Political Notes: Cabinet secretaries sworn in, Harford committee looks for councilmember, and cannabis bill moves forward
Nearly two-dozen cabinet secretaries can now remove “acting” from their titles after being sworn in Thursday night by Gov. Wes Moore.
The ceremony in the Governor’s Reception Room was the culmination of several weeks of hearings and Senate confirmation votes.
“Every single person in this room is sacrificing something in order to help to build a better state but your service will save us,” said Moore. “Your service will be talked about for generations. Because this is the time that Maryland is going to get this right.”
Moore said the newly sworn-in secretaries make good on his promise to appoint a cabinet that “looked like Maryland.”
Roughly 50% of the cabinet are women. About 50% are people of color and 30% are women of color, said Appointments Secretary Tisha Edwards.
“We have set the tone and the bar for our representativeness and state government,” said Edwards. “As we move forward, we are looking forward to you to continue this work of equity and excellence.”
Harford County Dems look to fill vacancy
The Harford County Democratic Central Committee is moving to pick a replacement for a vacancy on the County Council — while also continuing to stand behind the councilmember who was removed from the position by court order.
The committee voted at its Tuesday meeting to advertise a vacancy for the council post and being the process of accepting applications.
Last month, a county judge ruled that Jacob Bennett (D) could not serve on the county council and keep his job as a public school teacher at the same time. He was given 10 days to leave his job with Harford County Public Schools in order to maintain his council seat. Bennett did not quit and has appealed the case.
But the judge’s Feb. 15 order created a vacancy on the council as of late last week, and the central committee is tasked by law with finding a replacement.
“The HCDCC continues to stand with elected Councilman Bennett in his fight to represent District F on the Harford County Council and will work with him as he obtains clarity on the eligibility of educators to serve under the County Charter,” the committee said in a statement released late Wednesday. “We commend Councilman Bennett in his successful election by Council District F voters to serve as their representative to the Harford County Council. His work to flip District F was truly impressive and we thank him, his wife and supporters for the spirited campaign that put a second Democrat on the Harford County Council.”
Applications for the position will be accepted until March 20 and the committee will select three nominees for the position at its regular meeting on March 28. Those nominees will be forwarded to the County Council, who must pick one of the nominees to fill the vacancy. If the council fails to act on the nominees within 60 days, the county executive will make the appointment from the same list.
The application was not posted on the committee’s website as of Friday morning.
Since his election in November, Bennett’s service on the county council has been challenged by County Executive Bob Cassilly (R), who sought the legal case against him. Bennett has maintained that his employment is not barred by a county charter provision that precludes county employees from election to the council. He’s pointed to other teachers who serve as elected county councilmembers throughout the state in making his case.
Cannabis bill moves forward
The bill to stand up a recreational cannabis industry in Maryland is starting to move, after being voted out of the House Economic Matters Committee on Thursday evening on a 16-5 party-line vote.
The vote came quickly and without debate after Robert Smith, the committee counsel, spent half an hour reviewing proposed changes to the 87-page legislation.
Most of the alterations dealt with state oversight of the fledgling recreational cannabis industry, along with small changes in licensing fees and requirements. They were made at the request of state regulatory entities, Smith told lawmakers.
Most notably, the committee decided that the director of the state’s Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, which is about to begin regulating cannabis as well, won’t have to be a career law enforcement official, as the bill originally decreed. The Economic Matters markup also now specifies that 1.5% of cannabis revenues earmarked for local jurisdictions must be used for behavioral health and drug treatment programs.
Economic Matters Chair C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), chief sponsor of the legislation along with House Ways and Means Committee Chair Vanessa Atterbeary (D-Howard), noted that a medical marijuana bar due to open this week in Burtonsville in Montgomery County, will have to get a state license to continue operating after recreational cannabis is legalized on July 1.
“We have local jurisdictions licensing things that we believe the state ought to be licensing,” he said.
Sixteen Democrats on the panel voted for the bill, while five Republicans voted against it. Three members – Dels. Pamela Queen (D-Montgomery), Steve Arentz (R-Upper Shore) and Mark Fisher (R-Calvert) – were excused.
The Senate version of the legislation, which is substantially similar to the House bill, will be heard next Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee. House and Senate leaders have been discussing the legislation since the beginning of this year’s General Assembly session in an attempt to ensure that major differences don’t flair up in the final days of the session.