Bipartisanship is a flexible concept at the State House. For the great majority of bills, there truly is overwhelming bipartisan support, because they represent issues small and large that both parties can agree on.
That was the case with a bill called “More Learning, Less Testing,” which will limit standardized testing to 2.2% of teaching time. It passed with unanimous votes.
Two years ago, the General Assembly set up a commission to make recommendations on testing, worked long and hard to recommend changes — and school boards didn’t do much about it. So, the legislators decided to act.
In other cases, bipartisan means, “We got what we wanted, and the other side agreed.” That’s sometimes what Gov. Larry Hogan means by bipartisan. But in Hogan’s usage, bipartisan can also mean, “I didn’t get a lot of what I wanted, but I’ll take what I got.”
The day after the session ended, those different meanings allowed Hogan to say, “It was a great session … This is the way government is supposed to work. This was all about compromise.”
There was indeed a lot of compromise, which is about the only way to get much done with 188 lawmakers. The budget, for instance, went through in record time, with a little give and take.
Session to Be Proud Of
“It was a session we can all be proud of,” said House Speaker Michael Busch, sitting next to Hogan at a bill signing ceremony. “This year, your staff did a great job,” Busch said to the governor.
House Minority Leader Nic Kipke (R-Anne Arundel), said that “despite the partisan efforts to kind of drag us into the D.C. post-election theater, we were able to pass some meaningful bills.”
Despite its many battles, Kipke said the 2017 session was the “most bipartisan” he has seen since he took office. Hogan concurred, telling reporters that 2017 was an “incredible, bipartisan session.”
It was so bipartisan that as Republican delegates talked the clock out on a bill expanding medical marijuana licenses, it was Kipke who made the motion to “adjourn sine die” at midnight, a role typically reserved for the House Democratic majority leader. This partially reflected bipartisan distaste for how the bill was forced on them by the Senate.
“We got everything done that needed to get done, in terms of the legislation,” said Senate President Mike Miller. “We dealt with health care, we dealt with education, we dealt with environment and we dealt with public safety. So, I think it was a very good year, quite frankly.”
The two parties came together on several significant issues, most notably job creation, opioid abuse, anti-fraud measures, education and environmental issues.
Hogan claimed victory on his top priority, eliminating a scoring system for transportation he had termed the “Road Kill Bill.” The legislature passed the law, despite his veto last year. This year, it was turned into a study of a possible scoring system for road and transit projects.
In very Democratic Maryland, Republican Hogan continues to be the second most popular governor in the U.S., according to a Morning Consult poll released in April that was based on an online survey during the previous three months.
The More Jobs for Marylanders Act (SB317) passed with strong bipartisan support. The law is designed to bolster manufacturing jobs in Maryland by offering tax incentives to companies that create jobs in high-unemployment areas and in job training programs. Hogan considered the legislation a core piece of his 2017 agenda and signed it into law in late April.
Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery County), a potential candidate for governor who is often critical of Hogan, described a bipartisan process of senators who worked on the bill with administration representatives.
Mike Galiazzo, president of the Regional Manufacturing Institute, said the bill represented a good signal to manufacturers that Maryland was interested in promoting their businesses, which hadn’t gotten any tax breaks in 15 years.
The lone senator to vote against the bill, Sen. Roger Manno (D-Montgomery), had worked on his own version of tax incentives for manufacturers for three years. Manno called the bill that Hogan signed “a steak dinner for big business and a chicken box for the workers.”
Opioid Abuse, Treatment
The Heroin and Opioid Prevention Effort and Treatment Act of 2017 (or the HOPE Act, HB1329), which passed on the final day of the session with only one dissenting vote, is a broad response to the state’s opioid crisis. A key provision will increase reimbursement rates for community-based behavioral health providers during the next three years. Community behavioral health providers will receive reimbursement rate increases of 3.5% annually in the next two years, and a 3% increase in the third year.
The legislature also passed restrictions on the quantity of opioid painkillers that can be doled out by doctors in a single visit, HB1432; measures to increase the availability of naloxone — a drug that can counteract the effects of overdose (part of the HOPE Act) and introduced steep penalties for people who distribute opioids that cause the death of another person.
