The Maryland House of Delegates gathered hours earlier than normal Monday to continue working their way through a pile of legislation that was due to the Senate that evening. As the deadline loomed (and snow continued to fall and St. Patrick’s Day celebrations raged elsewhere), here are just a few of the things delegates approved:
Expanding medical marijuana. Maryland has already legalized medical marijuana, but its distribution is limited to academic medical centers, which thus far have yet to get involved. Lawmakers voted 123 to 13 Monday afternoon to allow certified physicians to recommend the use of medical marijuana. Those patients or their caregivers could then obtain medical marijuana from a licensed grower. Del. Cheryl D. Glenn (D-Baltimore) said the legislation is “very, very tightly restricted” to prevent recreational use of the drug. Glenn said that the legislation could improve the lives of constituents. The bill will now head to the Senate.
Slowly allowing more 4-year-olds into some pre-kindergarten classes. Maryland already offers free pre-kindergarten classes to economically disadvantaged or homeless 4-year-olds, but state leaders want to slowly expand those classes to all 4-year-olds. Their first step toward that goal is this bill, which would provide grants to local school systems and pre-kindergarten providers that want to accept children from families making slightly more money than currently allowed. This could help up to 1,600 children.
The legislation was sponsored by the administration of Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and has been championed by Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D). Delegates approved the legislation in a 102 to 34 vote. The Senate approved similar legislation last week in a 44 to zero vote.
Leading up to the House vote, a few Republicans raised questions about the effectiveness of pre-kindergarten classes. Del. Anne R. Kaiser (D-Montgomery) said the “preeminent research” over the past few decades has shown a strong return-on-investment for educating children at an early age. “Really,” Kaiser said on the House floor, “the larger question is why we aren’t scaling up faster to universal pre-K.”
Clarifying the state’s rules on the possession of dangerous or wild animals. Delegates voted 134 to zero to approve legislation that makes changes to a state law that largely forbids importing, selling, trading, bartering, possessing, breading or exchanging certain animals by most people. The bill is aimed at cracking down on some of the state’s roadside zoos that have had serious problems over the years. The list of animals included in the bill: fox, skunk, raccoon, bear, caiman, alligator, crocodile, cats or dogs that aren’t domestic, poisonous snakes and non-human primates like a lemur, monkey, chimpanzee, gorilla, orangutan, marmoset, loris or tamarin. The bill now moves to the Senate.
Establishing a review work group to assess implementation of new education standards. Delegates voted 126 to 9 to establish the “Maryland College and Career – Ready Standards and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) Implementation Review Workgroup.” This is one of three bills related to the controversial Common Core standards, which are quickly being implemented in Maryland schools.
On Saturday, delegates voted 128 to zero to delay the use of new standardized test scores in teacher evaluations. The Senate approved similar legislation last week, and state education leaders have supported the concept. Also Saturday, delegates voted 129 to zero to approve legislation that creates an oversight process for applying for waivers from the U.S. Department of Education. The Senate has yet to act on similar legislation.