It’s getting to look a lot like Christmas – and a lot like January in Annapolis, as the pace of legislative work ramps up.
This week, legislative committees and special commissions are tackling such meaty issues as health care reform, Metro funding, the state of the state’s liquor industry, financial protections and reform, biotech investment tax credits, and more. On Lawyers Mall Tuesday, lawmakers and advocates held a news conference promoting legislation that would streamline the voter registration process.
But there are even more reminders that election season is also upon us.
As the political debate rages over dueling proposals over paid sick leave, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is doubling down on his contention that the Democrats’ legislation, which he vetoed last spring, may interfere with the privacy rights of domestic violence and sexual harassment victims. Hogan and Republican lawmakers contend that it would force victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse to reveal private information about their problems to their employers when they are seeking paid leave.
With heightened national awareness of sexual assault and workplace harassment issues in the past several weeks, could this tactic change the outcome of the sick leave fight in Annapolis?
A dozen Republican women legislators, led by House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga, wrote to the General Assembly’s presiding officers last month expressing their concerns about the “unintended consequences” of the Democratic bill. Hogan mentioned it during his news conference last week when he unveiled his new sick leave legislation, which he’s urging lawmakers to consider in January instead of voting to override his veto.
A draft of the Hogan legislation adds the privacy protections that are not in the vetoed bill.
But Hogan, who in the past has sought to denigrate the Democrats’ sick leave bill as expensive, onerous on small businesses and a potential job killer, is taking additional steps to advance the argument that it also violates individuals’ privacy. His campaign has set up a website, and it has begun running a 30-second video that highlights the point.
“No one should be forced to share their personal health issues with their boss,” a narrator says. “But under the legislature’s sick leave plan, bosses get to know. Look, your health is none of their business, and their plan will cost the economy a billion dollars and thousands of jobs. Luckily, Gov. Hogan has a better plan.”
The ad concludes with the narrator saying, “Tell the legislature: Support Gov. Hogan’s common-sense, no questions asked plan.”
The online ad is targeting voters in seven legislative districts where Republicans hope to oust Democratic Senate incumbents next year. It is a five-figure buy.
On the privacy question, Democrats have countered with an opinion from the state attorney general’s office. In a Nov. 17 letter to the legislature’s presiding officers, Sandra Benson Brantley, counsel for the General Assembly, writes that “nothing in the bill mandates that an employer require that a domestic violence or sexual assault victim who wants to take earned sick or safe leave inform the employer of that information.” She adds that “the bill authorizes the employer to require ‘verification’ under two limited circumstances.” but that those can be governed by regulations from the Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation.
Eighty-seven House Democrats have pledged to support an override of Hogan’s veto, two more than are needed. But an override is less of a sure thing in the Senate, where 29 Democrats supported their leaders’ sick leave bill in the last session.
Republicans would like to flip five Senate seats, which would make it almost impossible for Democrats to override Hogan vetoes, if he wins a second term. Even Democrats concede that the GOP may take a couple of seats, but if the national political environment looks as bad for Republicans next fall as it does now, winning five may be a very tall order, even if Hogan’s popularity remains intact.
Meanwhile, national Democrats this week left no doubt that they consider Hogan a major target in 2018.
In a three-minute campaign-style video released earlier this week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a potential presidential contender in 2020 and the new chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, lays out his biography (“My career in public life started in central Washington, amongst the apple orchards and alfalfa fields”), shows news reports on some of his accomplishments, emphasizes the ability of states to get things done, in contrast to the federal government (“Nothing can compare to the impact a governor can have on people’s lives”), and offers a battle plan for 2018.
“We have a historic opportunity to rebuild our party while holding Republicans accountable for the disastrous policies they’ve brought to their own states and their unwillingness to stand up to Donald Trump,” he says, as images of Hogan, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, flash across the screen.
There are 36 gubernatorial elections in 2018, and Democrats, who hold just 15 seats nationwide, are desperate to make gains before the next round of redistricting following the 2020 Census.
And Now a Few Words from Capitol Hill
One unnoticed sidelight to Michigan Congressman John Conyers’ decision to resign in a fog of scandal: Maryland’s Rep. Steny Hoyer, the minority whip, is now the most senior Democrat in the House of Representatives. He was sworn in on May 19, 1981.
Hoyer is No. 6 in overall House seniority behind five Republicans – Alaska’s Don Young (March 6, 1973), Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner (Jan. 3, 1979), and three who were sworn in on Jan. 3, 1981: Lamar Smith of Texas, Hal Rogers of Kentucky and Chris Smith of New Jersey. Lamar Smith has announced plans to retire at the end of this Congress.
With tax reform a searing topic on Capitol Hill, here’s an interesting bit of information. The legislation as currently written would bar taxpayers from writing off their state and local income tax and would limit their property tax deduction. That will be a big issue in Maryland.
According to the Government Finance Officers Association, there are 44 congressional districts in which 40 percent or more of filers claimed the state and local tax deduction in 2015. House members in 33 of those districts voted against the bill.
But 11 of those members – all Republican – voted for it anyway, including Maryland Rep. Andy Harris. Forty-one percent of Harris’ constituents, the association found, took the deduction. But there is far less political peril for Harris, who won re-election last year by 38 points, than for some of his colleagues.
Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock of Northern Virginia, for example, voted for the bill even though 49 percent of her constituents claimed the state and local deduction. She won re-election by less than 6 points, and the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates her 2018 race as a toss-up.
The facts and figures about the Republican districts and the votes on the tax bill were first reported this week in CQ.
Quick Takes on the Prince George’s Executive Race
Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D) and Prince George’s County Councilmember Mary Lehman (D) recently hosted a fundraiser for Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks (D), who is running for county executive. Why is this significant? Because both women supported Donna Edwards, Alsobrooks’ chief competition in the county exec race, when she ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate last year.
Alsobrooks has another intriguing fundraiser scheduled next Monday evening at a restaurant in the Brookland neighborhood of Washington, D.C. The headliner is Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor-elect of Virginia – a rising star and the first African-American elected statewide in the Old Dominion since former Gov. Doug Wilder (D) in 1989. Ticket prices start at $50.
Edwards, meanwhile, is the subject of a very positive piece in Elle magazine, in which she calls local government “a salve” for what ails the political discourse. This could help skeptics understand why Edwards, who is so clearly passionate about national issues, would seek an office where the job description is usually more prosaic.
On Your Radio
The current Prince George’s county executive, Rushern Baker, one of eight Democrats running for governor next year, will be stumping on Baltimore radio on Thursday morning, on shows hosted by former state senators. He’s appearing back-to-back, at 9 on “The Larry Young Morning Show” on WOLB, and then at 10 on “The C4 Show” on WBAL. C4, of course, is Clarence Mitchell IV.
A Couple More Fundraisers of Note
As chairman of the House Economic Matters Committee, Del. Dereck Davis (D) oversees the energy and alcohol industries, among many others. On Thursday night, he’s having a fundraiser at the home of Thomas Graham, the former Pepco executive and former chairman of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce who was just nominated by Baker to serve on the troubled Prince George’s County Board of License Commissioners – more commonly known as the liquor board. Ticket prices start at $250.
State Senate Majority Leader Doug Peters (D) is having two fundraisers before Christmas. One is taking place on Dec. 14 in College Park and is being headlined by Baker and state Attorney General Brian Frosh (D). But the one that caught our eye is on Dec. 21, at Jerry’s Seafood in Bowie. Headlining that event is Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) – who was majority leader immediately before Peters. Ticket prices start at $1,000.
Peters faces a potentially tough Democratic primary challenge from wealthy defense contractor Tim Adams.