General Assembly heads into final day of 445th session
After 89 days sifting through more than 2,000 pieces of proposed legislation, the Maryland General Assembly is set to conclude its 445th session at midnight.
With many of the most heavily debated issues settled, the first year of the term has been characterized by turnover and new energy at the top levels of government and a willingness to work together, legislative leaders said.
After a Saturday meeting of the House of Delegates, more than 576 bills have been passed. That includes almost all of Democratic Gov. Wes Moore’s legislative agenda, albeit with some amendments. The remaining bills in the governor’s agenda — including the Maryland Educator Shortage Act and a bill to establish Moore’s new Department of Service and Civic Innovation — are likely to see final passage on Monday.
Democratic majorities in the General Assembly have also largely responded to issues the U.S. Supreme Court handed them: decisions that overturned Roe v. Wade and gutted the state’s strict restrictions on concealed carry of firearms.
Lawmakers have already sent to Moore a package of bills to shore up reproductive rights in the state, which he has vowed to sign. Included in that list are measures to put a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights on the 2024 ballot and shield abortion patients and providers in Maryland from out-of-state legal action.
The House is expected to take a final vote Monday on Senate Bill 1, which would expand areas where carrying a gun is prohibited in the state. The chamber approved two other gun control bills on Saturday, as well as a measure to stand up a recreational cannabis market in Maryland.
Dozens of other bills are in line for final passage on Monday.
Lawmakers will give final consideration to measures that would add a Prince George’s County seat to the Maryland Stadium Authority, establish a new oversight authority for the state’s horse racing industry, and increase oversight of state-owned nursing homes following reports of neglect and abuse at Charlotte Hall Veterans Home.
A bill that would expand the state’s commitment to offshore wind energy is headed to a conference committee Monday, but largely over a technicality rather than any substantive policy differences between the Senate and House.
Del. Lorig Charkoudian (D-Montgomery), the sponsor of the House version of the legislation, said the House inserted an amendment into the Senate bill on creating opportunities in the wind industry for businesses in underserved communities that may be unconstitutional. So two sides will have to meet to remove the language from the Senate measure.
Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard), the Senate sponsor, said she has been assured by legislative leaders in both chambers that the unanticipated hiccup in the process will not prevent the bill from passing later in the day.
Even with some work yet to be completed, legislative and administration leaders offered positive assessments of the 2023 General Assembly session last week.
“I think the overall story is that it’s been a successful session despite a time of major transition at all levels of government. I believe we’ve set ourselves up in this first year of a term for success for the next four years,” Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said Friday.
“I think it’s been a really good session,” said Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s), the House majority whip. “It’s been completely different having a governor from the majority party, where we could talk regularly.”
Lewis said the freshmen in the House have added even more diversity to the chamber — not just race or gender or ethnicity, but in age, ideology, sexual orientation and professional background.
“All this has made dialogue a lot easier,” he said. He also had high praise for the speaker and other House leaders.
Lewis said he was excited about several pieces of legislation, that are at or near the finish line, including an expansion of the earned income tax credit, the cannabis bill, the gun legislation, and his own bill taking away the cap on declaring union dues for an income tax subtraction — “the first of its kind in the nation,” he said.
Lewis expressed confidence that the two chambers would amicably reconcile all differences on legislation on Monday.
Eric Luedtke, a former House majority leader who is now Moore’s chief legislative officer said his boss is already excited for the bill signing ceremonies that will start Tuesday.
“I think it’s been a very good session. And I don’t just mean that from [the administration’s] perspective. It was a rough last few years here. Everything that happened in the pandemic, the broken relationships,” Luedtke said. “There are always dustups between the chambers and stuff like that, but overall, this has been a very good year. It’s pretty great. It’s cool to be a part of it.”
Because the last three sessions have been marked by COVID and the 2019 session ended in mourning after Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) died the day before, several lawmakers have been eager to bust loose (there are at least a dozen Sine Die meals and receptions on the docket for lawmakers). Asked what Monday would be like, Lewis predicted, with a laugh, “A big old party.”
Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.