On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Guest Host: Dan Reed
It was “Crossover Day” in Annapolis and members of Maryland’s General Assembly were hustling to meet their legislative deadline. Bills on the table included more restrictive gun laws, a ban on styrofoam, a $15 minimum wage, and a mandate for renewable energy.
So, what passed — and what didn’t?
We’ll dive into the hot-button bills with WAMU’s Maryland Reporter Dominique Maria Bonessi.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
- Dominique Maria Bonessi Maryland Reporter, WAMU; @dbonessi
This story was updated 3/19/19 at 8:00 AM. With less than a month left for the Maryland General Assembly session, legislators made semi-final pushes on
DAN REEDYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show. I'm Dan Reed of Greater Greater Washington sitting in for Kojo. We'll be talking about "Crossover Day" in the Maryland legislature as well as education in Maryland in a moment. But first the District's Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans has gotten heat around possible ethics violations. WAMU reporter Martin Austermuhle is at the Wilson Building where the D.C. Council just met to discuss a reprimand of their colleague. Martin, remind us, what issues with his conduct are they looking at?
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLESo there's a number of issues floating around the councilmember right now. But the one thing that the Council was specifically addressing right now was Evans's use of his public office, basically his public email account to send out business proposals. Basically job offers or job searches to law firms that work in the District and lobby the Council. So essentially he was offering his services to them to help them out in the Wilson Building.
REEDThe D.C. Council was considering a reprimand of Councilmember Evans. The mildest of measures they could take, but they considered taking things a step further. What was the discussion today and what did the Council decide to do?
AUSTERMUHLESo ultimately, yeah, reprimand was on the table and that's the most basic thing they could do. Some councilmembers felt that that wasn't going far enough. That he should be removed from the Council Finance Committee, which deals with tax issues. It's a very powerful committee, but the votes just weren't there to go that far. So what Council Chairman Phil Mendelson did is he kind of, you know, split the issue a little bit and said that Evans will be stripped of some responsibilities on that committee. So he won't be able to deal with tax abatements anymore, so essentially tax breaks for property owners will not be in his committee anymore. And that passed unanimously. And that needs a second vote coming in April, but the votes are basically there to make this happen.
REEDWhat is the mood there? Councilmembers, you know, what are they talking about?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, all the councilmembers were clear that there was a violation of a public trust and are concerned about it. Now a lot of councilmembers also said they felt bad for Evans to a certain extent, because they knew him as a colleague, as a father, as someone who's been in office for almost three decades. So there was a sense of they knew they had to do this because there was a violation of public trust. But they felt bad because of the person who they say they knew outside of the public light.
REEDJack Evans himself was present today. What did he have to say?
AUSTERMUHLESo he was on the Council. And he spoke roughly -- pretty emotionally actually. His voice was breaking as he apologized to the Council. He said that he had brought embarrassment to the Council. That he kind of recognized that what he did was wrong and problematic and violated the public trust. But he said that he would work both with his colleagues and his constituents to restore some of that trust. Now it remains to be seen whether that's possible amongst some of his constituents that feel that he's gone one step to far. But, you know, he did apologize on the dais and he did so very emotionally.
REEDThere's also a federal investigation under way. Is that also a factor in terms of the councilmember's future?
AUSTERMUHLEIt absolutely is. The federal investigation is more serious. It's looking into other allegations of influence peddling and that could have more serious consequences. The Council specifically said that they weren't considering those allegations yet, because nothing has been proven. He hasn't been charged. Anything of that nature, but Chairman Mendelson did say that further sanctions were possible depending on the outcome of the investigation.
REEDThanks, Martin, for the update. We'll hear more in this afternoon's All Things Considered. Next up, more restrictive gun laws, a mandate for 50 percent renewable energy, a $15 minimum wage, a ban on Styrofoam, and a new minimum age for tobacco purchase, those were some of bills up for debate in Maryland. Yesterday on what's known in Annapolis as "Crossover Day" members of Maryland's General Assembly were hustling to meet their legislative deadline.
REEDSo what bills passed? What didn't? And what may still have a chance? We're joined today by WAMU's own Maryland Reporter, Dominique Maria Bonessi. Dominique, thank you so much for being here after what I'm sure was a hectic day in Annapolis.
