State lawmakers will convene at Maryland’s statehouse on Wednesday for what could be the busiest 90-day session in years.
Like a majority of states, Maryland’s legislature meets only part-time, so a year’s worth of lawmaking will be condensed into three months between now and early April.
This year, lawmakers will return not only to a long list of new problems, but almost a year’s worth of unsettled fights from last year.
The General Assembly is expected to pick up largely where it left off in a stalled battle over legalizing same-sex marriage, as well as in debating key priorities of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) that did not pass last year.
Among them: a controversial public subsidy to promote development of offshore wind power, and, to protect the Chesapeake Bay, a ban on most new housing developments that rely on septic systems. O’Malley has indicated that he also will ask the Democratic-controlled House and Senate to back several tax or fee increases, as well as increased government borrowing in the name of creating jobs.
The governor on Tuesday cast a plan to boost funding for public school construction by nearly 20 percent as a job creator, and he suggested that other initiatives he plans to unveil should be viewed in the same light.
Those are expected to include ramping up spending on transportation projects and water-and-sewer upgrades. Although O’Malley has not shared details, the plans are all but certain to require increases in the gas tax and “flush tax.”
Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, are entering the session with new or renewed ambitions of their own. A news conference in Annapolis on Tuesday underscored questions over whether lawmakers will really focus on O’Malley’s agenda.
Opponents of Maryland’s death penalty were joined by the national chairman of the NAACP, vowing another attempt to abolish capital punishment in the state. They argued that in the wake of the controversial September execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, Maryland must lead by example and repeal the law.
Other powerful lawmakers want the legislature to revisit whether it should expand the state’s gambling sites, perhaps adding one in Prince George’s County, as well as whether to allow casinos to introduce table games.
Lawmakers also must close a $1 billion shortfall in Maryland’s operating budget, which could mean a fight over whether to force local governments to pick up an increasing share of teacher’s pensions--now covered largely by the state.
And debate still looms over O’Malley’s plan for how to redistrict state lawmaker’s districts based off the 2010 Census. Critics contend that the current plan doesn’t go far enough in protecting representation for African Americans and Latinos in some areas, such as along the border of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.
Both the speaker of the House of Delegates and the president of the state Senate are expected to set records for longevity in power, but face big challenges to show they still can wield their authority in a way that keeps lawmakers on task. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) will extend his record quarter-century leading that chamber, and Del. Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) on Wednesday is expected to be re-elected as the longest-serving consecutive speaker of the House.