Maryland Assembly Session limps to close, faces big leadership decision

Maryland’s General Assembly passed over 850 bills by their Sine Die deadline. About 2,500, a record number, were filed, and there’s no doubt that many of those were bad bills and good riddance. But there were some real missed opportunities – at least as far as the state’s progressive forces are concerned. And Sine Die was to say the least complicated by the death of House of Delegates Chair Mike Busch the weekend before, followed by a dismal and unseemly contest to succeed him. Let’s look at the state of play as a special session today – May 1 – gets under way.

Along with the missed opportunities, there were also some impassioned defenses that shouldn’t be overlooked in terms of the way building power and circling the wagons are sometimes rather similar.

Take for instance the many nasty and underhanded attacks on one of the great successes of the previous session, the passage of paid sick leave. The Job Opportunities Task Force and many other progressive allies waged battle in the shadows, pretty much, to keep business interests from nibbling that landmark legislation to death.

And JOTF was a core proponent of a raft of measures that, though seldom seen as related, are nevertheless aimed to remedy or roll back the apparatus of the criminalization of poverty – much of it embedded in the criminal justice system, such as the school-to-prison pipeline, discriminatory pretrial and diversion procedures and mass incarceration largely of persons of color – that maintains inequality and perpetuates white supremacy in Maryland.

The effort to build power for people of color in the Assembly and outside it may wind up jumping the track, however, as the consequences of the death of House Speaker Busch.

A struggle between a reasonably progressive candidate – Del. Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore – and a business-friendly and anti-worker black candidate from Prince George’s, Del. Dereck Davis has become a test of loyalty for the Assembly’s Black Caucus, which is heavily salted and currently led from Prince George’s. Davis, whose work as chair of the House Economic Matters Committee has delayed and weakened pro-worker measures for decades, may even enlist GOP delegates to win the Speakership. One commentator observed, mildly enough, that given his past voting and committee-chair record “Dereck Davis does not appear to be where this highly energized and very progressive Democratic Caucus is now.”

Of the many new progressive fights this year, some of them demonstrated just how hard the Democratic/business establishment in the state pushes back against pro-worker, pro-family measures and the influence of Davis’s committee.

Topping the list is the savage dismemberment of a sound and well-designed $15 minimum wage bill.

The timeline for scaling up to $15 was stretched out so far that inflation is likely to leave workers with a new wage that buys the same old less and less, and

>indexing was removed so any move beyond $15 will require fighting this fight all over again,

>“small” businesses with fewer than 15 employees (nearly three quarters of all businesses in the state) were given an extra year to reach $15,

> worst of all the most vulnerable  were excluded – tipped workers, agricultural workers and younger workers.

As the committee structure of the House and Senate worked its will on the bill, the benefits for working families were systematically stripped away to the advantage of employers and corporate capitalists – whose influence is paramount in committees like Economic Matters in the House and Finance in the Senate, despite the (allegedly left-drifting) Democratic majorities in those chambers.

The good news: For many of the state’s minimum wage workers, the floor wage goes up from the current $10.10 per hour to $11 as 2020 dawns on Jan. 1. The bad news: It could have been so much better.

Culturally, despite the growing power of the Assembly’s black caucus and progressive allies, other committees do the dirty work of class and race subordination. The Senate Judicial Proceedings committee was bottling up many bills aimed at reducing the punitive nature of the state’s dehumanizing criminal justice system.  

The Job Opportunities Task Force was focused on improving the job prospects of those who get enmeshed in the criminal justice system, especially what is coming to be called the “school-to-prison pipeline.” Several bills that emerged from committee only hours before the close of Session were aimed at allowing cleanup of records for job-seeking returning citizens. Several failed.

But with all the anti-crime hokum ginned up in the Senate committee, violence reduction was not on the agenda:

A number of bills sought to slow Gov. Larry Hogan’s mania for adding toll lanes to the Beltway and I-270 – perhaps too many. A profusion of bills with overlapping coalitions backing them is always a hazard in the Session. Often it’s considered an excuse for postponing action till a session when proponents can unite around one bill – but next year, you know? Bethesda Beat has this and Maryland Matters chimed in


Meanwhile, the bills that passed are not home free, of course. Gov. Larry Hogan could still veto the long list provided below by the Maryland Legislative Coalition. The group’s perspective on bills’ value is not identical to that of other progressive groups in the state, but there is always lots of overlap. Among several that have already been vetoed and the vetoes overridden was the enviro community’s top priority this year, increasing the required percentage of renewable sources in the state’s electric power mix.

What could Hogan’s problem with these bills possibly be? Usually the answer is pretty simple – business allies of Hogan’s administration would find their profits threatened by compliance.

If, as is being suggested, the Assembly has a special session as late as May 1 to choose a successor to House leader Michael Busch, an opportunity to override vetoes on time-sensitive measures before the 2020 session may present itself.

Meanwhile there’s a shortlist of bills to urge Hogan not to veto.

Prescription Drug Affordability Board - MD needs to fight back against price gouging for prescription drugs that is harming MD workers and businesses.  - HB768

Handgun Permit Review Board - Repeal - The Handgun Review Board is not working.  They are rubber stamping permits for guns that will make MD less safe.  - HB1343/SB1000

Board of Education - Teacher and Parent - MD needs to have teachers and parents have more say in how their children are educated.  They should have representation on the Board of Education.  HB87/SB529

Maryland Dream Act Extension - MD residents should all be eligible to pay the same in-state tuition, giving MD students a more equivalent playing field via the Higher Education - Tuition Rates - Exemptions bill - HB262/SB537

HIV Testing and Treatment for Rape Victims - The worst thing that a parent could ever have to endure is their child dying of AIDs after being sexually abused.  That happened in MD.  Make sure it never happens again.  - HB1249/SB657

Summer SNAP for Children - Let's make sure that children from poor families have meals in the summer.  Extend the SNAP program with the Summer SNAP for Children bill - HB338/SB218

You can find a longer list of bills worth protecting from our business-coddling governor here.

A version of this appeared in the PM BlogSpace April 11.

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