Five things to watch on the final day of the Maryland General Assembly’s 2014 session

April 6

When the confetti falls at midnight Monday, the Maryland General Assembly will call it quits for 2014.

Lawmakers still have plenty to do before they adjourn, however. That includes a final vote on Gov. Martin O’Malley’s top priority — an increase in the minimum wage — and action on a pair of marijuana reform bills.

Scores of other bills hang in the balance, including measures to get tougher on handheld cellphone use while driving and to outlaw so-called “revenge porn.” As the clock ticks, here’s a look at some of what to watch on a final day during which legislating will mix with farewell receptions hosted by Annapolis lobbyists and interest groups:

How far will Maryland go in reforming its marijuana laws?

After a memorable debate Saturday in the House of Delegates on decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, final Senate action on the bill Monday could seem anticlimactic. The Senate, which passed its version of the bill last month, is expected to sign off on the House changes.

The bigger question is whether O’Malley (D) will say if he plans to sign the bill, which would impose a $100 fine on those caught for the first time with less than 10 grams — about a third of an ounce — of marijuana. A spokesman said over the weekend that O’Malley will “review it.”

Lawmakers also are trying to finish work on a bill that seeks to fix a law passed last year to make the drug available to those who would benefit from it because of illness.

Under the current medical marijuana law, responsibility for the program was given to academic medical centers, but none has been willing to participate.

Under a compromise worked out in recent days, an existing commission would certify physicians to recommend their patients receive the drug. Patients would obtain an ID card from the commission that would allow them to get marijuana from state-licensed dispensaries.

Both the House and Senate need to sign off on the plan Monday for it to get to the governor.

Will “Jake’s Law” pass before the final deadline?

Lawmakers are searching for a late compromise between two versions of legislation called “Jake’s Law” that would stiffen penalties for drivers who cause serious crashes while using a handheld cellphone. The legislation was filed in memory of Jake Owen, a 5-year-old from Baltimore who was killed in a 2011 crash.

The House version would impose penalties of up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if a driver causes a serious crash while texting, talking or otherwise using a handheld phone. A driver suspected of such behavior would have to give police his or her phone number and other information associated with the device.

The Senate version removed that requirement. Senators also limited the law to drivers who are texting — and not to those talking on their phones. But they put the maximum jail sentence at three years.

Will a ban on “revenge porn” make it across the finish line?

Legislation passed by the House in February would make it a misdemeanor to publish sexually explicit images of a former lover on the Internet without that person’s consent. Violators could be punished by up to two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Senators are wrestling over some of the wording in the bill, but supporters say they are hopeful it can be worked out. California, New Jersey and, most recently, Virginia have passed similar bills.

Will lawmakers leave without a deal on bail reform?

Members could depart Annapolis without revising Maryland’s unusual system of setting bail, perhaps triggering a court-ordered solution this summer.

The issue was forced on the legislature by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which said too many people are detained unnecessarily after arrest, in part because they lack an attorney to represent them when they appear before district court commissioners in the first of at least two bail reviews defendants are entitled to if they are in custody.

The high court ruled that all defendants have a right to legal representation at the earliest judicial proceeding.

The Senate backed a plan that would create an executive branch division that would use data analysis to determine which defendants could be freed and which defendants posed a risk to flee or commit new offenses. The House opted to create a task force to study the computerized risk-assessment tool first. The two chambers remain far apart.

While there is hope of a late-hour compromise, lawmakers, through the budget process, earmarked $10 million for a backup plan. It would allow the judiciary to pay for private attorneys to represent indigent defendants at bail hearings.

When will O’Malley claim victory on minimum wage?

Only one procedural vote remains before a minimum wage bill can be sent to the governor for his signature.

The Senate passed a version of the legislation Saturday that gradually increases Maryland’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by July 2018 — 18 months later than in a bill passed by the House. The House is expected to sign off on that and other Senate changes without much fuss.

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