And other legislative updates in this week’s Up the Street
The 444th session of the General Assembly opened Wednesday with the now typical lack of fanfare and greater distancing, as the coronavirus pandemic enters its third year. This year, the public has greater access, with restrictions, to buildings and legislative sessions compared to last year’s session. Conditions could change, but for now, buildings in the State House complex will be open to the public. Seating is limited in the House of Delegates and Senate chambers.
The Senate plans to have regular floor sessions of all 47 members, but the House of Delegates does not expect to have full sessions for several weeks. Senate committee meetings will be livestreamed and will not have public seating until at least February 14. The House will conduct and livestream all committee meetings virtually.
Witnesses who want to testify at House or Senate committee hearings must sign up on the Maryland General Assembly website 48 hours before the bill hearing, beginning at 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., for hearings before February 14. After February 14, the Senate signup period begins at 4 p.m. the day before the hearing and closes at 10 a.m. the morning of the hearing. For Monday hearings the signup period opens on Thursday, and for Tuesday hearings the signup period opens on Friday.
On the session’s opening day, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) acknowledged the complexities of the session and hardship that the pandemic has created for the public and legislators for more than two years. He advocated for collegiality and calm leadership as he noted that the political pre-primary season will build to a frenzy and that in a year the state will have a new governor, comptroller, and attorney general, not counting the district changes that the next election will see. Ferguson, along with House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County), won easy reelection to their leadership positions. The House reelected Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes (D-Eastern Shore) to be Speaker Pro Tem, the second highest ranking member of House leadership.
MSEA’s list of priorities for this session include giving educators a voice in their class sizes to reduce overwhelming workloads and give students more individualized attention, better pay for education support professionals, guardrails for virtual schooling, and antidiscrimination policies that ensure safe and supportive school environments for all students and staff.
Gov. Hogan and legislators will likely be at odds soon enough as they decide how to handle the state’s $2.5 billion budget surplus, largely driven by an influx of federal funds and the state’s better than anticipated economic recovery over the last year. Although Hogan has yet to present his fiscal year 2023 budget, he announced his intention this week to propose cutting fees and several taxes.
While they await documentation from Hogan, Ferguson, Jones, and House Majority Leader Delegate Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery) said they would not support cuts that could permanently reduce state revenue when the surplus is a non-recurring funding stream. Some legislators, like Del. Maggie McIntosh, have argued that the state’s fiscal situation could set the state on a glide path for funding the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future in its out years. Hogan’s budget is due Wednesday.
In the few weeks since the first five sports wagering facilities opened in Maryland, they have contributed $469,297 to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Fund. Combined, Hollywood Casino, Horseshoe Casino, Live! Casino and Hotel, MGM National Harbor, and Ocean Downs Casino collected $16 million in sportsbook wagers. Operators paid out $13.4 million in prize winnings and retained $3.17 million. Of note for school funding, $3.13 million was subject to the 15% tax for the Blueprint fund. An additional dozen or more sports gambling retail and online locations could go live as well as another 30 retail and 60 online sportsbooks beyond that.
Hearings on a legislative district map drawn by the Maryland Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission (LRAC) and one by Gov. Hogan’s Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission will begin Tuesday in the Senate Committee on Reapportionment and Districting. The map will also be considered in the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. The General Assembly has 45 days to pass a map or the governor’s proposed map automatically takes effect. Approving a map will be a priority as the new districts will be used for the 2022 elections, and February 22 is the filing deadline for candidates seeking office in this year’s elections.
Hogan appointed the Prince George’s County Democratic Central Committee’s choice, Karen Toles, to represent the 25th District for the remainder of Dereck Davis’s term, which ends in a year.
HB 47, introduced by Economic Matters Committee Chair Delegate C.T. Wilson (D-Charles), would require the state to develop social studies and American history content standards that recognize the history of African Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Hispanic Americans, women, and other groups determined by the Maryland State Board of Education (SBOE). MSEA has historically opposed curricular mandates via state legislation, but this bill’s focus on directing the SBOE to update the curriculum standards, and the expanded recognition of diversity in our social studies, are more consistent with MSEA’s lobby strategy and with actions taken by MSEA members at the 2021 October Representative Assembly related to new business item 21-01 and item B-39 in MSEA’s Resolutions.
Former Anne Arundel County Executive, and Republican-turned-Democrat, Laura Neuman officially entered the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Neuman becomes the first woman in a crowded Democratic gubernatorial field.
With a year left in the current governor’s administration, pressure from national Republicans is growing to get Hogan to run for U.S. Senate against Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D). Hogan, who would have to file to run by February 22, this week reiterated a lack of intent to run for the Senate, but when asked about a possible presidential run, he said, “There’s plenty of time to worry about that.” So far, three Republicans and one Democrat have filed to challenge Van Hollen, whose campaign finances up to the last filing are well ahead of the competitors. His campaign reported $3.9 million cash on hand, and Republican James Tarantin’s cash on hand was a distant second at $45,000.
In a district that a new map may reconfigure to lose Carroll County and add some of Montgomery County, Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Carroll and Howard) faces a challenge from Delegate Reid Novotny (R-Carroll and Howard). Novotny lost a 2018 primary battle to incumbent former Sen. Gail Bates, who lost in the general election to Fry Hester by 1.7 points.
In the 4th U.S. House District race, State Delegate Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s) has picked up endorsements from 42 current and former elected officials. That primary race includes former 25th District Delegate Angela Angel and former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey, who announced endorsements from four Prince George’s County councilmembers.