Legislative Roundup: Baltimore Transit, Pay Increases, Women’s Caucus Leadership, Political Wrangling and More
Senate approves measure that could transform transit in Baltimore
The Maryland Senate gave unanimous approval on Friday to a measure that transit advocates hope will give the Baltimore region more control over bus and rail service.
House Bill 1336, sponsored by Del. Tony Bridges (D-Baltimore), would create the Greater Baltimore Transit Governance and Funding Commission. The panel would be tasked with studying how other metropolitan areas provide transit services.
Currently the Baltimore area relies heavily on the Maryland Transit Administration. Critics complain that limits the ability of local governments to respond to the demands of transit users.
Potentially, the commission could recommend the creation of a transit authority similar to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which has operated the capital region’s sprawling bus and rail network since the 1970s.
“This is a one step, but it’s an important step, because it gets the people that need to be around the table together, to come up with a recommendation,” said Brian O’Malley, head of the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance.
The commission would consist of transit users, industry leaders and workers, business owners, university officials, non-profit leaders, state legislators and others.
The House approved the bill by a vote of 114-19 on March 21.
Pay increases for top officials
A measure to increase salaries during the next term for comptroller, attorney general and treasurer received initial approval in the Senate on Friday after having previously stalled in that chamber.
The Governor’s Salary Commission recommended pay increases for the comptroller, attorney general and treasurer to mirror the lieutenant governor increase of $149,500 to $175,000 and a secretary of state pay increase from $105,500 to $120,000 in a quadrennial report.
Gubernatorial salaries automatically increased earlier this session after lawmakers didn’t act on a joint resolution, but salaries for other top officials are set in statute and need a regular bill to change.
House Bill 424, introduced by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) at the request of the Governor’s Salary Commission, received a second reading in the state Senate Friday. That measure passed the House of Delegates on March 18.
Women’s Caucus has all-Dem leadership lineup
Three weeks after a controversial vote that installed Del. Lesley J. Lopez (D-Montgomery) as the incoming president of the Women Legislators of Maryland, prompting all 11 Republicans in the 82-member caucus to resign in protest, the caucus filled out the rest of its leadership team this week. All are Democrats. They are:
President-elect: Del. Edith J. Patterson (D-Charles)
1st vice president: Del. Nicole A. Williams (D-Prince George’s)
2nd vice president: Del. Heather Bagnall (D-Anne Arundel)
Secretary: Del. Dana Jones (D-Anne Arundel)
Treasurer: Del. Pamela Queen (D-Montgomery)
Member-at-large: Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery)
Member-at-large: Del. Michele Guyton (D-Baltimore County)
The new leadership group takes over for a year once the legislative session ends. But Republicans are insisting that they will not participate in the caucus for the next year.
By unwritten tradition, the second-ranking officer of the caucus is usually elevated into the presidency the following year. But this year, all but one Democrat in the caucus who voted in the election chose to leapfrog Lopez over Del. Lauren C. Arikan (R-Harford), who was next in line. That created a firestorm, and the Republicans decided to resign.
The caucus results were announced on the House floor Friday morning and in the Senate during the afternoon. Both announcements made note of the caucus’ achievements and noted that the Women Legislators of Maryland was celebrating its 50th anniversary.
“Onward and upward,” said King, who made the announcement in the Senate.
Sen. Adelaide C. Eckardt (R-Middle Shore), a prior president of the women’s caucus, said the announcement of the new officers, coming as the group is marking its milestone, makes for a “very bittersweet time this year.” Republicans, she reiterated, are determined “to take a little break.”
Lopez has said she hopes to find ways to bring the Republicans back into the fold later this year.
Landlord registration requirement passes
The House of Delegates approved a measure Friday that will require landlords to prove they are in compliance with any local licensure laws when filing for eviction.
Senate Bill 563, sponsored by Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-Baltimore County), would require a landlord — if local law requires them to have a license — to prove they have a rental license when filing for eviction. That measure, a priority for the tenant advocacy coalition Renters United Maryland, was introduced after the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled last year that a landlord in Baltimore could evict tenants via tenant-holding-over filings without having a rental license.
In her dissenting opinion in that case, Court of Appeals Judge Shirley M. Watts said state lawmakers should review the case and look at codifying the issue, The Baltimore Sun reported. Democratic lawmakers said the measure would incentivize landlords to comply with local laws, but Republican lawmakers pushed back on the bill and argued it would hurt small landlords.
Del. Matthew Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) argued that the General Assembly had “deleted” small landlords with various reforms in recent years.
