April 11, 2017

5 Takeaways From Maryland’s 2017 Legislative Session

Maryland Del. Cheryl Glenn, advocate of medical marijuana, at last night's session.

Maryland Del. Cheryl Glenn, advocate of medical marijuana, at last night's session.

Maryland’s lawmakers wrapped up their 2017 legislative session on Monday, passing a number of bills that suggest a strong opposition to the country’s new president and a Republican-controlled Congress. Here are the five biggest takeaways from the past three months of debate.

1. It’s Maryland vs. Trump

In the first legislative session since Donald Trump’s presidential election, state lawmakers “were looking at a lot of things inspired by Trump,” Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood said to Kojo Nnamdi today. From safeguarding Planned Parenthood funding, to creating a ranking system to monitor public schools, the state’s Democratic delegates and senators have passed legislation –with and without Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s signature– that prepare for major changes anticipated from a conservative Congress and executive office. Whether Democrats’ anticipated changes will happen is yet to be seen, but according to Melissa Deckman, political science chair at Washington College, polls show “Marylanders are very unhappy with Trump and legislators are [using it] as an opportunity to set an agenda.” While Maryland’s House is solidly Democratic, not everyone was happy with this strategy. “It was frustrating for Republican members,” said Wood. “Some took to calling it ‘Trumpertantrums.’ There was tension of that, certainly, throughout the 90-day session.”

2. Anger Against Trump Isn’t Everything

Not everything positioned as an “anti-Trump” bill passed the state’s House of Delegates. The so-called “Trust Act” began this session as a broad prohibition against using state resources to assist federal immigration agents. While Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have adopted “sanctuary city” policies with a similar effect, there are other Maryland jurisdictions whose jails actively screen for immigration violations. As the “Trust Act” progressed through the House, the language narrowed. By the end of the session, the bill would have made it illegal for local police to stop people on the street and inquire about immigration status. By then, liberal lawmakers felt the bill didn’t do enough for undocumented residents – and according to Wood, “it fizzled out in the final hours.”

3. Transparency Is Key

A number of recent Maryland bribery scandals made for “quite the session for ethical issues,” said Wood. New legislation that passed unanimously in the House now requires more conflict-of-interest disclosures. It also limits how legislators can advocate for businesses. “There’s a concern that voters can lose trust in their government if they see their lawmakers charged or disciplined for violations,” said Wood.

4. All Eyes Are On Next Year’s Governor’s Race

Hogan recently signed a statewide ban on fracking. While the ban satisfied Democrats and environmentalists, some observers thought the move was purely political. Deckman said on today’s show that the ban was not a huge sacrifice for Hogan: “It’s not as though fracking would’ve been a big industry in Maryland… I don’t think Hogan really [would have] gained much by vetoing the bill. If anything, I think it helps shore up his persona as a political moderate as he’s running for reelection next year. It’s a smart political move because he wouldn’t have won that battle.”

5. Medical Marijuana Gains Acceptance, But That Doesn’t Mean Rollout Will Be Easy

There is statewide support for bringing medical marijuana to Maryland, but no consensus on how the new industry could benefit minorities, who have historically been targeted for minor drug offenses related to marijuana. While a plan to invite more minorities to apply for medical marijuana business licenses was debated, the issue grew more complicated in the Senate. Ultimately, no deal was reached to give minority business owners preference in the license application process, which started this week.

WAMU 88.5 is exploring the local impact of the new administration. Learn more about The Trump Effect. For more on this session’s bills, listen to today’s show with Pamela Wood and Melissa Deckman.

Medical Marijuana, Ethics & More: Wrapping Up Maryland’s Legislative Session – The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Maryland General Assembly capped a whirlwind session by passing a number of bills meant to safeguard the state’s progressive values against a conservative agenda pushed forward by the Trump administration.

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