Lawmakers also passed a Hogan administration bill setting new penalties for distributing fentanyl — an extremely potent synthetic opioid that has a high rate of lethal overdoses, SB539. The highly adaptable illegal drug market has introduced an even more potent painkiller into the heroin supply, carfentanil, an opioid used on large animals, like elephants.
Protecting Taxpayers: The Taxpayer Protection Act (SB304), a Hogan priority, makes it easier for the state to prosecute fraudulent filers for tax refunds and gives the comptroller’s office greater latitude to investigate tax fraud and identity theft. Comptroller Peter Franchot pushed hard for the legislation, holding conferences and events around the state to drum up support for the bill. It passed this year with unanimous support in the Senate and in the House, despite the distaste Senate Democrats and Miller, in particular, have with Franchot as a maverick Democrat and frequent Hogan ally.
Clean Cars, Water: Hogan administration environmental legislation included the Clean Cars Act (HB406), which increases the state’s budget for tax credits for electric vehicles, and the Clean Water Commerce Act, which expands the scope of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund to include sediment reduction, but does not include any new funding (SB314). Both had strong support from both Democrats and Republicans.
As always, a majority of proposed bills died, including some with significant support.
Medical Marijuana: Tops among the failed bills was legislation that would expand the number of growing licenses for the state’s medical marijuana industry (HB1443) in an effort to increase diversity in business ownership. Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) said she was “devastated” the House didn’t pass the bill before the midnight deadline. “We have a multi-billion-dollar industry with no minorities participating,” Conway said, adding, “I’m almost speechless.”
The Legislative Black Caucus immediately began a call for a special session to fix the problem. But nothing can happen until Busch and Miller agree on a compromise. Maryland has been extraordinarily slow in getting its medical marijuana program underway, compared to many other states.
Sanctuary Status: Latino delegates were outraged after the Maryland Law Enforcement and Governmental Trust Act (SB835) died in the Senate. The bill would have essentially made Maryland a sanctuary state by restricting the involvement of law enforcement agencies in Maryland with federal immigration efforts, banning state government agents from asking crime victims or suspects about their immigration or citizenship status.
Members of the Latino caucus walked off the floor on the final day to demonstrate their displeasure that the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and Miller were blocking the bill.
Del. Jocelyn Peña-Melnyk, D-Prince George’s, shouted that Miller and committee chair Bobby Zirkin, D-Baltimore County, were “Democrats in name only” (DINOs). “Shame on you” she said of Zirkin. “I hope your district takes you out.”
Hogan opposed the bill as well.
At the opening of the Chrysalis, the bright green high performance stage in Columbia’s Symphony Woods, state and local officials who helped fund the project were singled out for praise. They included Howard County’s two Democratic senators, Ed Kasemeyer, chair of the Budget and Taxation Committee, and Guy Guzzone, the delegation chair and a budget committee member, as well.
Little noticed in media coverage are the local projects nestled in the state capital budget. Unlike the state operating budget, legislators can add to the governor’s request. This year, among hundreds of projects, they added a $150,000 matching grant for the Chrysalis.
That’s small potatoes compared to other Howard County projects. There was an $8 million matching grant to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Cultural Commission for the renovation of the Merriweather Post Pavilion at the core of the new downtown development. Legislators added a $2 million matching grant for Merriweather in the 2016 capital budget, and a similar $2 million the year before.
So, the next time you visit Merriweather for a high school graduation or a concert, you can see your tax dollars at work.
More traditional projects in the state budget included $9.5 million to renovate the science and nursing building at Howard Community College. But there was also $300,000 for the Harriet Tubman Community Center & Museum in the former “colored” high school on Freetown Road; $250,000 for a new HVAC system at The Arc of Howard County; and $200,000 for the Community Action Council Food Bank facility.
Baltimore City Assistant State’s Attorney Rich Gibson announced his candidacy for Howard County state’s attorney last month, pledging to combat gangs, domestic abuse, property crime and human trafficking.
The Ellicott City resident ran unsuccessfully in the 2014 Democratic primary against Dario Broccolino, the current’s state’s attorney. Broccolino, who is retiring, has endorsed his deputy, Republican Kim Oldham. Democratic legislators endorsed Gibson at his event.