With many of the early session pleasantries behind them, Maryland lawmakers are girding for a busy second week in Annapolis on both the policy and political fronts.
The General Assembly has scheduled hearings this week on a bill related to the state’s troubled online health insurance exchange, and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is set to roll out a budget proposal that will be scrutinized for the remainder of the 90-day session.
Also certain to get plenty of attention this week: Campaign finance reports are due to the State Board of Elections from Maryland’s gubernatorial candidates, other statewide hopefuls and candidates for the General Assembly.
Here’s a guide on what to look for:
1. Did Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown finish the year with more money in the bank than his leading Democratic rival for governor, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler?
A year ago, the biggest advantage Gansler had heading into the 2014 governor’s race was money. He reported having $5.2 million in the bank, while Brown had just $1.6 million.
The picture could look very different Wednesday, when candidates are required to file annual reports to the State Board of Elections.
Since last January, Brown has added cash-flush Howard County Executive Ken Ulman (D) to his ticket. And, by all indications, Brown and Ulman have devoted more time and energy to raising money than Gansler and his running mate, Del. Jolene Ivey (D-Prince George’s).
Ulman, who had been exploring a bid for governor himself, had $2.1 million in the bank a year ago that can be used to promote the Brown-Ulman ticket.
Both tickets will have plenty of money to compete in the June primary. But if Brown has caught or surpassed Gansler in the money chase, it will provide a sense of momentum heading into a stretch of the race when more voters will be tuning in.
Also in the Democratic primary is Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), who is participating in the public financing system and will have significantly less to spend.
2. Will Brown testify at Tuesday’s hearings on an emergency bill related to the state’s online health insurance exchange? If he does, how aggressively will lawmakers question him?
The most talked-about liability Brown has faced in the governor’s race is his role in the state’s botched launch of its online health insurance exchange. While Brown did not directly manage the development of the Web site, he was charged with overseeing the implementation of federal health-care reform in Maryland.
Tuesday’s hearings in both the House and Senate are on narrow bills that have been introduced by O’Malley to help people who tried to sign up for insurance by Jan. 1 but were unable to because of computer glitches and other problems with the state’s marketplace.
Brown’s office has not said whether he plans to participate. If he does, Brown should certainly expect some broader questions about what went wrong with Maryland’s exchange and what role he played. Even fellow Democrats are frustrated, but it remains to be seen how probing their questions might be.
On Sunday afternoon, Gansler called on Brown to testify, saying through a spokesman that he “needs to show up at the hearings in Annapolis and answer some basic questions.”
3. Will O’Malley throw his support behind a particular plan to raise the minimum wage?
The governor said last week as the session started that his top priority is raising Maryland’s $7.25-an-hour minimum wage — but he didn’t say by how much.
That question could be answered this week. O’Malley and Brown are scheduled to appear at a rally Tuesday night sponsored by a group that supports an increase to $10.10 an hour by 2016. And on Sunday,during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” O’Malley suggested that is where he is headed.
“I think we’re zeroing in on around a $10-an-hour minimum wage in the state of Maryland,” he said.
4. Will any of the four Democratic candidates running for attorney general get a boost from the fundraising totals that will be released this week?
By their own acknowledgment, there isn’t a lot of daylight on the issues separating the candidates who have announced bids to succeed Gansler as attorney general: Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) and Dels. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George’s), Jon S. Cardin (D-Baltimore County) and C. William Frick (D-Montgomery).
So the June primary may come down to who is best positioned to get his or her message out. And that takes money. Wednesday’s reports to the elections board will be the first time in a year that the public will get a sense of how much the candidates have in the bank.
No Republican has announced a bid for attorney general.
5. Will the stable of high-
profile lawmakers voicing their support for legalizing marijuana continue to grow with a bill expected to be unveiled this week?
The betting in Annapolis is that Maryland will not follow Colorado’s lead in legalizing marijuana — at least not this year. But there are a growing number of lawmakers suggesting that is the direction the Free State should head, including Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who has predicted passage is a few years off.
Word came last week of the support of bills this year of Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore), chairwoman of the House Environmental Matters Committee, and Sen. Allan H. Kittleman (R-Howard), who adds a bipartisan wrinkle to the effort.