Happy crossover day/snow day/St. Patrick’s Day in Annapolis.
Monday is the deadline for bills to pass from one chamber to another without facing an additional procedural hurdle that can spell their demise.
That means a lot hangs in the balance, particularly in the House of Delegates, which is scheduled to convene at 11 a.m., nine hours ahead of the usual Monday start time, to start moving hundreds of bills. The Senate, which has moved legislation at a more rapid clip in recent weeks, doesn’t convene until 7 p.m.
With all of the floor action, the forecast for several inches of snow, and a holiday with special meaning on the 2nd floor of the State House, Monday should feel quite festive. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) got a head start on St. Patrick’s Day over the weekend by playing a pair of concerts with his band, O’Malley’s March, in Baltimore.
Once the dust settles after Monday, several other issues loom large in the final three weeks of the session, including the state budget, which will take shape in the House after Senate passage last week, and O’Malley’s bill to raise the minimum wage. The Senate is continuing to work on the legislation after the House passed a bill that would raise Maryland’s minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2017.
Here’s a look at some of the things to watch as the week gets under way:
Will the House act on legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana?
On Friday, the Senate embraced that approach, voting 36 to 8 for a bill that would subject those caught with less than 10 grams of marijuana to a civil fine of up to $100 rather than a criminal conviction that could result in jail time.
The House Judiciary Committee, which has killed similar legislation in the past, had scheduled a vote on a decriminalization bill for late Saturday afternoon but held off for reasons that weren’t clear.
Boosters of the legislation say that if it gets out of committee, there are enough votes to pass it on the House floor. But Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George’s) has made clear to colleagues that he’s not a fan of the bill.
Because a decriminalization bill has already passed the Senate, there’s no need for the House to act by Monday’s crossover deadline.
The Judiciary Committee plans to meet Monday morning for another voting session, but as of Sunday afternoon, indications were the focus would be on other legislation: the so-called Second Chance Act, which seeks to make it easier to get jobs by shielding certain criminal convictions from potential employers.
What changes will the Senate make to O’Malley’s minimum wage bill?
The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled the latest in a series of work sessions on the bill for 8 a.m. Wednesday as members seek to forge a compromise that can get the necessary votes to send to the floor.
Some senators are pushing for a less ambitious bill than the House version, which would raise the minimum wage in several steps from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by January 2017. They argue that businesses in the state’s rural areas, in particular, cannot afford that kind of increase.
O’Malley has told lawmakers that he wants to see the $10.10 figure stay in the bill, even if takes longer to get there than under the House plan. That’s the same figure President Obama is trying to push through Congress on the federal level.
Senators have suggested they’re in no hurry to act. This could be one of the last major issues resolved before the legislature’s April 7 adjournment.
Will this be the week that Maryland finalizes its plans for what to do with its faulty health exchange?
After nearly six months of trying to fully fix the state’s malfunctioning health insurance marketplace, most state leaders have come to this agreement: The system is so highly flawed that its best option might be total abandonment.
So what’s next? The answer to that question is in the hands of Isabel FitzGerald, the state’s relatively new secretary for information technology who has been tasked with fixing this complex problem that has caused such embarrassment for O’Malley and his administration.
She has a tight deadline: The state has to keep its current system running through at least the end of the first open enrollment period, which ends on March 31. The new system must be ready by the open of the second enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15.
For weeks, health officials and lawmakers have been whispering about their top choice for redemption: Borrowing technology from Connecticut, home to one of the country’s most successful exchanges. Since federal money paid for that coding, Maryland could get it for free, Joshua Sharfstein, Maryland’s secretary for health and mental hygiene has testified in Annapolis. But there would still be costs, and Maryland is expected to ask the federal government for more money.
As Annapolis buzzes about Connecticut, FitzGerald continues to oversee a rigorous review of all the state’s options: fixing its current system, building a brand-new one, using all or part of the federal health exchange, adopting technology from another state or joining a consortium of states.
Administration officials say that a decision has not yet been made — but they acknowledge that the clock is ticking.
As “House of Cards” threatens to leave Maryland, will lawmakers be able to meet their financial needs (or, ahem, their Frank-Underwood-esque demands)?
Maryland sets aside $7.5 million each year to reward movie and television producers who choose to film in the state, creating jobs and glitzy buzz. But that’s not enough to cover a major production — like Netflix’s “House of Cards,” which filmed its first two seasons in Maryland and will receive at least $25 million in tax credits for doing so. Each year, the state’s movie officials have to ask lawmakers for more money.
“House of Cards” has delayed the filming of its third season until lawmakers act. If not enough money is set aside, the makers of the show have threatened to pack up and move elsewhere. (Begging questions like: Could the New Mexico House of Representatives double as the U.S. Senate as the Maryland House of Delegates did in an episode of Season 2? Can Louisiana neighborhoods really double as Georgetown?)
The Maryland House of Delegates is considering legislation that would up the pot to $11 million, which some worry is not enough to keep the beloved show happy. The House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing in February during which several delegates angrily accused the show’s production company of being manipulative and threatening. That legislation is still sitting in that committee.
The tone was completely different in a Senate Budget and Taxation Committee hearing last week, during which several senators bragged about knowing people who had starred in movies and giddily discussing the glamorous industry.
The committee chairman, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Baltimore County), has introduced legislation that would increase the pot to $18.5 million — likely enough to keep Kevin Spacey hanging around Maryland this summer. The committee voted 11 to 0 to send the legislation to the Senate floor, where it passed a procedural hurdle last week and is expected to come up for a vote this week.
Then it will be the House’s turn to make a move.
Speaking of movies, the State House in Annapolis also figures into the newly released movie “Better Living Through Chemistry,” starring Sam Rockwell and Olivia Wilde.
Several scenes were shot on State Circle, which is transformed to look like a street with an old-fashioned pharmacy that figures prominently into the plot.
Which one of the contenders for governor will get a boost from the Young Democrats of Maryland?
Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) and Del. Heather R. Mizeur (D-Montgomery) are all scheduled to make separate appearances Saturday before the group’s convention in Annapolis.
By the end of the afternoon, the group plans to release results of a straw poll on statewide offices. The convention agenda also includes a debate among the three Democratic candidates for attorney general with questions submitted via Twitter.