automatic weapons.
Lawmakers are set to consider doubling Maryland’s Renewable Portfolio Standard from its current level of 25 percent by 2020 to 50 percent by 2030.
Lawmakers are expected to take up a constitutional amendment that would require gambling revenues to be used to enhance education, rather than simply fill existing costs.