5 things to watch as a new week gets underway in Annapolis

We’ve reached the point in the Maryland legislative session when hearing schedules are typically packed, and this week is no exception.

Lawmakers plan to hear dozens of bills on familiar subjects — including tax cuts, speed cameras and dog bites — and a few issues newer to the agenda in Annapolis. The latter category includes legislation to overhaul the way the state deals with bail proceedings.

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We expect a few political developments as well, particularly as the filing deadline for candidates draws near.

As the week gets underway, here’s a look at some of the things to watch:

Will lawmakers require Maryland employers to offer paid sick leave?

Aside from raising the minimum wage, the most popular pro-worker legislation for Democrats this session might be requiring Maryland employers to provide paid sick time.

Bills scheduled for hearings this week in both the House and Senate would ensure that workers are able to get one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, earning up to seven days paid leave per year.

Advocates for the legislation, which include labor groups, say more than 700,000 people could benefit.

Sixty-six delegates have already signed onto the House version of the bill, sponsored by Del. John A. Olszweski Jr. (D-Baltimore County). That’s a promising sign, given 71 votes are needed for passage on the Hour floor. The Senate version is being championed by Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore).

“A paid sick days standard means thousands of Marylanders aren’t choosing between their job, a mortgage payment or taking care of their kids,” Olszweski said. “We shouldn’t be forcing people into those impossible choices.”

The Maryland Chamber of Commerce is among the groups that have registered opposition to the legislation.

“Despite the good intent behind the proposed policy, there are numerous items that would propose negative consequences to businesses and would further drive businesses and industries away from this state,” the chamber said in a statement.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday by the House Economic Matters Committee and Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee.

Will Maryland raise the age to purchase tobacco?

A Senate committee on Wednesday will consider whether Maryland should become the first state to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.

The penalty would remain the same as under current law: a maximum fine of $300 for the first offense. State legislative analysts said local governments in Massachusetts, New York, and Hawaii have set the minimum age for tobacco sales at 21 but that there are no statewide bans on selling tobacco to people below the age of 21.

Opponents say the state should not ban the sale of tobacco to people who are old enough to vote or enlist in the military — an argument that echoes those in opposition to current drinking age of 21.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery), also has fiscal impact: Legislative analysts estimate it would cost the state $12 million in lost revenue.

The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee is scheduled to hear the bill on Wednesday.

What will the gubernatorial hopefuls have to say when the House Judiciary Committee takes up domestic violence bills?

Two Democrats running for governor — Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler — have said a leading priority this session is legislation that would provide enhanced penalties for those who commit acts of domestic violence in front of children.

Brown and Gansler were scheduled to testify on the legislation last week before the Judiciary Committee, but the hearing was postponed because of snow. The bills are back on the committee’s agenda on Friday.

Brown and Gansler crossed paths last week as well, with both testifying at a House hearing on legislation to raise the minimum wage. The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to hear a version of that bill on Monday.

Who will Republican gubernatorial hopefuls Ronald A. George and Charles Lollar pick as running mates?

Both George, a state delegate from Anne Arundel County, and Lollar, a businessman from Charles County, say they plan to unveil their choices by the end of the week.

They are the only two candidates from either major party who’ve yet to announce lieutenant governor picks. And they are running out of time.

Under Maryland law, candidates for governor must file for office with a running mate, and the deadline to do so is Feb. 25 — barely a week away.

There’s been some speculation that the two could team up and form a combined ticket, but over the weekend George said that’s not happening.

Where do the gubernatorial candidates stand on transportation?

Purple Line NOW!, a coalition of groups pushing for the planned light-rail link in the Washington suburbs, is hosting a forum Tuesday on a range of transportation issues.

According to organizers, the three leading Democrats have agreed to attend: Brown, Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (Montgomery). And so have two Republicans: George and Lollar.

The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center on the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus. The event is open to the public but tickets are required.

 
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