Five things to watch as another week gets under way in Annapolis


Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch bangs the gavel in his chamber. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
March 24, 2014

The end is nearing.

With just two weeks remaining in the 2014 legislation session, there’s reason to expect movement in coming days on several pending issues. The House will take up its version of the state budget, and we should get a better idea of where the Senate is headed on minimum wage legislation.

The latest in a series of rallies by supporters of raising the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage to $10.10 is planned today in Randallstown. This one features Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) and Denis J. Madden, the auxillary bishop of Baltimore.

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

How effective was Kevin Spacey at whipping votes?

By all accounts — including one in this publication supplemented with on-site tweets — Spacey’s appearance Friday at an Annapolis wine bar was a good time.

But we still don’t have a full picture of how effective he was at building support in the House of Delegates for a tax credit that rewards production companies that choose to film in Maryland.

“House of Cards,” the Netflix series in which Spacey plays an unscrupulous Washington politician, filmed its first two seasons in Maryland and plans to start filming the third season in the state, assuming the tax credit debate goes as hoped.

The Senate has voted to set aside $18.5 million next year for film tax credits, believed to be enough to keep the fictional Frank Underwood and his cronies in the state. But with the real legislative session winding down in Annapolis, the House has yet to act.

On Friday, Spacey had a captive audience that included the chairwoman and vice chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over the tax legislation. Among the many other lawmakers on hand: House Majority Kumar Barve (D-Montgomery), who also holds a seat on Ways and Means.

Will the House act on a marijuana decriminalization bill?

Speaking of cliffhangers, we’ll be watching again this week to see if the House Judiciary Committee takes a vote on a bill that would reclassify possession of small amounts of marijuana as a civil offense subject to a $100 fine rather than jail time.

The Senate approved the legislation 36 to 8 earlier this month. It’s no secret that House Judiciary Committee Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s) is not a fan of the bill. But there have been nearly daily rumors for more than a week that Vallario was going to let his committee vote on the legislation. Speculation is certain to resume this week.

Supporters of the measure, sponsored by Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), say they are confident they have the votes on the House floor if they can get the bill out of Vallario’s committee.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have moved to decriminalize marijuana, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates legalization.

Could legislation prohibiting discrimination against transgender people meet a different fate this year?

Nearly three weeks ago, the Senate passed a bill, dubbed the Fairness for All Marylanders Act of 2014, that would ban discrimination based on sexual identity in employment, housing and public places such as hotels, restaurants, theaters and sports venues.

Similar bills have been introduced since 2007 but never made it through both chambers of the legislature and to the governor’s desk.

This week, a House Committee is expected to act on the legislation, sending it to the floor for debate. And there’s reason to think prospects for passage are good: The House passed a bill offering protections for transgender people in 2011, only to see it die in the Senate.

This year, all three major Democratic gubernatorial candidates are supportive of the bill, which Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is expected to sign if it reaches his desk.

Will there be progress on bail reform?

The House and Senate leadership plan to meet again this week in hopes of finding a solution to Maryland’s inefficient system of setting bail for defendants awaiting trial.

In response to court decisions, the governor, the legislature and the judiciary have been searching for a way to streamline pretrial detention practices so that all defendants, including the poor, have access to a lawyer from the outset of the judicial process and no one is held in jail unnecessarily.

The outlines of a solution have been put forth in a pair of bills that would create a new statewide pretrial services unit to assume more responsibility for deciding who should be immediately released from custody before trial.

House and Senate leaders are also looking at a possible short-term solution while continuing to work out the details of a more permanent, more costly solution.

Will Vaportinis be vaporized?

People who prefer their martinis inhaled – not stirred – may soon be out of luck as Maryland lawmakers consider banning Vaportinis, a candle-powered device that essentially allows people to inhale their booze.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Charles E. Barkley (D-Montgomery), is scheduled to be taken up Wednesday by the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee following its passage by the House on March 6 in a 105-28 vote.

This bill expands the definition of an “alcohol without liquid (AWOL) machine” to include a Vaportini, or any similar device, that mixes liquor with oxygen or another gas to vaporize the alcohol.

Legislative analysts say the Vaportini is a relatively new product with a metal ring and glass sphere that fit over a glass that allow a candle at the bottom of the glass to heat the liquor so that its vapors can be inhaled with a straw. The alcohol is then absorbed directly to the bloodstream through the lungs.

Continue reading
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local