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The Maryland General Assembly passes several important bills at the end of the session

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By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO political writer,
[email protected]

Maryland state lawmakers celebrated April 8, the last day of the Maryland General Assembly session, with a flurry of last-minute deals and finally, as the clock struck midnight, confetti blasts to mark the transition to the 9th. to be announced in April.

“This session, we responded to the moment and protected Maryland’s future,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Md.-46). “While we have achieved some remarkable things this year, the last 14 days have really shown what this General Assembly is all about. There were a range of issues, from housing security to ensuring our neighborhoods are safer.”

Important bills such as juvenile justice reform and the Maryland Protecting Opportunities and Regional Trade (PORT) Act were passed in time to reach the governor's desk.

“This year we worked together to pass meaningful juvenile justice legislation. Legislation that puts rehabilitation at the center while strengthening the oversight and accountability of the Department of Child Services to ensure children are treated fairly and held accountable for their treatment plans,” said House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones ( D-Md.-10). .

The General Assembly passed over a thousand bills in the 2024 session.

The juvenile justice reform bill, outlined in HB 814 and SB744, was one of the most tense bills this session as Marylanders and lawmakers alike worried about the number of juveniles involved in crime in the state last year were involved.

In fiscal year 2023, the Department of Juvenile Services reported there were 12,363 complaints about Maryland juveniles.

HB 814 expands juvenile court jurisdiction to include 10- to 12-year-olds suspected of committing auto theft, animal abuse, firearm offenses and third-degree sexual offenses. Under current state law, no child under the age of 13 can be charged with a crime.

It also requires intake officers to refer complaints to the prosecutor to consider criminal prosecution. The bill also allows detention before a hearing.

Some were unhappy with the bill, which allows the child welfare agency to maintain control over children ages 10 to 12.

“I don’t want to see anyone’s child locked up at 10,” said Zakiya Sankara-Jabar of Racial Justice Now! “I don’t want people to think it’s okay to lock up 10-year-olds without giving them the services and care they deserve. These children need care, not cages.”

Dayvon Love, public policy director at Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, was one of many who gathered days before the April 8 deadline to pressure Gov. Wes Moore to veto the bill.

“This is the final step in the process,” Love said.

But Moore supported the package when it was announced, so Love said he wasn't confident the governor would veto it.

If the governor signs the bill, it will go into effect on January 1, 2025.

“It was great to have my first meeting with the General Assembly as a delegate,” said Del. Malcolm Ruff (D-Md.-41) as he reflected on the 2024 session. “A few things I was able to accomplish include passing legislation today that will begin the process of developing Gwynn Falls/Leakin Park into a state park.”

If House Bill 1358 becomes law, it would convene focus groups to establish the state park, identify priority needs and associated costs, and establish an advisory committee to oversee the park's management.

Ruff said he is also in a position to work on a bill that would maintain Preakness in Park Heights in Baltimore City and fund revitalization efforts in the Park Heights community.

“Park Heights has been left out of the Preakness spoils for too long,” Ruff said. “I think with House Bill 1524, which I, along with the senator and my colleagues in the 41st District, was able to help think about how we would put a plan in place that would work for the people in the neighborhood where the Preakness would really work.”

The bill also transfers ownership and operation of thoroughbred racing facilities in the Maryland Jockey Club (MJC) to the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority (MTROA). If signed, the bill would take effect on June 1.

The PORT Act was the first bill to become law in the 2024 session on April 9. The PORT Act aims to provide financial assistance to Baltimore port workers and businesses impacted by the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapse that slowed port operations.

“Today I will proudly sign the PORT Act into law,” Moore said at the signing. “This bill will help create a new permanent scholarship program for the families of transportation workers who died on the job. The legislation will enable our administration to respond flexibly to the collapse.”

Because the PORT Act is an emergency bill, it was signed into law immediately after receiving the required signatures on April 9.

Moore also signed several of his bills into law, including the Time to Serve Act of 2024, a bill that would provide increased military leave to 30 days for members of the National Guard and Reserves, and a bill to rename the Port of Baltimore the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore .

Moore emphasized that all 26 bills he has introduced since becoming governor have been passed by the Maryland legislature.

Budget bills SB360 and SB362 were passed on April 5 and sent to the governor's desk. The governor has not yet signed the bills.

The budget process took a little longer this year, in part because of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26 and lawmakers' disagreement over how to handle the state's projected $761 million deficit for the 2025 fiscal year should be addressed.

House Democrats believed in using increased taxes and fees to close the gap, and the Senate and governor opposed tax increases.

The House and Senate raised $257 million in revenue by increasing vehicle registration fees, establishing an impact fee for the Transportation Network Company, establishing an annual registration surcharge for owners of zero-emission and plug-in electric vehicles, increased dealer processing fees and increased speeding fines in work zones under Senate Bill 479.

The budget eliminates the projected deficit in the Blueprint Fund for fiscal year 2027 by increasing taxes on cigarettes, allocating new revenue and a portion of existing tobacco tax revenue to the Blueprint Fund, and transferring $40 million from the School Construction Revolving Loan Fund.

“We passed a budget that funds the Blueprint through 2027 and makes critical investments in Maryland’s transportation system to ensure we do not see catastrophic cuts to roads, bridges, buses, public transit, airports and the port,” Jones said .

The budget also cuts the governor's proposed budgets, including nearly $10 million for community colleges, $5 million for pediatric cancer and $1 million for warrant grants.

Tashi McQueen is a member of the Report For America Corps.