Maryland lawmakers are wrapping up a cautious session


It always takes a while for the dust to settle after the Maryland General Assembly concludes its annual 90-day legislative session, especially after the flurry of activity in recent days. This is the normal rhythm of state legislation. Big promises, slow work, hectic final hours and then bragging rights. Long before the traditional bill signing ceremony following the Sinus theft on Tuesday, you knew that Gov. Wes Moore and Democratic leaders would be giving each other warm congratulations on a job well done. But this session will likely be remembered not for what was achieved (or not achieved), but for the way it was eclipsed by events 30 miles north. This collision between the 984 foot long container ship MV Dali and the Francis Scott Key Bridge and the consequences were so huge. In the face of such a catastrophe, everyday events at the State House can seem frustratingly trivial – except they're not. Well, not always anyway.

From the start, the focus in Annapolis has been on budget issues, particularly how to finance the K-12 public school reforms promised in the Blueprint for Maryland's Future while avoiding a looming transportation spending deficit. The cure? Essentially, it's a short-term patch that doesn't completely solve these problems, but certainly makes a down payment. They included higher vehicle registration fees (used to fund the state's emergency response system and phased in over several years), a new fee for electric vehicles and hybrid cars, a 75-cent per-trip fee for ride-sharing services like Lyft or Uber, speed camera tickets in work zones, and higher tobacco taxes Result of the sometimes controversial debate between the House of Representatives and the State Senate.

After the Key Bridge disaster, it probably seemed prudent to abandon the fight for a larger, more permanent solution. It may also have reflected Democrats' concerns about Republican Larry Hogan's late entry into the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat now held by Ben Cardin – a decision that tipped the U.S. Senate majority in favor of Republicans could be postponed – would be strengthened by this kind of boost A revenue package of more than $ 1.2 billion that House Democrats had once considered. And as for the former governor, a likely downside to this cautious approach to revenue is a further delay in restarting Baltimore's Red Line (Hogan canceled the east-west light rail project in 2015).

Meanwhile, the juvenile justice reform bill received final approval despite often heated debates among Democrats. Improving transparency and accountability is certainly a noble goal, but critics rightly questioned whether it was more about responding to a media-driven panic about juvenile crime (which accounts for less than 10% of all crime). would lead to excessive incarceration of juvenile offenders ages 10 and older. However, the final votes in both chambers were overwhelmingly positive.

There was certainly some cheering in Baltimore at the end of the session when lawmakers gave final approval to legislation that would keep the city's Pimlico Race Course (and the Preakness Stakes) running at a cost of $400 million. That's a high price to pay for yet another public expense related to the sport, but all in all a wise investment given the $2 billion value of the horse industry in this state – and even better if it will spur further investment in the horse industry The racetrack's all too often overlooked neighbors are encouraged in Park Heights. It was also good news for Marylanders that Governor Moore's legislative package to spur greater investment in affordable housing also made it across the finish line. Incentives for developers and plans to reduce bureaucracy are among the most important instruments of the nationwide effort.

Other notable achievements include strengthening the EmPOWER energy efficiency program, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by, among other things, encouraging consumers to purchase energy-efficient appliances and find other ways to reduce gas and electricity consumption. It was a welcome development – and a nice victory for House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones to put limits on the book ban, as required by the Freedom to Read Act. Closing the loophole in Noah's Law so that drunk drivers who were sentenced to probation before the verdict can still be required to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicle should help reduce the state's rising number of traffic fatalities. Funding for the 988 crisis hotline (from a monthly cell phone surcharge) and help for workers unemployed due to the Key Bridge collapse through the Maryland Protecting Opportunities and Regional Trade (PORT) Act were also welcomed.

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