DOMINIQUE MARIA BONESSIThanks, Dan. Really appreciate it.
REEDSo for listeners who might now know, can you tell us what exactly is "Crossover Day" and why does it matter?
BONESSISo it's like the seventh inning stretch if I can use a baseball reference for a moment. It's time to see, you know, where your players are at, how the team's feeling, and see how you can hit a grand slam homerun to get that bill over to home plate. So, you know, under certain rules a bill can move -- a bill can't pass anywhere onto the governor's desk until it passes at least one chamber. And that's the object of "Crossover Day". It has to pass one chamber to go to the next chamber before, you know, it's either dead or whatever.
BONESSISo any bills that haven't passed by, you know, "Crossover Day" are essentially dead. But you have those rare exceptions where they can kind of comeback either from dead or they can somehow, you know, gain enough support or momentum to get both chambers to agree on that bill. But it must be cross filed in order to do that typically.
REEDDominique, covering the General Assembly, were there any real surprises yesterday?
BONESSINot too many shockers. The legislator has punted legalization of sports betting and recreational marijuana and the new school funding formula.
REEDWhat did pass on ''Crossover Day"?
BONESSISo a lot did pass. We had gun reform. We had expanded medical marijuana, the change, again, to the minimum age of tobacco purchases, and school construction funding.
REEDIs there anything that didn't pass, but still has a change?
BONESSIRight, so the Kirwan Commission's first of recommendations is in a bill called the Blueprint for Maryland's Future. And that was just sort of introduced within the past two weeks. And both chambers have that bill on the table. So they are now looking to get that across both chamber lines, but it has massive support from each chamber.
REEDAny legislations will also have to be signed by Governor Larry Hogan, a Republican, who seems to be eyeing the national stage. One of the things the governor has voiced opposition to is the Fight for 15 Movement, why?
BONESSIRight. So Hogan has said, you know, raising the minimum wage that quickly to $15 an hour would cut 99,000 jobs from the state, 21 billion in economic output over the next five years. His office yesterday in his press conference yesterday morning said, you know, the type of -- this type of action on behalf of legislators would be reckless and that it could potentially devastate the state's economy.
REEDIs the governor expected to veto this?
BONESSIYes. He is expected to veto this. However, he did say yesterday he is looking to work with lawmakers and trying to come up with some other plan. He wants to raise the minimum wage to $12.12. And he's trying to see if he can kind of meet lawmakers halfway in this proposal. And lawmakers yesterday to point out did say, you know -- they met yesterday. They said, "We need to go to a conference committee," which means that both chambers -- you know, representatives from both chambers will meet in one room and they will say, "We will not see each other's versions of the bill. We will try to look for one bill and these amendments and we will put forth one bill and one amendment or multiple amendments that we come together and decide on, negotiate to put on Hogan's desk." And that maybe is a strategy to get the bill across the finish line.
REEDWe've got a call from Phillip in Tacoma Park, Maryland. Phillip, you're on the line.
PHILLIPHi, there. I'm wondering if they made any progress on the bill to raise the legal marriage age in Maryland to 18. I know right now people can get married under 18 if they're pregnant or with their parent's permission. But there was proposal to raise it to 18. There was a committee hearing two weeks ago, but I haven't heard the outcome.
BONESSII did hear that voted on last night and I believe they did pass it. I could be wrong. Then, again, you have to think of today. They're also still meeting on legislation. Especially the Senate are still meeting to vote on bills. So if not now it might be today or tomorrow.
REEDAll right. Thank you very much, Phillip. So the governor told reporters yesterday that proposals particularly with the education could cause a $21 billion budget shortfall over the next five years. These recommendations are known as the Kirwan Commission. We'll talk about that in the next segment. But I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about this commission and what the recommendations are?
BONESSIRight. So the recommendations for the Kirwan Commission are a set of recommendations over the next 10 years to fully overhaul Maryland public schools. However, the commission has only set forth the first year of recommendations, which looks at free full day preschool for low income three and four year olds, more money for tutoring, improving teacher pay and education, setting and regulating standards for college and career readiness, adding supplemental reading instruction, providing trade and technical education.
