Early Legislative Priorities of 2021: HBCU Funding, Environmental Service Reform

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), center, testifies earlier this year in favor of her legislation to direct $577 million in additional funding to Maryland's four HBCUs over the next decade to settle a 14-year lawsuit. She was joined by Speaker Pro Tem Sheree L. Sample-Hughes (D-Middle Shore) and presidents of the state's HBCUs. The HBCU legislation will be reintroduced as House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1 during the 2021 legislative session. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

An extraordinary number of bills ― almost 800 ― have been pre-filed for the 442nd session of the Maryland General Assembly.

As of Monday evening, there were 422 pre-filed bills in the House of Delegates and 358 in the Senate, according to the General Assembly website. By contrast, there were a little less than 200 bills pre-filed last session.

Lawmakers have been encouraged to file legislation early, as the legislature prepares to meet in unprecedented fashion.

The full text of bills was not immediately available online, but bill titles give a clue to the top priorities of lawmakers in 2021.

House Bill 1 and Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County) respectively, is a funding bill for Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities.

The lawmakers told Maryland Matters earlier this month that they would reintroduce the bill ― vetoed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) after the 2020 session ― to provide an additional $577 million to Maryland’s HBCUs over 10 years to end the state’s lengthy lawsuit over inequitable funding of the schools.

House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 2 are called the “Maryland Environmental Service Reform Act of 2021.”

The MES, which provides financing and support for local governments’ infrastructure projects, has been under scrutiny since August after the revelation of a six-figure payout and lavish spending by the agency’s former director, Roy McGrath.

McGrath had become Hogan’s chief of staff after leaving the agency, but resigned when the payments became public; he was subpoenaed to appear before the Joint Committee on Fair Practices and State Personnel Oversight last week.

The House bill is sponsored by Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) and jointly assigned to the Appropriations and Environment and Transportation committees. The Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s), Jill P. Carter (D-Baltimore City) and Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard). It will be jointly considered by the Budget and Taxation and Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committees.

The House recently released additional details on committee bill filing deadlines and committee hearings.

The deadline to guarantee bill drafting has been moved up to Jan. 19, and bills must be filed by Feb. 5 to be considered on time.

The House is guaranteeing a virtual committee hearing for every bill filed on time, with committee chairs deciding the length of each hearing. The number of witnesses for any bill will be capped at 50. During the 2020 legislative session, less than three dozen on-time bills had more than 50 witnesses, according to the speaker’s office.

House committee hearings on pre-filed bills will begin Jan. 14, a day after the formal kickoff the session.

During a typical legislative session, lawmakers consider more than 2,500 pieces of legislation.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to accurately reflect the number of bills pre-filed in the House and Senate chambers. 

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