“What happens if you have a situation where you have an active lease, maybe a long-term lease and a person that’s lived there for a number of years, the town puts in a rental registration policy, you never register, and now something happens where you have to evict the tenant because they’re no longer paying?” Morgan asked on the House floor Friday.
“You better get licensed,” Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), responded.
Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery), a renter herself, said much of the discussion was focused on the effect on landlords rather than the ways the bill could safeguard tenants. She noted that roughly 40% of Marylanders are renters.
“What is more important than a healthy, safe, habitable home for every Maryland resident?” Wilkins asked. “This bill helps to take us one step closer to that by incentivizing a landlord being licensed.”
After a lengthy debate, the bill passed in a 90-45 vote. After a minor amendment in the House, the bill must return to the Senate for a final vote.
Far-reaching cybersecurity bill passes Senate
Following criticism from Republicans on Thursday evening, a pair of bills poised to bolster Maryland’s cybersecurity network passed out of the Senate chamber on Friday.
House Bill 1346 would broadly create a path toward centralizing the county and state cybersecurity systems management under the Department of Information Technology.
And House Bill 1202 generally codifies measures established under an executive order issued by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) in 2019, including establishing the Cyber Preparedness Unit under the Maryland Department of Emergency Management, making the state chief information security officer a permanent position and establishing qualifications for the job.
Slight alterations were made Friday to loosen the qualification requirements for future applicants.
But the bills did not pass without some residual handwringing.
Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel), who sits on the committee that took up the bills, said that the policies were rushed to the floor and he hopes that some of his concerns will be ironed out in a conference committee with the House.
“Nobody wants to vote against puppies or cybersecurity — I get that. But in good conscience, I can’t vote for it today,” Simonaire said.
Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard), the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology, and Biotechnology, told the chamber that the policies in the cybersecurity bill package are the result of three years of intense study involving the Department of Information Technology, the Department of Emergency Management, the governor’s office and experts from across the country.
“It’s a very thoughtful process,” she said. “We have to do something now.”
Sen. J.B. Jennings (R-Harford), who works in cybersecurity for the Maryland National Guard, looked at the bills with a critical eye but conceded that they’re important to pass.
“Russia is attacking us. So is China, so is North Korea — a lot of these countries,” he said. “And I’ve been on that side where I’ve seen stuff … and we have to do something.”
House Bill 1202 received final approval from the Senate on a vote of 43-4, and House Bill 1346 passed on a vote of 45-2. Their Senate crossfiles also received final approval Friday.
Ruth Kirk lives?
It’s the time of year in Annapolis when the wisdom of the late Baltimore City Del. Ruth M. Kirk (D) is frequently recalled: “You kill my dog, I’ll kill your cat.” That was her explanation for attempting to get even with fellow lawmakers who doomed her legislation.
As the conclusion of the 90-day General Assembly session quickly approaches, there are countless tales being whispered in the hallways of the legislative complex about bills being held in one chamber or committee in retaliation for bills being held elsewhere. Sometimes, lawmakers will cop to being in a snit over one thing or another, other times they’ll feign innocence. Often enough, the popular euphemism is that a bill that’s stalling has a “sponsor problem.”
One skirmish that flared up Friday involves two Montgomery County lawmakers who are champions of open government, which ought to put them in sync. So what’s the beef?
Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr. was surprised to find his bill governing how public bodies post their Open Meetings Act rules held on the Senate floor until Monday, the final day of the legislative session. The move to “special order” the bill, in legislative parlance, was made by his fellow Montgomery County Democrat, Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan.
But there’s a reason why: Earlier in the day, Carr tweeted his dismay that another one of his good government bills, which would require local governments to adopt lobbyist registration standards that the Maryland State Ethics Commission requires for state lobbyists, is being held up in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, where Kagan is vice chair.
In the tweet, Carr said the bill is being held “for unknown reasons” at the request of Gaithersburg City Councilmember Ryan Spiegel — whose city is represented by Kagan in the legislature.
“This broadly supported bill will result in improved disclosure of money spent to influence #Maryland county & municipal government decisions,” Carr wrote, noting that the Maryland Municipal League is not opposing the legislation (though the Maryland Association of Counties is).
Both of Carr’s bills passed unanimously in the House.
Spiegel did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment Friday afternoon.
In a brief interview, Kagan said, “Al is playing unfortunate and petty politics and it’s probably hurting his pet causes.”
Kagan had five bills up for final votes on the House floor agenda Friday afternoon and was vaguely worried that Carr might seek to delay them in retaliation. But Carr was ill and did not attend Friday afternoon’s floor session.
Coincidentally, Kagan took ill earlier in the week and had to be escorted out of the Senate chamber during a floor session.