BONESSISo all these things are sort of wrapped in to the first year of recommendations. And the current bill as it sits would first do $125 million for 2020 and then $750 million in the consecutive year. So we're looking at this way over the next 10 years. They're looking to fill this $2.9 billion gap we all keep hearing about that the Kirwan Commission is saying we have to fill.
REEDAnd we'll talk more about that in our next segment. So another priority of Democratic leaders has been raising the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. Where did that legislation land yesterday?
BONESSIRight. So it has been voted on. There are a few differences between the Senate bill and the House bill. For example, I believe it's the Senate bill that has said that, you know, if you have a military I.D. card -- there's a lot of argument and a lot of talk about people, who had served in Vietnam, a lot of legislators who had served in Vietnam saying, "You know, I was allowed to serve in Vietnam. But they were going to change the drinking age and I wasn't allowed to, you know, I was allowed to serve my country and get shot in the battlefield, but I wasn't allowed to have a drink." They're trying to make it so people who are 18 or in the military would be -- 18 and older and in the military would be able to purchase tobacco cigarettes.
REEDAnother debate this session has been Death with Dignity or the Right to Die, where does that bill stand right now?
BONESSIRight. So the House last week or within the past few weeks has already passed that legislation and that is a bill that would allow a physician to prescribe a cocktail of drugs that would end someone's life, who has a terminal illness. And terminal illness is defined as someone who has six months or less to live. The physician would have to -- the patient looking for these drugs would have to provide two oral requests, a written request, have two witnesses, who aren't family sign off on it.
BONESSISo there are a lot of stop gap measures for physicians, who are concerned about possibly having to prescribe these drugs that maybe morally they feel -- or ethically they feel that that's not their job. And then it also provides protections for -- it's saying it provides protections for patients who might be forced into or coerced into ending their own lives.
REEDSo the governor is a Catholic and many Catholics oppose this legislation. Do you think the governor will sign off on this bill?
BONESSIRight now it's a really tricky question. I've asked I think twice already within the past two weeks, his office and it seems to be the same thing. That, you know, he will consider the bill, but we really don't know. And just to note the Senate has not passed their version of the Dying with Dignity bill. And just to note the Senate President, Mike Miller, is also a Catholic and I don't know if that has anything to do with him being Catholic or just the rate at which the bill was going through the chamber.
REEDWe've got a tweet from Annie who says, "Can Dominique talk about bills and efforts to stop the expansion of 495 and 270?"
BONESSIYes. So there was a lot of talk and I was on previously with Kojo talking about those bills that were sort of trying to block Hogan's public private partnership project to widen I-270 and 495. And those bills from Brook Lierman and Delegate Carr and Marc Korman, who was also on talking about, those bills, one would ask the county to have consent over the expansion of any highways.
BONESSIAnd then Korman's bill and Carr's bill would have done environmental and impact studies. So the environmental impact study would have to be done within the P3 prior to getting solicitation for contracts. Now those went away. Those bills went away. But the environmental impact study requirement actually fell into another bill. But that's for future public private partnership projects and it would not affect the I-270 expansion or the beltway expansion.
REEDI've got another question about raising the tobacco age. AJ emails, "Will the law to raise to legal age to purchase tobacco cover vaping products?"
BONESSIYou know, that's a good question. And I believe so, yes, because I mean, we know now that there's, you know, certain products that also have tobacco in them. And I guess it's any product with tobacco in it. I don't necessarily think they're banning like nicotine or any other sort of chemical along with it.
REEDWe've got another call from Howard, who is in Maryland. Howard, you're on the line.
HOWARDYes. I want to know what happened to lowering the corporate income tax in the state of Maryland. It seems there was some talk about it and -- or an articles that was talking about it earlier in the year. But it doesn't seem anything came up. And why is that so difficult to get that passed on this state is going competitive with Virginia and Pennsylvania and other surrounding states?
REEDThanks, Howard. What's up with corporate income tax?
BONESSIYou know, I haven't been following that too much. So I don't know too much about it, but I can do some research and I can email, Patrick or is it Patrick?
BONESSIHoward, pardon me. Howard back with an answer.
