Unfinished business in the MD Assembly: where is the progressive impulse?

First, I want to acknowledge all the achievements of the 2021 Maryland General Assembly. Trying to operate in the time of COVID had tremendous difficulties.

The accomplishments of this session cannot be minimized. The General Assembly passed critical legislation to fund HBCUs and to protect immigrant rights, repealed the Law Enforcement Bill of Rights and overturned the governor’s veto of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future bill, which funds education. Governor Larry Hogan has vetoed over 30 bills, but with Democratic supermajorities, the legislature will undoubtedly override all these vetoes.

But I still have to ask the question: Why doesn’t more progressive legislation get passed in the General Assembly? Year after year, there are overwhelming Democratic majorities in the House of Delegates and the state Senate, yet critical legislation does not get passed by the General Assembly.

Here are some bills that should have been passed in 2021 but never made it to the governor’s desk:

  • A strong bill to support our essential workers
  • Legalization of marijuana
  • Climate change legislation
  • Expanding the right to organize to all workers in Maryland
  • Closing corporate loopholes
  • Stopping discriminatory practices in auto insurance rates
  • Renter protections to stop evictions
  • Legislation to protect the safety of workers on freight trains
  • Election reforms including ranked voting, public financing of elections and filling General Assembly appointments through democratic elections

There are huge veto-proof Democratic majorities in the General Assembly. Can you imagine how much would be done in Congress if we had the kinds of Democratic majorities we have in Maryland? We would have real change in our country. And with the majorities we have in Maryland, we should have real changes here.

We have to ask why these bills did not pass the legislature.

It was clear to me when I was in the legislature — and even clearer as I now look from a distance at what goes on in Annapolis — that there are too many well-funded lobbyists who support the status quo.

When one tries to plug tax loopholes that would save Maryland millions of dollars, the lobbyists are filling the hearing room to make sure that isn’t done. The bankers make sure there is no good legislation for consumer rights. Auto insurance companies make sure that people in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods continue to pay higher insurance rates. The list seems endless.

Unfortunately, too many Democratic leaders do not see themselves as fighters for working people but instead as moderators who balance the special interests of labor and business, consumers and banks or renters and owners of big rental complexes.

That’s not what we want Democratic leaders to be. We want them to fight for working people, for consumers, for renters. This is what many Democrats in Congress are doing, and what they should be doing in Maryland.

When I was a legislator, I was told by leadership many times that more progressive legislation could not be passed because many legislators are in purple districts, and these are tough votes that could hurt them in the next election. I think that is nonsense.

Poll after poll shows the popularity of plugging corporate tax loopholes and passing strong consumer rights legislation. These bills would help Democrats in purple districts, not hurt them.

In large part, Democrats lost the 2014 Maryland gubernatorial election and the 2016 presidential election because the Democrats’ standard bearers campaigned as the party of the status quo. The party rhetoric celebrated Martin O’Malley’s and Barack Obama’s achievements, promoting a more-of-the-same “third term” while so many Maryland residents were suffering, and continue to suffer, from unemployment, high taxes, fear of eviction and foreclosure, racial inequality and police abuse.

It’s time – more than time – for Democrats to push for real change and not just be satisfied with what they accomplished this session.

While legislators ought to be recognized for their achievements under the historically adverse conditions of the past year, there is important legislation yet to be passed, unfinished business left on the table.

Jimmy Tarlau is a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates (Dist. 47), a member of Prince George’s DSA branch and a councilmember in Mount Rainier. This article was first published by Maryland Matters on June 25, and was posted on the Progressive Maryland BlogSpace.

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