Five things to watch as another week gets underway in Annapolis


Members of the Maryland House of Delegates. (Photo by Mark Gail/The Washington Post)
February 10

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and some of his possible successors are expected to be highly visible this week as the Maryland General Assembly holds hearings on a few high-profile bills, including legislation to raise the minimum wage, the governor’s chief priority this year.

The state’s online health insurance exchange is certain to stay in the news — and the State House should get some attention later this week courtesy of Netflix.

Here’s a look at some things to watch:

How much influence does O’Malley still have with the legislature in what traditionally is a lame-duck session?

Lawmakers are scheduled to hold hearings this week on several bills that are priorities for O’Malley in his eighth and final 90-day legislative session, including the centerpiece of his agenda: an increase in the minimum wage.

O’Malley plans to testify personally Tuesday before a House committee and Thursday in front of a Senate committee for his minimum-wage bill, which would raise the state’s threshold from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016 and peg future increases to inflation.

While there is broad support among Democrats for an increase of some sort, lawmakers have yet to coalesce around a particular plan. Some have concerns about whether $10.10 is too high as a statewide standard, and some don’t want to lock in future increases beyond 2016.

Advocates on both sides of the issues are expected to push studies this week showing conflicting conclusions about the impact that raising the minimum wage would have on the Maryland economy.

On Wednesday, separate committees in the House and Senate are also expected to hear testimony on another O’Malley priority: a bill that would launch a major expansion of pre-kindergarten education programs in Maryland. That issue is a leading priority for Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), O’Malley’s preferred successor.

On Thursday, a House committee will also hear a package of bills being pushed by O’Malley to curb domestic violence, including one that would allow judges to impose harsher penalties for acts committed in front of a child. A Senate panel took testimony on those bills last month.

Some other bills backed by O’Malley’s administration are also scheduled to get hearings this week, including legislation that provides tax breaks for films produced in the state.

O’Malley has had quite a run in recent legislative sessions, passing bills to legalize same-sex marriage, repeal the death penalty, jump-start the state’s wind-power industry and raise more funds for transportation projects. Lawmakers will decide in coming weeks whether to give him a few more victories before he leaves office.

Which of O’Malley’s wanna-be successors will get more media attention this week?

This week’s hearing schedule is expected to prompt multiple appearances to the legislature from Brown and Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D), two of the Democrats duking it out to succeed O’Malley.

Both Brown and O’Malley are scheduled to testify on the minimum wage legislation, and Brown is expected plans to pitch the pre-K bill. Legislation to curb domestic violence is also a priority for Gansler, and aides say he plans to pitch lawmakers on the bill to enhance penalties for violence committed in front of a child.

Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery), another Democrat in the governor’s race, has no plans to testify this week but she is planning to make other news, an aide said.

What’s wrong with Maryland’s health insurance exchange?

State health officials are scheduled to meet with a newly formed legislative oversight group on Monday afternoon to provide an overview of the Maryland online health insurance exchange’s remaining technical problems.

The officials are expected to explain what it would take to fully fix the system, which has been plagued by glitches since its Oct. 1 debut.

In less than two months, the first health insurance enrollment period will end, and Maryland will have to decide what to do before the second period starts in November. Options include fully fixing the state exchange or abandoning all or parts of it and relying instead on the federal marketplace.

It has taken weeks and a bit of drama for lawmakers to decide how best to examine ongoing problems with the exchange and identify the “lessons learned” along the way.

It remains to be seen how aggressively the newly formed legislative group will question health officials, what topics they will cover at future meetings and who they will ask to appear.

Will lawmakers go after underage gamblers this year?

Maryland’s casino industry is starting to thrive, and lawmakers must decide how to deal with some of the problems that typically accompany state-sponsored gambling.

Bills that would have established civil fines for anyone younger than 21 who sneaks in to play slots or table games have died in recent General Assembly sessions — but they’re back this session.

A House committee will hear testimony on the legislation on Tuesday, followed by a Senate committee on Wednesday. Violators would be subject to $100 fines for first violations.

Can the House of Delegates chamber pass for the United States Senate?

Last June, the State House was transformed into a set for “House of Cards,” the popular Netflix original series about Washington political intrigue starring Kevin Spacey.

As part of the filming, the House chamber in Annapolis was spruced up to look like the U.S. Senate for several scenes. Those who have caught the trailer for the second season have already gotten a glimpse of the transformation.

On Friday, the full season debuts. Fans will be able to binge watch the entire season — and keep track of the State House stand-ins.

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