REEDAwesome. One thing we need to talk about are the many gun bills that were on the agenda. After a June 28th mass shooting that left five people dead at the office of the Capital Gazette Newspaper in Annapolis. Lawmakers have vowed to make more restrictive gun laws a priority. So which bills will be continuing on after "Crossover Day"?
BONESSIRight so the House passed two bills. One would prohibit someone from buying or selling or owning a 3D gun unless it has a serial number issued licensed firearm importer or manufacturer. And another would regulate the sale or transfer of rifles and shotguns. And Republican lawmakers on this pointed out that these bills could potentially criminalize those, who use guns for hunting purposes. But Democrats and lead sponsor of the bills also said that it could potentially save lives.
BONESSIThe Senate did not pass their version of the 3D printed gun. So, I mean, we're still going to get a version of the 3D printed gun into the Senate, but it might not be what the Senate -- it might be a little bit different than what the Senate wanted.
REEDEfforts to fight climate change have been another issue at the forefront of this legislative session. That said, what's the status of some of those bills like the ban on Styrofoam and the mandate for 50 percent renewable electric sources.
BONESSIRight so both Houses -- excuse me. Both chambers have passed the legislation ban banning polystyrene or foam plates, cups, takeout containers. But the versions of those bills are slightly different. In the two chambers, you know, that they came to agreement on. So the Senate version is more restrictive than the House version. So the Senate version banned Styrofoam in most products whereas the House version makes exceptions for items packaged in grocery stores, restaurants, food trucks, and other private businesses.
BONESSIAnd then we had actually just this morning recent breaking news. Just this morning we had the Senate pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The legislation increases the seats renewable energy standard to 50 percent by 2030 and sets a plan to get renewable energy standards to 100 percent by 2040.
BONESSIAnd in the House -- actually legislation was led by Delegate Mary Ann Lisanti, who we know had a scandal over, you know, the past month with using the "N" word at a bar in Annapolis somewhere. And her -- she was actually censured from the Economic Matters Committee and the chair of that sub-committee. And so the Senate bill, you know, will be going through into the House, but the House bill obviously failed.
REEDWe've got a call from Delegate Jared Salomon, who is currently driving to Montgomery County. Delegate Salomon, how are you?
JARED SALOMONI'm good, Dan. How are you?
SALOMONThanks for taking my call. I wanted to actually just call in on the P3 legislation that was a bill that I worked on with Delegate Carr and Delegate Korman that you guys had just mentioned that passed yesterday. And I just wanted to clarify. So on the environmental impact study piece -- on the pre-solicitation report that's already been submitted, Maria is correct. It doesn't apply to that. But the governor and the Department of Transportation have pledged that they're going to be doing the project now in segments.
SALOMONAnd any future segment whether it's 270 or the beltway or any other part of the overall 270 495 expansion, any individual contract that's going to have to be signed for one of those segments is going to require that the environmental impact study is completed first. So it will actually apply to the whole project. We think it brings a lot of transparency and oversight. Gives the legislature a little bit more time to review the pretty extensive contracts that can result, you know, in the state being on the hook for billions and billions of dollars in money. It also puts in place what we thought was a really important requirement that an independent credit rating agency has to look at the contract.
REEDSo it sounds like this will still apply to the 495 and 270 widening projects.
SALOMONCorrect. So there's a pre-solicitation report that the administration has put forward already. And so they could use that for part of it. This would not apply to that. But they have promised that they're going to be doing these projects now in segments instead of doing just sort of one major contract for the entire project. And so if they were going to do a different segment on another part of the beltway or a different segment of 270, those contracts before they were approved would have to have an impact study completed.
REEDAll right. Thank you very much Delegate Salomon.
REEDDo you have anything to add to that?
BONESSINo. That sounds great. I mean that is good to know that they're going to be doing this in segments rather than all at once. I know County Executive Mark Eldridge told me a few weeks ago that it would be better to, you know, to fund transportation projects. You know, there's still that whole debate. And we'll see how those segmentations come out.
REEDDominique Maria Bonessi is WAMU's Maryland reporter. Thank you for being here. We will continue our conversation after a short break. Stay tuned.
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